Interrupting the imperceptible slide into infidelity

A week ago I blogged about the imperceptible, irresistible slide into infidelity. Part 1 then…then life happened…part 2 now.

One of the funnest parts of my job is working with couples about to get married. They don’t come in with relationship problems…they come in because they know that premarital counselling is a great idea. On average, couples that have premarital counselling are 30% less likely to face divorce. Premarital counselling is a great proactive way to create a lifelong partnership. But I digress into what is clearly a passion of mine…ok…back on topic.

The couples that come for premarital counselling generally come with a solid and good relationship that they seek to make even better.

It’s inspiring to watch these couples invest in their relationship.

They hold hands during sessions, speak warmly and supportively of each other, with each other, and to each other.

And they have no idea that there will likely come a day when they will be tempted and have to make a choice about whether to stay faithful. Right now, they can’t imagine anything other than total devotion to their partner.

I’m not sure I’ve ever met a partner at the beginning of a relationship that ever plans to be unfaithful.

But it happens. It is thought somewhere between 30-50% of couples will have an episode of cheating where one partner breaks the vows of fidelity. Relationships don’t start out with the intention to hurt the other.

But it happens. A little tiff has a partner leave in a huff…and then a supportive co-worker asks about the air of upset, and it feels so good to get it one’s chest. And later you’re embarrassed to tell your partner that you told your supportive co-worker about your fight…and there is a window where a wall should be…and a wall where a window should be.

The pre-emptive strike:

To have a discussion about what appropriate walls and windows look like in your marriage…a checklist of sorts perhaps. An ability to monitor and check your behavior against what you’ve decided is appropriate behavior…what you’ve decided when you are feeling calm and connected with your spouse…guidelines you develop together…and can use when you may not be thinking so clearly.
I wrote about the frog in the kettle a week ago…a frog jumps out of a pot of boiling water, but cooks gradually when placed in cool water that is heated ever so gradually.

What if the frog (assuming frogs can be this smart…work with me, people— Imaginations please!) decided to jump out at a set temperature, regardless of how it was feeling? It would save itself from certain death.

Similarly…it’s helpful to have markers that you’ve decided as a couple each of you will not cross.

Now comes the hard part…what to do if/when you cross that line...cuz we know it happens.

It would be sorely tempting to hide that fact…to avoid telling your partner you did something s/he wouldn’t like. The hard part is to “open up the window” to your partner on it…(even though that votes for the marriage…big time). To say something like, “I did something today that I don’t think you’ll like…and something I’m really not proud of. I had lunch with ____ today…just her/him and I. We talked about our fight last night…and I regret that…partly because it s/he was so supportive and it felt better to talk to him/her than is healthy. I’m sorry but I wanted to let you know. Now you know more than s/he does…and because you are so important to me, I want you to be the closest one to me.”

  • It repositions the spouse to be the one “in the know” and most intimate with you.
  • That makes it harder for the walls to get thicker in your marriage and windows to get larger in the illicit relationship.
  • That’s hard…but it opens up a window and lets your partner in.

An equally hard part is for the spouse to hear this and work to not only acknowledge the pain, but to realize the value of the window that is being enlarged and maintained in the relationship…it’s hard to appreciate a window when the view through is one that is hurtful.

To stay grounded and to be grateful for the open discussion rather than to shame and judge for the admission is a difficult…but worthwhile task, indeed.

It would be very difficult to hear of a partner’s temptation to talk more with a co-worker than necessary, or hear of a new online friend.

In fact, I can think of few things more difficult.

Certainly, one of the few things more difficult would be to find out a few months later that your spouse has had an innocent relationship blossom into something that is not at all innocent anymore.

“Big picture” thinking is required for the difficult conversation that keeps the close intimacy, even around difficult things, within the marital bond. To know that your partner finds you safe enough to talk to about even such a painful and difficult topic is a compliment to the relationship and the spouse…odd but true.

An alternate strategy is to work at an excellent relationship with your spouse, but to have an accountability friend/group (same sex person for a heterosexual person) to report any temptation or difficulties to…to have one or two people who are committed to being utterly transparent with you and you with them.

These friends help you stay on the path that ultimately you want to be on…they are pro-marriage/pro-long-term-relationship and supportive of your relationship of your spouse and work to help you keep it strong. This means finding not just buddies, but folks who are willing to challenge you and gently walk alongside you during rough spots, saying tough things in a way that inspires you to make wise choices when your brain isn’t thinking with it’s smartest parts.

This is tough stuff.

To stay faithful in a world that offers temptations as near as a few clicks of a mouse away on online chat rooms, or a marathon project at the office is a challenge.

But the reward of a lifelong earned, fought-for, valued, treasured growing marriage makes it worth it.

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