How to AFFAIR-PROOF Your Marriage

Posted by: Shel Harrington 12 March, 2015 30 Comments

How to AFFAIR-PROOF Your MarriageIn my Family Law practice, I see the results of extramarital affairs on a regular basis. A wife stunned that her husband and best friend had been meeting behind her back. A husband sent reeling when his wife leaves him for his brother. A spouse having midnight chats with an ex-flame on Facebook. Suspicions confirmed when a spouse who regularly “works late” is caught sexting a co-worker.  Do any of these betrayals shock me? No. Sadden me, yes. Shock me, no.

If a spouse is determined to have an affair, for whatever reason, and they seek it out, it will happen. One can’t protect themself from such a deliberate act. But the I-didn’t-plan-it,-it-just-happened kind of affair is a different story.

Obviously, nothing “just happens.” An affair is generally the result of a series of decisions. Bad decisions. Couples can protect their marriage from the two most common sequences that lead to the “unintentional” affair.

First, the social media lie a spouse tells themself. It goes something like this: I just want to see what (fill in the name of  the ex-boyfriend/girlfriend) is up to. I won’t even let them know I found them. I’ll just check their Facebook page. Look! There they are! I’ll just say a quick hello and let them know how cute their kids are.

All completely innocent, right? Well the test is, if your spouse was standing next to you, would you be taking that action? Or try this test: you walk into the room and your spouse is sitting in front of the computer reading stats about someone they had a romantic history with – just to see what they’re up to. Are you OK with that?

It seems so harmless. Just satisfying curiosity. But what is the real point? Why does it matter? Why do you, Married Person, want information about somebody who is no longer in your life? You will not be able to name a single good reason. If you choose to go ahead and look that person up (bad decision number one) it will lead to more decisions that have to be made.

Skip down the road a couple of bad decisions later to the point where you have had a few “just-catching-up exchanges.” It can be very flattering to be remembered fondly and spoken to admiringly by someone from your past. There can be some lovely sparks. The old high school stomach-flutter that you haven’t experienced with your spouse for years. (It’s so easy to forget how temporary that stage was before it deepened into something more substantial, isn’t it?) So the “harmless” written conversations expand to the point of deciding to meet to just have a quick coffee. Oh, by the way, is this wonderful person being deceptive to their spouse, too? This isn’t going to end well.

AFFAIR-PROOF STRATEGY #1: DON’T ENGAGE WITH EXES ON SOCIAL MEDIA OR IN ANY OTHER MANNER IF YOUR SPOUSE IS NOT DIRECTLY INVOLVED IN THE INTERACTION.

Second, let’s talk about why I don’t find it shocking that spouses run off with the other spouse’s best friend or sibling. Or that they develop a romantic relationship with a neighbor or somebody they work with. What’s the common denominator? FAMILIARITY. Which leads us to our second preventative strategy.

AFFAIR-PROOF STRATEGY #2: DON’T BE ALONE WITH A NON-FAMILY MEMBER OF THE OPPOSITE SEX.

And by “family” I mean direct family members such as parents, grandparents and siblings – in-laws and relatives that you weren’t raised with as siblings do not qualify for the exemption.

Does this sound ridiculously old-fashioned to you? It is, indeed, a basic concept as old as the institution of marriage, itself. But think about it. Why do we hear about the double-betrayal of a best friend/spouse or sibling/spouse affairs? Because everybody got so comfortable with each other that no one thought anything of the non-married couple spending time alone together. Increasing time alone-together furthers familiarity. Which leads to exchanging confidences. Sharing together what may not be shared with others. Growing intimacy. Opportunities to act on those growing feelings. Such a sequence of events cannot happen if there is a general policy not to be alone with a member of the opposite sex.

Work situations can be more difficult to control than family environments. Employees often have to work with opposite-gender co-workers one-on-one. Or in high-stress situations where they have to depend on each other for support, cooperation, or safety. It is imperative to plan ahead – before inappropriate feelings develop for another – how you will handle such situations. Have to have a working lunch? Invite others if that’s an option. Have a reason to drive separately and meet at the restaurant. Excuse yourself to check in with your spouse if things run long.

One friend, an emergency professional who is in a vehicle during his workday, shared his strategy when assigned female partners. He invites the new partner to his house for dinner to meet his wife and children so she sees what his family life looks like and his wife has an opportunity to get to know his partner. This, of course, is not foolproof – but it is behavior that makes it easier for both individuals to resist temptations that might otherwise be acted upon. It’s about being intentional about prevention. And intentional about protecting your marriage.

I’m not suggesting you take things to the extreme here – as in you can’t walk into the kitchen if only a sibling-in-law is there – and chat. Or you should refuse to go into your boss’s office when summoned to deal with business related matters. Obviously there are times when such interactions may be necessary or reasonable. But it’s about being vigilant. Recognize that just because you don’t feel that way about them, does NOT mean they don’t feel that way about you – or have the potential to.

