Preventing Affairs

This article is taken directly from my book,
My Husband’s Affair Became the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me

One of the biggest lessons we learned is that affairs happen to good people in good marriages. They are not merely the problem of an unlucky few, who just weren’t really committed to each other or who were having serious marriage problems.

According to marital affairs expert Peggy Vaughan in her book, The Monogamy Myth, conservative estimates are that 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women will have an extramarital affair. If even half of the women having affairs (or 20 percent) are married to men not included in the 60 percent having affairs, then at least one partner will have an affair in approximately 80 percent of all marriages.

Brian and I have often asked ourselves, Why did this have to happen to us? How could we have avoided it? Couldn’t someone have gotten our attention in some other way?

For me, the problem was that I was so sure that I had a great marriage, I’m not sure what could have gotten my attention. If someone had said to me, “You need to listen to your husband,” I would have thought, Yes, I’m doing that. If someone had said, “You need to spend recreational time together,” I would have thought, We are. If someone had said, “You need to have fun in your life,” I would have thought, For the most part we are. We have extra responsibilities right now and that’s the way life is sometimes. You just have to make sacrifices.

I was confident in Brian’s commitment to me and mine to him. I don’t think any “how-to” books could have awakened me to the dangers that were lurking in my relationship. But here are some things which could have helped.

BE INTROSPECTIVE

It doesn’t matter how much you know if you are unable to be real with yourself and ask yourself questions such as: Why do I feel this way? Why am I unhappy? Why do I feel attracted to this other person? Why don’t I share the truth of how I feel with my mate?

The first step to avoiding affairs is being able to understand and be honest with yourself. You cannot be honest with your mate until you have learned to be honest with yourself.

Most people who have had affairs never thought they would. They were people who meant their wedding vows one hundred percent and were totally committed to their marriages and to monogamy. How can an affair happen then?

In Brian’s case, the affair happened in part because he wasn’t being introspective “pre-affair.” He did not even understand how unhappy he actually was. He was “sweeping it under the rug,” “sucking it up” and “just dealing with it.”

During the process of our healing one day Brian asked me, “Remember when I told you that the reason that you never had an affair was because I had been a good husband, and the reason why I had an affair was because you were a bad wife?”

I remembered, clearly.

“Well, I was wrong,” he said. “It was easy for me to be a good husband because you understood yourself and were able to communicate your needs to me clearly. You never stood a chance of being a good wife, because I was not able to communicate my needs to you.”

So even though I had read invaluable books such as Willard Harley’s “His Needs, Her Needs,” I was unable to apply the principles to our unique relationship, because Brian didn’t recognize and understand his needs. Therefore he couldn’t communicate his specific needs to me or how I could meet them. Although one can identify common emotional needs all husbands and wives have, meeting those needs is not accomplished in the same way for every person. It doesn’t matter how many books you read, spouses can’t meet each others needs unless they are both talking, to each other.

DEAL WITH ISSUES FROM THE PAST

If someone had asked me (or I had asked myself), “What baggage from your past or childhood are you bringing into this relationship that could be affecting you in a negative way?” I believe that could have helped me to wake up. If I had received some counseling focused around this poignant question. My problems were not marriage problems; they were personal problems, which were affecting my marriage negatively.

My biggest contribution to our relationship breakdown was one I was completely unaware of. It was the insecurities I had within myself. The “I’m unlovable” tape in my subconscious mind, made it difficult for me to receive love and honest communication (including constructive criticism). Simply put, I was too insecure. If you are carrying around baggage from your past, you are not really whole as a person and you don’t have what it takes to really be a great spouse.

EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT AFFAIRS

Most people have relatively little accurate knowledge about affairs. Most people are very uncomfortable discussing the topic, so they don’t. Contrary to the popular saying, what you don’t know does hurt you. You must be informed. By reading responsible educational information about affairs (not the sensationalism often presented in the media), you can learn from the mistakes of others and avoid them in your own life.

