Articles for Married Couples

Everything listed under: infidelity

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    Affair-Proofing Your Marriage

    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.

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    Infidelity and Forgiveness

    Popular talk shows imply that everybody intentionally cheats in marriage.

    “In reality, most people don’t cheat,” says Kristina Coop Gordon, co-author of Getting Past the Affair. “Based on research, approximately 40 percent of married people cheat on their spouse. Studies indicate the person most likely to cheat is someone who is dissatisfied with their relationship and/or feels insecure about themselves. They use the relationship outside of their marriage as a way to feel better about themselves.”

    Some people believe that if sex isn’t involved outside the marriage, they weren’t being unfaithful to their spouse. However, Gordon and others such as Dr. Shirley Glass, author of Not "Just Friends," disagree.

    Being unfaithful to your spouse starts when you begin to hide what you are doing with someone else. If you'd be uncomfortable with your spouse knowing about conversations with a co-worker or a regular lunch appointment, or if you schedule workouts to spend time with someone, then you have probably crossed the line.

    Only 10 percent of people who leave their marriage to pursue their affair partner actually end up with them. Many say they wish the affair had never happened. They often wish they had worked on their marriage instead.

    “It is not uncommon for couples who have experienced infidelity to believe that their marriage is over,” Gordon says. “However, based on 20 years of research we have found that at least 65-70 percent of couples survive the affair.”

    For many, this seems impossible. How can you ever re-establish trust? At least one spouse has betrayed the marriage relationship, creating a lot of trauma and questions. The offended spouse often experiences great anxiety and wonders if it will happen again.

    “If you are willing to do the soul searching in your marriage, I will just about guarantee your marriage will not only survive, but you will be happy in your marriage,” Gordon says. “In fact, a couple I recently worked with shared that as difficult as the affair was to get through, while they would not want to experience it again or wish it on anyone, they are grateful it happened because it was a real wake up call for their marriage.”

    Gordon’s step-by-step guide helps couples dealing with infidelity. It encourages them to look at themselves and their marriage, discover where things derailed and identify steps to get back on track. A huge piece of the restoration process is forgiveness.

    “Some people confuse forgiveness with excusing unacceptable behavior or no accountability,” Gordon says. “This is not true. Forgiveness is very freeing. Just because you forgive, it doesn’t necessarily mean immediate reconciliation. Questions still have to be asked. People have to be willing to look at themselves and acknowledge, ‘I messed up. What caused me to do that?’ Couples willing to do the hard work receive a gift because they learn a lot about themselves, their spouse and their marriage.”

    “The affair is one layer of our relationship," says a couple who used Gordon’s book to help them heal from an affair. "It is a painful, awful, yucky layer. We are continuing to weave our relationship and lay so many more layers on top of that layer that it will be just one line in the many layers of our marriage.”

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    Who Is More Likely to Cheat?

    This past year, in the midst of the #metoo campaign, a number of married men were among those accused of sexual misconduct. News of the inappropriate behavior probably created some extremely awkward moments within these marriages and perhaps made others wonder if their spouse is likely to cheat.

    Dr. Wendy Wang, research director at the Institute for Family Studies, recently released a brief on the subject called Who Cheats More? The Demographics of Cheating in America. Wang found that men, adults who did not grow up in intact families, and those who rarely or never attend religious services, are more likely than others to have cheated on their spouse.

    Based on Wang’s analysis of General Social Survey data from 2010-2016:

    • Men are more likely than women to cheat. Twenty percent of men and 13 percent of women reported they've had sex with someone other than their spouse, but the gap varies by age.

    • The infidelity rate also differs among a number of other social and demographic factors, such as race, family of origin and religious service attendance.

    Wang also found that cheating is somewhat more common among black adults. Some 22% of ever-married blacks said that they cheated on their spouse, compared with 16% of whites and 13% of Hispanics. And among black men, the rate is highest. In fact, 28% reported that they had sex with someone other than their spouse, compared with 20% of white men and 16% of Hispanic men.

    The data also revealed that a person’s political identity, family background and religious activity are related to whether or not they cheat. Interestingly, having a college degree is not linked to a higher probability of cheating. Almost equal shares of college-educated and less-educated adults have been unfaithful to their spouse (16% vs. 15%). The share among those with some college education is slightly higher (18%).

