One of the things I hear most from clients who have experienced infidelity is, I never thought this would happen in our marriage. It is not something any couple plans for or thinks will happen to them. But it can and does happen in marriage, but it can be avoided.
There are many reasons affairs happen, but typically it’s at the point when vulnerability meets opportunity. So first is to reduce vulnerability in your marriage. There are two major ways that I am going to talk about in this article. The first is taking care of your marriage, yourself and your spouse. The second is communication. If these two areas are prioritized in the marriage, you reduce your risk of infidelity.
The first priority is taking care of your marriage, yourself and your spouse. We all want to feel important in the life of those important to us. We want to feel useful and appreciated. We want to belong. It’s important that this is considered in how you treat your spouse. Often in marriage, partners begin to take each other for granted and complain about what’s wrong rather than appreciate what’s right. Daily things like noticing how your partner looks and commenting on it, noticing efforts made with chores around the house or parenting the kids and sharing these appreciations, taking the time to be affectionate and making your partner feel loved and noticed. These may seem like small gestures but they add up to connection and sense of belonging that is key in preventing affairs.
I often hear the spouse who had the affair say things like, this person listened to me, understood me, made me feel I was important. Things that all too often fall out of a marriage. Recognizing love as an action, not just a feeling and treating your spouse accordingly not only works to keep your spouse from looking to get these needs met elsewhere but also helps you nurture your fondness and admiration of your spouse.
In addition to this, it is important to make the marriage as much of a priority as you would your job. Early in marriage, people are focused on having kids and advancing careers. Both of these can pull you in different directions and distract your from your marriage. It is important to prioritize and not let this happen. Carve out time on a regular basis for your marriage to include communication, fun, play, intimacy and connecting.
Another important piece is self-care. It’s important that you make your own needs known, and when your spouse can’t meet them, meet them yourself. For example, if you are a person that likes to go to the beach to unwind but your partner doesn’t enjoy that, go anyway! Otherwise resentment builds, needs go unmet and you make yourself vulnerable to an affair.
The last but possible most important piece is communication. It’s not always possible to avoid vulnerability in a relationship. Vulnerabilities can be anything from job loss, loss of a loved one, new baby, anything that can bring stress to the relationship. By always communicating with one another and working together to overcome challenges, you reduce the risk of turning to an affair to cope. Share your needs with one another and be responsive and sensitive to each other’s needs. The stronger your connection and level of intimacy, understanding of one another, ability to cherish one another and treat each other as such will build a fortress around your relationship that will be difficult for an outsider to break through.
If you don’t like a particular pattern you are in with your partner, instead of trying to change your partner,
look at how you can change what you are doing to create a change in the pattern.
Do the opposite of what you are currently doing and see what effect it has.
For example: Sara wants Jim to call more often when he is away on business trips, and when he doesn’t call she complains at him for not thinking of her and he ends up calling even less. So she breaks the pattern by stopping the complaining but being happy to hear from him. She doesn’t even mention how often he calls. Over time, this results in him calling more often.
So think about what current dysfunctional patterns you are in with your partner, what could you change in what you think, how you respond or react that might change the pattern?
We all spend time thinking about and illustrating the kind of partner we want to have. But how often, if ever, do we think about the kind of partner we want to be? If you have already chosen the partner you want to be with, now it is time to focus on the kind of partner you want to be. Make a list of your ideal self as husband or wife. How far off are you from that ideal self? Everyday is a day to bring yourself closer to becoming that person.
As you know, good communication is vital to the health of a relationship. But what is good communication? One important element is respect. Without it, your communication can be very damaging to the relationship. No matter what the conflict or how intense the emotions, commit to treating your partner with respect and kindness as the first step toward healthy communication and a healthy marriage.
Grousing is to complain, nag, or criticize. These are deadly habits in relationships and over time can be highly destructive. So I challenge you to 3 days without grousing at your partner. Work to notice things done right rather than things done wrong, even if you have to take out a microscope to find them! Show appreciation and gratitude for your spouses contributions rather than finding fault. Do you think you can do it? (it’s not as easy as it sounds, and the longer you’ve been together, the harder it is!)
“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?”
Think of one thing you can do for your spouse today to make his/her life easier. Do it without expectations, do it just to be kind and loving and giving. If you do this everyday, what kind of marriage might you have?
“Many marriages would be better if the husband and the wife clearly
understood that they are on the same side.” Zig Ziglar
In working to resolve conflict, change the goal from winning the argument (which means you are against each other) to being on the same team by seeking to understand and empathize with your partners perspective.
We have all heard the notion, don’t get to bed angry. I don’t disagree with the notion, however, not every conflict has a resolution that can be reached by sundown. So if you find yourself going round and round well into the night, don’t be afraid to put the argument to rest. Things often look different in the morning. After some rest and time to regroup, you can go back to the discussion in a calm manner, or sometimes you might just realize it wasn’t something even worth fighting about. So break the ice and get on with your day!
What are the boundaries for effective conflict resolution in marriage? Often, when couples get married, they come into the marriage with unspoken expectations. A common one that comes up is the right to free expression. I should and have the right to express every emotion that I have in the name of honesty. Hogwash!! This can be incredibly damaging to a relationship! Some of this may sound contradictory to that last post that talked about being your genuine selves with each other, but in there I mentioned there has to be boundaries. Well in this post we are talking about those boundaries with the understanding that unbridled self expression can be very damaging to a relationship. It might feel good in the moment, but what feels good in the moment is not necessarily for the benefit of the relationship. Everything you say and do in your relationship will either move you closer together or push you further apart. So ask yourself that question when you are about to “express” yourself. Is this going to bring you closer or push you further?
Here’s an example: when my husband is with the kids for a few hours, I come home and the house is a disaster. If I were to come home and start complaining that the house is a mess, he might feel resentful that I don’t appreciate the time he spent with the kids so I could have some time for myself. I might feel annoyed that the house is a mess, but for the sake of the relationship and my husband’s feelings, I keep that to myself and focus on appreciating his efforts. Is that disingenuous? I don’t think so, because both feelings exist, but I choose to express the ones that will draw me closer to my spouse.
Think about how you can do this in your marriage. Next post I will write about how to express dissatisfaction about something in the relationship without pushing your partner away.
Thank you for visiting!
Here is part 2 in the series of what makes marriage work. My goal is to dish out tidbits of information that will help you improve your marriage.
This post will focus on conflict resolution. Conflict. It can be a scarey word to a lot of people but the avoidance of conflict will result in killing the passion in your relationship. When two human beings come together and allow themselves to be their authentic selves, there is going to be friction. To try to avoid this results in walking on eggshells and not being able to share genuine feelings, thoughts, beliefs and ideas for fear you are going to rock the boat.
Rock the boat! If communcation is dealt with inside the boundaries of love, respect, kindness, and empathy, conflict can lead to deeper understanding of one another which leads to a deeper level of intimacy. But it means allowing each other to be who you are and not trying to change each other. It means respecting one another’s views, feelings, and opinions. It means allowing your partner to feel what they feel and express emotions in a genuine way.
Embrace healthy conflict and have a happy New Year!