Most of us don’t actually think about having an affair, really. I mean, we know we’re not supposed to wander. We’re not jerks. Until a few things happen, that is. First, our relationship with our spouse gets a little neglected – there are about an infinite amount of reasons for this in life. Then, we start getting our emotional needs met by someone else. They smile when they see us. They sound interested about our work problems. They show understanding when we’re failing. At some point, we can’t do anything except think about it. Affairs. Few people set out to have one. Yet they happen. How do we stay faithful? Here are a few tips – simplistic (but not easy).
- Figure out what’s missing. If the lawn on your side of the fence is browning, what nutrients are missing? Time? Attention? Being interesting? Is your spouse’s love language not something that really gets you going? On this one, do your best to stay away from blame (e.g. It’s because my husband is… or It’s because my wife doesn’t..) – these statements won’t help. You have to find ways that you’ve been neglecting your relationship.
- Start pouring into your marriage. Once you have an idea of what’s missing, start to bring it. It’s the “buy low, sell high” concept of economics (except the metaphor has limits since I don’t want you to sell at any price, really, when it comes to your marriage). When there isn’t much connection in your relationship, start doing the things you did at first to make a connection. Ask your spouse how they are. Think of them when you’re away and give them a quick call. Thank your spouse for something little they do specifically for you. Turning your mind to the gratitude channel is one of the quickest ways to re-establish connection with your spouse. Instead of criticizing them, take note of the ways that you are able to rely on them and be thankful.
- Set up boundaries. Of course you’re going to be interested in someone else during the course of your marriage. This means all cylinders are firing and everything is working. There are interesting and attractive people in the world. The key is to set limits over little things so that you don’t cross the big line. Don’t text with someone you could be interested in – this is much too private of a conversation. Don’t spend time online-stalking the interesting person. Do not bring up your attraction to the person you’re attracted to – this only opens doors, it doesn’t close them.
- Face discomfort. If you find yourself drawn to someone else, it’s possible your marriage isn’t fulfilling something in you. I hear things like, “I’m not happy.” The truth is, happiness comes and goes – we’re all more likely to feel negative feelings more frequently than happiness. There are 6 primary emotions (mad, sad, surprise, fear, shame, and joy). All things being equal, the odds are likely you’ll feel happiness 1/6th of the time. Get used to feeling discomfort. There is something important and mature about being able to tolerate boredom, loneliness, and stress without reacting in damaging ways (like having an affair).
Mad About You has an excellent series finale wherein one of the main character’s friends asks him, “Who are you not to be miserable?” I love this reminder that misery is part of our existence and it’s not our job to try to get out of it. In fact, trying to avoid pain is what tends to get us in trouble.
5. Establish your WHY. Why would you stay in your marriage? Why would you go through the trouble of taking these steps? Do you want to be an example for your kids? Did your folks split and you still have a hard time with a new spouse (who was hanging around too much while your folks were still together)? Is it a faith conviction? Do you want to be the kind of person that is faithful and loving toward your spouse no matter what? Whatever your true north reasons – stay centered in on them to get you to choose wisely.
Stable, faithful marriages leave a legacy that strengthens communities. Affairs damage not just a family, but a whole web of relationships that were trusting you. While redemption from an affair is possible – I’ve walked with couples down that painful path – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you’re thinking about having an affair, think again.
Written by Dr. Veronica Johnson