    So who is more likely to cheat - men or women? The data indicates men and women share very few traits in that area. For men, race, age, education level and religious service attendance are still significant factors. For women, family background and religious service attendance are significant factors for unfaithfulness, while race, age and educational attainment are not relevant factors. The only factor that shows significant consistency in predicting both men and women’s odds of infidelity is religious service attendance.

    The bottom line is that a lot of people are at risk and may not even know it. When it comes to cheating in marriage, the single most important protective factor is appropriate boundaries. In a culture where men and women work so closely, it’s important to make sure you are not putting yourself at risk to cheat. 

    Many relationship experts agree that one of the most common pathways to infidelity is when a man and woman who are “just friends” begin to discuss their marital problems. In other words, they are doing their marriage work with someone who might not be a friend to their marriage.

    If you haven't talked about guarding your marriage as a couple, you might want to talk about these things: 

    • Establish clear boundaries. Discuss expectations and boundaries in your relationship. You probably believe you would never fall prey to a relationship outside of your marriage. Unfortunately, few who found themselves there say they were looking for it. Keep the lines of communication open. Talk about how you will intentionally do your marriage work with your spouse and avoid keeping secrets from each other.  

    • Be aware, and value your mate's opinion. Sometimes other see things you don’t recognize.

    • The danger zones are for real. Being oblivious to tempting situations is risky.

    Intentionally protect and nurture your marriage. Check in with each other frequently and discuss how your choices impact your marital health. Avoiding behaviors that could create suspicion can’t hurt your marriage. On the other hand, it could be a tremendous help.

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    Getting Past the Affair

    "Life is Short... Have an Affair!" - That's the tagline for Ashley Madison, a website encouraging married people to have an affair. When hackers exposed more than 300,000 people connected to Ashley Madison, the media went crazy. Many reporters ended their story saying that divorce lawyers need to prepare for a steep increase in business.

    "If we could speak to those 300,000, we would tell them to push the pause button and don't automatically head to divorce court," says Carrie, whose husband Greg (not their real names) utilized social media to initiate more than one affair.

    "Infidelity rocked my world. It was embarrassing. I asked myself a million times, 'How could my world look one way and have such a dark underside I had no clue existed?'" Carrie says. "I am a CEO and have been a policy advisor. I am a smart woman. You would think being married for 29 years, I would have a clue something was going on, but I didn't."

    Greg describes himself as "that guy nobody could believe would do this." He was a family man, active with his children and various church activities.

    "For 27 of our 29 years of marriage I was in and out of affairs and dabbled in porn," says Greg. "I had decided my marriage would not survive when I engaged in my most recent affair. When the affair was exposed, I found myself confronted by what I had become. All these years I was oblivious to the destruction I was sowing. I know it's hard to believe, but it is true. Looking back, I can't believe I operated like that."

    Initially, Greg told his wife what he thought was just enough. He described a battle going on in his head over telling her everything or keeping her in the dark.

    "At some point I couldn't take the hiding, lying and deceit anymore and decided to tell my wife everything," Greg says. "That is when things started to change. I had no idea whether my marriage was going to survive, but I knew I was moving away from something that had had a stronghold on me for a very long time."

    Greg and Carrie entered counseling with someone who understood the traumatic impact of marital infidelity. Additionally, they attended a weekend intensive for hurting marriages.

    "When I first found out about the affairs I was devastated, in shock and then furious," Carrie says. "I curled up in a fetal position for a couple of days. I journaled hundreds of pages as I walked through grieving what I thought had been my marriage.

    "When we entered into counseling, I remember the counselor asking me why I wanted to stay married. I responded that I honestly didn't know that I wanted to stay married. He said, 'OK, let's explore that.' It was through counseling and the weekend experience that we learned we had no idea how to talk to each other or care for each other. We learned how to stop doing things that were hurting our marriage and utilize tools to help us communicate better. We learned a path to intimacy in our marriage we had never known before."

    Greg and Carrie began this journey 15 months before sharing their story. Though it hasn't been easy, they've been able to bury their old marriage and build a new, 100% different marriage.

    "We have worked hard to rebuild trust," Greg says. "I have accepted responsibility for my behavior and Carrie, while she is not to blame for the affair, has been able to look at her behavior as well. We have set healthy boundaries and put safeguards in place and we attend support groups both individually and as a couple. What we have found is an amazing marriage we didn't know was possible."

