Eric was married with two children. Life at home was good, and he considered his relationship with his wife to be healthy. They frequently spent time together and intimacy between the two of them was good. He never considered having an affair until he faced a potentially compromising situation with a co-worker.
“Contrary to popular belief, most people do not set out to have an affair,” says Dr. Shirley Glass, infidelity expert and author of Not "Just Friends": Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity. “Eric’s situation is all too common. It is faulty thinking to believe that being attracted to someone else means something is wrong at home. It is possible to be attracted to somebody else, even if you have a good marriage."
Appropriate Boundaries Are Important
"The single most important protector against an affair is appropriate boundaries," Glass says. "In a culture where men and women are working so closely, you must make sure you are not creating opportunities for an affair to occur. Especially at a time when you might be vulnerable – like right after a fight with your spouse. One of the most common doorways into an affair is where a man and woman who are ‘just friends’ innocently begin to discuss problems in their primary relationship. They are doing their marriage work with someone who might not be a friend to the marriage.”
According to research, 25 percent of women and 40 percent of men will have an extramarital affair at some point.
Glass says that openness, honesty and self-disclosure defines intimacy in marriage. Anything that interferes with that creates walls of secrecy and should be a signal of looming danger. For example, meeting the same person every morning for breakfast in a public place without telling your spouse creates a wall of secrecy in your marriage. If you're uncomfortable talking with your spouse about it, that's a warning sign.
Interestingly, only 10 percent of people who leave a marriage for their affair partner actually end up with them. Many say they wish the affair had never happened and that they had worked on their marriage instead.
So, how can you guard against an affair?
- Establish clear boundaries.
- Stay connected to each other and keep the lines of communication open.
- Instead of creating walls of secrecy, talk with your spouse. Eric came home to his wife and told her about what happened with his co-worker. They were able to talk openly about strategies for clearer boundaries. This strengthened their relationship.
- If you feel attracted to someone else, never let them know.
- Watch out for outside influences that encourage infidelity. For example, avoid an environment where other people are fooling around. Be on guard at business socials where drinking and dancing happen and spouses aren’t present.
- If you have experienced infidelity in your marriage, it's possible to survive it and be stronger than before. Unfortunately, it takes time for the wounds of betrayal to heal, and both parties must be willing to work together to move the marriage forward.
If you are working through infidelity, Glass recommends the following:
- Stop the affair. The betrayed person cannot begin to heal until the affair is over.
- Replace deception with honesty. The person who had the affair must agree to be accountable and create a safe and open environment by letting their partner know where they are.
- Because someone has violated trust, you must tell the story of the affair. The only way to tear down the wall of deception is to have an open window – no secrets. Usually, partners want all of the details. They need to put all of the missing pieces together and ask questions. The partner who had the affair must be patient, understanding and willing to share information. This is one way to rebuild intimacy.
- Identify vulnerabilities in your relationship and begin to work on them.
- Discuss what faithfulness and commitment means to you. Just because a relationship is not sexual does not mean you are not having an emotional affair.
- Understand that this is a very difficult process and you may need professional help to work through your issues.
Eric was able to take a potentially harmful situation and turn it into one that fostered more open communication and trust in his marriage. The window of openness and the sharing of uncomfortable situations actually builds a marriage up instead of tearing it down.