DISCUSS AFFAIRS WITH YOUR SPOUSE

If you plan to stay married to the same person for a lifetime, it is unrealistic to think that neither one of you will ever be attracted to anyone else. Attractions will come. The question is what will you do with those attractions when they come?

Affairs need secrecy to happen. If we are unable to share temptations with our spouse because they punish us for doing so (by crying, getting depressed for days or getting angry), then the secrecy ingredient remains. Secrecy is to affairs, what sunlight and water is to plants. It helps them grow. Without it they die.

On the other hand if a man, for example, were able to come home and say to his wife, “I was attracted to a woman at work today,” and instead of being angry the wife is able to say, “Why did you feel that way? Tell me about it. Do you think she might have been meeting one of your needs that I’m not right now?” The couple would be able to discuss their relationship, identify needs, change and meet each others needs, and by so doing, remove potential vulnerability to affairs.

OPEN, HONEST COMMUNICATION

Most couples are actually far from honest with one another. They are honest about subjects that aren’t difficult, but dishonest about the things that really matter, the difficulties, frustrations and hurts in their relationship.

Here is an example: Let’s assume a wife has gained over twenty-five percent of her body weight since marriage. She’s not healthy, less energetic and quite honestly doesn’t look that good. It’s bothering her husband. It’s happened gradually and she is not really aware how much it is affecting her. Her husband is careful to choose the right time, and is sensitive in his choice of words. He approaches her honestly.
“Honey, you are gaining weight and it really doesn’t look so good. I’m concerned about your health, and it’s bothering me.” How many wives would be able to answer, “You know, you are right. Thank you for being honest with me. I’ll start exercising and work on eating healthier.”

Instead, how many of us would burst into tears, get depressed for several days, accuse our husbands of not loving us and tell them they were wrong for being so concerned about weight. Doing this would be punishing them for honesty, and sending a message not to be honest about potentially upsetting matters (like a future attraction to another woman).

Living with this kind of dishonesty in a relationship is living in a fairytale. One day you may be forced to wake up from the dream. Genuine, open, honest communication includes the ability to give and to receive constructive criticism.

LISTENING

It was true. I was not really listening to Brian. I never realized that when I became defensive when he shared things, rather than validating his feelings, I was in essence telling him that he was wrong.

I am still working on becoming a better listener. Listening does not mean I am just quiet, while Brian talks. It means I do not spend my time formulating my next response in my head while Brian (or anyone else) is speaking. I listen to what Brian is saying. I try to get into his skin. I listen for the understandable part without having to necessarily agree with him.

I ask myself, What is he really saying? What is going on for him? And when I feel that I do understand I say, “So what you’re saying is …?” Many times it turns out I still haven’t understood.

Most of all, I am careful not to interrupt and not to tell him that he is wrong, even if I disagree with what he is saying. Instead, I say things like, “I respect your opinion and I can understand why you feel that way. Right now I’m feeling …”

RESPECT AND ADMIRATION

As my husband, Brian needs to feel that I value and respect his opinions and advice.

Before the affair, I often came to him with a problem. He would present a solution, but I would not give it much weight unless another friend gave me the same advice. In this way, I was indirectly communicating to him that I didn’t really hold his opinion to be of value, but rather the opinions of others to be of a greater value. This was disrespectful.

RECREATIONAL COMPANIONSHIP

A month before Brian’s affair began, we had joined a local gym together. Brian had asked me to come and lift weights with him. The gym also offered a long distance running club. I preferred long distance running, so I joined this group instead of lifting weights with my husband.

I had no idea what a mistake I was making.  I didn’t realize this was not about fitness preferences. This was about my husband’s need for recreational companionship.

According to Willard Harley, in his book “His Needs, Her Needs,” recreational companionship is one of a man’s top five needs within a marriage.

I also made a big mistake in the area of sports. Not only did I not join Brian, but I actually was guilty of criticizing him for watching sports. Now I sit and watch sports with Brian sometimes, because he enjoys my company while he watches. And guess what? I really do like hockey now! I’ve learned to understand the game and I’m genuinely interested.