    "With every crisis there is an opportunity," says Kristina Coop Gordon, co-author of Getting Past the Affair. "What Greg and Carrie have described is not just luck on their part as a couple. It is not uncommon for couples who have experienced infidelity to believe that their marriage is over. However, based on 20 years of research and clinical experience, we have found that at least 65-70 percent of couples who choose to work on their relationship survive the affair."

    If you are reeling from infidelity in your marriage, you might find these resources helpful: beyondaffairsnetwork.com, and the book, Getting Past the Affair: A Program to Help you Cope, Heal and Move On --Together or Apart by Kristina Coop Gordon.

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    Can a Marriage Survive an Affair?

    Sally, an outdoor enthusiast, is happily married to her husband, Sam, a computer buff.* Instead of nagging Sam about not being outside with her, Sally joined a weekly hiking club to meet her need to experience the great outdoors. Sally made lots of new friends. On hikes they would talk about kids, spouses, etc. While Sally loves Sam, she shares the love of the outdoors with these men and women.

    “This is often how inappropriate relationships begin,” says Dave Carder, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of Torn Asunder: Recovery from Extramarital Affairs. “People move from talking in generalities to more specific things like, 'Help me understand my spouse,' to even more private issues. This starts a gradual erosion of boundaries and often leads to an affair.”

    How can you know if a fling is inappropriate?

    “If your heart races when you anticipate seeing this person, that is a definite sign that there is more to the story than friendship,” Carder says. “If you have said or thought to yourself, ‘If I weren’t married, I would marry this person,’ that definitely puts the relationship in a different category. This is often when you see people acting like they are drunk in love.”

    What if you suspect your spouse is having an affair?

    The best thing you can do, according to Carder, is ask him/her. Be very direct. "Do you have an emotional or sexual relationship with someone outside of our marriage?"

    “Very few people I have worked with over the years have gone out looking for an affair,” Carder says. “Most people literally fall into them. It is so exhilarating he/she hates to leave it behind. You start to save conversational topics for this relationship that you don’t share with your spouse – you used to share them, but now you save them for the friendship. You start nourishing the friendship and starving the marriage.

    “Marriages often become so encumbered with life (kids, career, household responsibilities) that the couple loses that lovin’ feeling, that way they felt before they married. So the ga-ga feeling and the exhilaration of doing crazy things spontaneously is very appealing in these extramarital flings.

    "The good news is there are huge numbers of marriages that don’t just survive affairs, they are significantly better than they were before the affair. The key to a marriage surviving an affair lies in its good marital history. If 20 percent of a couple’s history is simultaneously viewed as positive by both spouses, they have a better than 90 percent chance of making it.”

    Common risk factors for affairs include, these issues and more:

    • Poor impulse control;

    • A history of infidelity in the family;

    • An abusive or chronically conflicted past; and/or

    • A promiscuous adolescence.

    Can a marriage survive infidelity?

    Once an affair has occurred, Carder says four universal concepts can save a marriage: forgiveness, rebuilding respect, building trust and building love.

    “If you don’t rebuild respect, you will never have an appropriate love relationship," he says. Even if you don’t stay married, you still need to go through this process in order not to continue to pay the price of the affair in future relationships.”

    Carder encourages people to look at this situation like an alcoholic would look at getting sober. The person in the affair might want to cut back or keep it innocent, but they want to keep the relationship. It is a mood-altering experience. For restoration of the marriage, this is not possible.

    “You have to leave the club,” Carder says. “You have to get out of the music group, be very direct and cut off the relationship. There is a big difference is saying, ‘We gotta stop this,’ and ‘Don’t ever call me again.’”

    Carder recommends the following action steps to couples dealing with infidelity:

    • Don’t try to go it alone. Find friends with experience. If you will be brave and share your situation with some friends, the number of people who have been there will probably amaze you.

    • Nobody can work on two relationships at once. Stop the one, and work through the marriage first.

    • Find a therapist who meets the following three criteria: structure for the recovery, a safe environment and a goal of marriage stabilization – not future determination.

    Outcome studies indicate that couples who save their marriage after infidelity report the highest satisfaction levels of their mutual history. With time, both partners can forgive without forgetting, rebuild trust, restore respect and rekindle love.

    Every marriage faces challenges. Whether it's infidelity or a continual conflict that creates friction and tension, there are plenty of obstacles to overcome. Learn how to move forward in your relationship by registering for Maximize Your Marriage on our home page. It's an experience to help married couples gain helpful skills to better communicate, handle conflict and create expectations for the future of their marriage.

    *Not their real names