Before the Affair – What Puts Your Marriage at Risk
A few years ago Marian and I decided to remodel our kitchen. We chose to do a complete demolition down to the studs and rebuild with upgraded materials, appliances, and furnishings.
To chronicle the project we took “before and after” pictures. Comparing the photos highlighted the dramatic transformation. Needless to say it was well worth the time, energy, and investment to have something we truly enjoy!
Marriages need updating. Do you know what I mean? Keeping the same look and feel without modification, can look old and outdated–as if you took a careless approach to life together.
Often couples come to see me immediately after the exposure of an affair. As I listen to them share the heartbreaking story, I ponder two questions, “What did the marriage look like before the affair?” and “What will it look like after?” Like my kitchen, I wonder if they need a complete overhaul to the studs. Or is this a wakeup call for some updating.
No doubt, infidelity can wreck a marriage, damage kids, and affect extended family and friends who care about you. It is not a pleasant moment to witness the involved partner look into the eyes of the injured partner who has been crushed by the confession of an affair. My hope is that I can help them walk through a process of recovery that will not only heal the current pain but give the relationship a new look, one better than the “before picture”.
7 Common Factors That Increase the Risk of an Affair
Over the next two weeks I will give you a look at marriages “before the affair” and “after the affair”. First, let’s start with 7 common factors that increase the risk of an affair. I will follow with 5 affair-proofing strategies.
#1: Lack of attention to your relationship
Couples who move marriage to the back-burner to focus on kids, work, and household responsibilities neglect the key health component in the family–their marriage. Consequently, their “couple identity” connected around fun, adventure, and romance slowly evaporates.
#2: Over-Involvement in kids, work, household tasks, etc…
For a variety of reasons I will not address here, couples today over invest in kids, work, and the pursuit of the American Dream. They are trying to create the idyllic picture of a beautiful home and well-bred children. To achieve this they move at a speed that outpaces Superman! From dawn to dusk, couples expend energy in these tasks to the exclusion of the marriage. Which leads to the next risk factor.
#3: Marital drift
When marital needs are neglected, a slow imperceptible drift begins. A spouse may alert the other of concerns about the marriage, but nothing serious is done to address it. Over time, as the intimacy needs in the marriage go unmet, vulnerability exists for one or both partners to seek intimacy elsewhere.
#4: Poor communication and conflict resolution patterns
Communication ranks high in the area couples report as a cause for marital dissatisfaction. Lacking the ability to resolve conflicts, many couples stockpile them for ammunition in future arguments. To cope, these couples often go into a “cold war”, not talking for hours or days until they are ready to reengage the relationship. Some stop talking about important subjects just to avoid an argument.
#5: Marrying for the wrong reasons
Some people marry before they are ready for it. They have not figured themselves out and are compensating by getting married. Others, give up a part of themselves in order to make the marriage work. Later, they feel something is missing. They feel trapped in roles that define them. If their partner does not understand and support their need for personal development, resentment may form. Feeling no way out they often escape into an affair.
#6 Power differential in marriage
One of the biggest contributors to an unhappy marriage is when one spouse wields more power than the other. This power imbalance leaves the other feeling controlled and resentful. This is not a gender-specific dynamic. Women can feel over-powered and men can feel emasculated. Emotionally wounded spouses feel vulnerable to someone who gives them attention.
#7: Chronic physical or mental health problems
Chronic health problems can cause wear and tear on a marriage. Individuals who do not invest in a personal health regiment can develop chronic physical and/or mental health problems. The health issue becomes front and center in the marriage leaving little room for fun or romance. Untreated mental health problems cause marriages to become toxic. Unhappy spouses are at risk to seek intimacy needs outside marriage.
5 Affair-Proofing Strategies
Now that we have identified 7 factors that increase risk of an affair, let’s focus on 5 things you can do to limit the risk.
#1: Give your marriage front burner time
Marriages often end up on the back burner. They need front burner attention. This is no time for excuses. You make time for the things that matter–like kids and work. Your marriage matters. Put it on the front burner by establishing regular dates and alone time together where you can connect, have fun, romance, and take a break from the other role hats you wear.
#2: Manage your personal health concerns
If you haven’t yet, it is time to get serious about taking care of yourself. Are you careless and self-indulging about your health? Do you neglect yourself? Are you avoiding getting help with a mental health problem like depression, anxiety, or attention deficit? This is not good! You will lose attraction and respect from your spouse if you neglect yourself. Do something about this now! See #5 below.
#3: Slow down your pace of life
Maybe it’s time to pump the brakes. Look at your calendar. What does it communicate? Does it reflect your values? If not, you need to slow down an re-evaluate what is important. Talk to your spouse. What can be eliminated or modified to slow the pace of your life down so you have more energy to devote to your marriage? Do this and you may avoid a collision with infidelity.
#4: Avoid alone contact with a person with whom you feel a mutual attraction
If you feel unhappy in your marriage and starving for affection you are vulnerable to an affair–no matter how strong you think you are. An affair can happen quickly. If you find a mutual attraction, you are in a danger zone. I recommend you avoid alone contact or any form that sets the pattern in motion. Once it starts, it is very difficult to stop it. You may be in over your head before you know it. See my blog Sound Advice From Ashley Madison to learn how stressful an affair can become.
#5: Seek counseling to address issues that cause personal and marital distress
There are two approaches to counseling I want to highlight: personal or marriage. If your marriage is drifting it is probably a good time for you to seek couples counseling together. You can learn how to communicate, resolve conflict, and improve ways to connect romantically.
If you have personal issues that get in the way of your marriage, individual counseling can be a helpful process to give you ways to manage things, especially mental health issues. Do you go to the doctor or dentist to address physical illnesses? Doesn’t it make sense to see a professional to treat mental health concerns?
Perhaps you’ve tried to work on your marriage. You’ve pleaded with your spouse to work on it too. No matter what you’ve tried, it hasn’t worked. Your spouse is unwilling to do his/her part. Do not seek an affair as a means to exit the marriage. Instead, see an individual counselor. Choose an exit plan that honors your integrity. Do not allow an affair to indict you for something you could achieve with your dignity.
Now it’s your turn
Do you see factors that put your marriage at risk for an affair? If so, I know it can be scary. Look at the 5 affair-proofing strategies. What do you think might be a good next step for you?