My articles are usually focused on parenting. While this one is about marriage, it definitely has an impact on families and children. Affairs, defined broadly or narrowly, have a detrimental impact on the whole family. Narrowly defined, an affair is understood as an illicit sexual relationship with someone outside the marriage. Broadly defined, an affair is an intimate relationship that is emotionally intense and sexually charged. The intensity and sexualized nature of this relationship is kept hidden from the marriage partner. Usually, the extra-marital person is someone both spouses know; someone from the workplace, neighborhood, another parent known through the children’s school or organized sports, or even a close family friend. More uncommonly it is some random stranger met through social media or at a bar while on an out-of-town business trip.
Why people have affairs is somewhat confusing. It’s often thought that it’s because the marriage is bad or broken. This is frequently an excuse given, but is not often true. While all marriages could be improved, the reason for an affair lies within the betrayer. He or she is personally responsible for the affair and cannot in good conscience blame the betrayed spouse. You can drive your spouse away, but you are not capable of driving them into the arms of another. The cause I most often see for affairs is ego; the need to prop up and inflate one’s self-worth, image and confidence. An affair is an easy way to get confirmation that “I’ve still got it”; the attractiveness, prowess and beauty worth paying attention to. Its a very self-centered mindset.
While it may be a self-centered mindset, that doesn’t mean only narcissistic egomaniacs have affairs. People-pleasers are some of the most vulnerable to having affairs. Those who struggle with depression and anxiety are also more susceptible to having affairs. Conflict avoiders are extremely likely to have affairs. This is because there are needs within those persons that are not being met; needs like significance, love and belonging, power, security. Needs are powerful forces in our lives, and we will violate our values in order to get our needs met. That’s why it’s important to recognize our needs and find ways to get them met that honor our values and priorities. In other words, there are much better ways to confirm that “you’ve still got it” than having an affair.
A core strategy to affair-proofing your marriage is healthy boundaries. Shirley Glass, author of “Not Just Friends” uses the metaphor of windows and walls. A people-pleasing conflict avoider will often put up a wall with their spouse, which opens a window with someone else who is easier to talk with and more emotionally attractive. What needs to happen instead of an affair is a tearing down of the wall between spouses. Talk directly and openly with your spouse about your resentments, hurts, and needs instead of turning to someone else who has no business meeting those needs for you.
Another strategy is to examine your own life and what you need. I encourage you to watch Tony Robbins TED talk “Why We Do What We Do”, in which he explains core needs that motivate every human. For instance, if you determine that you need more adventure and variety in your life, then find a way to get that need met that is in line with your values and is good for your marriage. Look at your marriage and what you need from your spouse. Communicate about these needs. Go to marriage therapy to help facilitate this new level of communication. It is much better to go to marriage therapy before an affair starts instead of waiting until an affair has already occurred.