FUN

Fun is not an option, rather a necessity. We had fallen into the trap that so many families do: work, work, work.

Midlife is a particularly vulnerable time for affairs because couples are dealing with aging parents on the one hand, unruly teenagers on the other, and their financial demands are the highest they’ve ever been. Their lives have become all about responsibility.

They are on a mundane treadmill, acting like martyrs. You cannot live this way no matter how strong you think you are. We have learned to revamp our budget and our time to include fun. And we make sure we don’t do the same old things over and over, rather we make an effort to try new and different things together. This is what keeps life exciting. We have an affair … with each other.

FRIENDS AND MENTORS

The friendship that Darrell provided for Brian was invaluable. In fact, had they been close before the affair, it may not have happened. If couples desire to strengthen their relationship and prevent affairs, this is one important step they can take: develop and maintain close same-sex friendships.

Women tend to do this more naturally. Most men have to make extra effort to develop these friendships. Friendships don’t happen by accident. They happen on purpose. We create them. We have to initiate them and continually put energy into cultivating them.

Brian had many friends and acquaintances. Anyone who knew him before would have thought he had lots of friends, and he did. The problem was he wasn’t completely open and honest with his friends. He kept them at a certain distance. He did not discuss things that really mattered to him, like his hopes and dreams, as well as his disappointments and failures. His friends did not discuss things such as how well their marriages were or weren’t going; neither did they create mutual accountability. Instead they usually discussed only non-personal topics, such as work, sports and vehicles.

End of excerpt from “My Husband’s Affair.” If you would like to read the book in it’s entirety, click here to order

The added invaluable perspective on preventing affairs quoted below is written by Peggy Vaughan, author of The Monongamy Myth and host of www.dearpeggy.com

Couple’s need to realize that there’s no “one-time” promise or event that can guarantee monogamy; it’s an ongoing process of honest communication that allows you to really “know” each other, thus not deceive each other. The attitude, “an affair could never happen in our marriage,” makes couples vulnerable. We need to realize that no marriage is immune. Therefore we need to be aware, educate ourselves and pay close attention to our marriage relationships. Recognizing “what doesn’t work” and “what is more likely to work” in preventing affairs can go along way to ensuring monogamy in a marriage.

What doesn’t work:
-Repeating the marriage vows doesn’t prevent affairs.
-Love doesn’t prevent affairs.
-Being the “perfect” partner doesn’t prevent them.
-Threats don’t prevent them.
-Simple promises don’t prevent them.
-Getting caught doesn’t prevent them.

What is more likely to work:
-Awareness that no one is immune to having an affair.
-Discussion and agreement about your commitment to monogamy.
-Regular renewal of your commitment.
-Ongoing, honest communication about all important issues.

Once someone has had an affair (and it has been discovered/exposed), the primary factors that indicate whether or not it might happen again are what happens AFTER the affair is known.

–If the person who had the affair never really deals with it–meaning they don’t take responsibility, don’t sever contact with the third party, don’t answer questions, don’t talk through it, don’t commit to ongoing honesty, don’t hang in through the long process of rebuilding the marital connection–then there is still a risk that it might happen again.

–On the other hand, if the person who had the affair does take responsibility, severs contact with the third party, answers the spouse’s questions, talks through it, commits to ongoing honesty, and hangs in through the long process of rebuilding the marital connection–then it is highly unlikely to happen again.
Obviously, there are no “guarantees” that there will never be a repeat (just as there are no guarantees that a spouse won’t have an affair in the first place). But the above guidelines are very strong indicators of whether or not it will happen.

End of quote from Peggy Vaughan, www.dearpeggy.com

© Copyright 2004 Anne Bercht. All rights reserved.

To order “My Husband’s Affair” click here

For information about seminars click here.

For information about confidential coaching with Brian or Anne click here.