So two simple things you can do to affair-proof your marriage: don’t engage with exes in a way you wouldn’t want your spouse to know about AND don’t be alone with non-family members of the opposite sex. Because affairs “don’t just happen.” Extramarital affairs evolve one step (and one bad decision) at a time. Don’t take that first step.

Related:

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30 Comments

  • Great advice, Shel. Would you be doing this if the other person were standing right there with you? Would you be saying these things? If the answer is no, it’s wrong. It’s such an easy test, but so many fail.
    I worked in the domestic relations environment before Facebook and other social media. It’s a different world now. I wonder if there are studies on whether the divorce rate increased after Facebook came along…

    • That would be an interesting thing to look at, Jill: whether the divorce rate (or cheating rate) is higher with the advent of social media. Interesting question. Perhaps someone has already addressed it. Intuitively it seems it would be, particularly the cheating part, since what constitutes as cheating has widened since social media’s advent.

      • Shel Harrington

        I don’t know about studies, but I can tell you I have seen a dramatic impact of social media in the 22 years I’ve been practicing. That’s exactly why I avoided it for so long. As I said in my summer feature on your blog last year, I considered Facebook posts “evidence” – that was the only exposure I had and it was a very negative one. If it wasn’t for the writing aspirations, I would still be shunning it (although I enjoy the interaction now that I understand it doesn’t HAVE to be stupid!) The only positive thing I can say about Facebook “reconnections” is that they are safer than the internet chat-room connections that were so prevalent in the 90s. At least most of the FB connections aren’t with predatory strangers. Did I say “positive thing”? I meant “less negative”!

  • Wonderful advice, as always. I think the point of not doing anything you wouldn’t do with your partner in the room is a good one. That’s one of the things Dr. Phil preaches, too (yes, I watch him; my guilty pleasure while making dinner…). If you wouldn’t do it when your partner was right next to you, then it’s cheating. An easy rule to remember.

    • Shel Harrington

      No judgment, Carrie – the man is quotable. My Dr. Phil go-to with clients (although I do find myself starting out with a qualifying “Forgive me for quoting Dr. Phil, but” . . . ) is “Do you want to be right, or do you want peace in your life?” I have too many opportunities to use it!

  • Connie

    Love this – Very good advice, Shel.
    It always starts with something small.

  • You ought to get a LOT of traffic from this headline. LOL
    Good advice, although not being alone with the opposite sex isn’t do-able for many people. It doesn’t work for a lot of jobs, for instance–and it doesn’t account for same-sex affairs ;).

    • Shel Harrington

      I agree that it just doesn’t work for everybody, Luanne. The suggestions I gave for work-related situations toward the end of the article can help, but still won’t work for everybody. It’s about keeping one’s guard up on confidences shared and the level of familiarity that often crosses lines. I realize how Pollyanna I sound to many, but I really do see this often. And nobody “sees it coming” because who thinks a spouse would think of one’s own brother “that way” or even be attracted to that “homely coworker.” But in all actuality, it’s often presence and not absence which makes the heart grow fonder.

  • Another helpful post with good advice, Shel.

    • Shel Harrington

      Thanks, Marylin – I appreciate your support. I consider you the choir – as in “preaching to the choir” – on this. But you may know someone who could do well with a little old-fashioned advice!

  • Love these I often wonder what it must be like for wives with husbands who work in an office with pretty girls around them all day. My husband is happy with his cows. I am too.

  • Wise, wise counsel! In this time of “if it feels good do it” restraint and self-control, laced with your wisdom would go a long way to preserving many marriages. Thanks, Shel.

    • Shel Harrington

      I think most don’t start out to violate their vows but, as I mentioned to somebody else, I think it’s often presences rather than absence that can make unmarried (to each other!) hearts grow fonder! Hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend, DiAne!

  • Gina

    Great article, great advice Shel.

  • Great post Shel, and excellent advice..’don’t take that first step’. Thoughts like these starts in our mind, and often long before we act upon those very thoughts. And you are so right…would be doing those so-called innocent action if our spouses were standing right next to us? I don’t think so 😉

    • Shel Harrington

      Exactly! And I also don’t think we’d be OK with it if the table were flipped! Such easy tests to apply – if one really wants the answer! Hope you enjoy your weekend, Sherri!

  • PS Mortified with all the mistakes in my comment…apologies Shel. And I can’t even use too much wine as an excuse…it’s mid morning! Need to slow down… 😮

    • Shel Harrington

      I didn’t notice – until I went back of course after reading this! I’m not sure “mid morning” is always relevant to consumption timing (someone close to me says “it’s noon somewhere in the world”), but good to know your standards! I always enjoy chatting with you!

  • Aha! I’ve finally found you. Every time I clicked your link when you dropped in on my blog, all I got was a blank page. Weird.
    Anyway, I’m here now. Very interesting post and sound advice. Very generous advice, actually. Aren’t you going to put yourself out of business like this – or is that the idea – a long and peaceful early retirement!

    • Shel Harrington

      That is absolutely the idea Jenny – my mantra is “Put me out of business – I’ll find something else to do.” Like write more!! Don’t know what the deal was with the disconnect, but so glad you found me!