I tell my clients, “Affairs don’t begin in bed.” What I mean is this: there are often a series of poor boundaries and bad choices that happen long before the affair.
Hints for prevention based on my experience:
- Realize that you are capable of having an affair. We all are. You need to realize this or else you will not enforce boundaries like you should. I hear this a lot, “I never thought I would do something like this.” And we never do.
- Talk to your spouse. I think affairs often start at home, when one or both spouses are not talking about something they should be. Or longing for something he or she feels is missing. These folks are vulnerable to making decisions based on their desire to fill that missing piece. If talking doesn’t work, try counseling! If you leave this problem (whatever it is) alone, it will not go away! In fact, it will most likely get worse.
- Get healthy. If you have an untreated addiction or mental illness (particularly bi-polar disorder), please seek treatment. You are more vulnerable to having an affair.
- Set clear boundaries. Decide with your spouse what is acceptable behavior with the opposite sex. I can’t make my clients be as conservative as I am in my own marriage with this, but I have one rule that I am adamant about: do not complain about your partner to someone of the opposite sex. In fact, be very wary of who you complain about your partner to in general. Choose one or two trustworthy friends of the same sex when you need to vent on occasion.
- Be accountable. You will feel attraction to someone other than your spouse at some point. That is normal. What is not ok is keeping this a secret (although you do not need to tell your spouse about this unless you have acted on the attraction). Hiding things and trying to push them down has a way of making things get bigger. Find that trustworthy same sex friend and say something like this: “there’s just something about him /her that I find attractive. I will have extra boundaries with this person and if it continues to grow I will remove this person from my life to protect my marriage and family.”
- Learn about love. Love is a choice. You will always feel something is missing if you believe love is the same thing as the “in love feeling.” Hollywood and fairy tales set us up to believe that love is always supposed to be exciting, easy and make you happy (affairs are exciting…that is much of the draw).
If this blog is too late, please know that I have seen grace and forgiveness in sessions with clients. It will not be an easy road, but there is hope and healing is possible. I hope you’ll seek wise counsel and begin the process. You are not alone.