Let's Be Real about Affairs!
Updated: Jan 12, 2019
I love how my life inspires my work. Isn't that an attention-grabbing sentence to start with on Friday morning? All joking aside, I want to take a few minutes to talk about one of the biggest relationship fears: affairs. There are countless articles, definitions, and statistics available on this topic. For the purpose of this article, let's define affair as crossing a set boundary you have with your significant other, either emotionally or physically, with another human.
Last night, my husband returned from a business trip. He works in sales, so it’s a given he will be out in the evenings chatting with potential clients. He and I caught up on the week, and what the kids had been doing. After everyone settled in, he said he wanted to talk.
He began with, "I didn't do anything wrong...” Apparently, he was standing with a group of guys, and a woman from another company (whom he had interacted with during the day) advanced from across the room, maintaining eye contact, and said, “I am headed up to my room. Are you joining me?"
My husband, always the nice guy, chuckled nervously. “No thank you. Sleep well!”
While this strikes me as pretty bold, it is the perfect illustration of how easy it can be to step across a boundary. It can happen in person; it can happen online. We live in a society where we hold the world in our hands. I can pick up my phone anytime and connect with anyone through countless platforms. On one hand, I know more about, and feel more connected to, long lost cousins and college friends than ever before. However, I also have the opportunity to engage with anyone at anytime, which has the potential to lead to emotional and/or physical affairs.
A few weeks ago, I was posting away on Instagram and Facebook (on our Thriving Relationship pages) while sitting in bed. Suddenly, a message popped in. If his profile picture is real, a handsome man was reaching out to tell me I'm beautiful. Now, let's think about this: here I am posting about how to have a healthy relationship. The pages are nothing but relationship posts, and this supposed gentleman is trying to connect! I stared at the screen that gave me the choice of accepting or declining the message, fully aware that one click could potentially send me down a very different path. I pressed “decline.” Because I'm a relationship nerd, I love the irony.
I often work with couples who say, "I never thought this would happen,” or "I never thought I would cheat,” or “I never imagined she/he would cheat,” and "I was always one of those people that said they would definitely end the relationship if there was an affair.” Research shows that more couples actually stay together after affairs than do separate. So, let's talk about affairs as a potential issue for all relationships instead of judging and pointing fingers at "those people.”
Many of us want a sense of control. We like to buy things with guarantees; change is easier to accept when we are given fair warning, and we definitely don't want the person we love most in this world to hurt us. I have been seeing many articles lately that have a title such as “Affair-proof Your Relationship.” After spending the last few years really studying affairs, I have to say that I don't think we can “affair-proof” our relationship, but we can do things that help decrease the risk.
I believe all relationships have strong times and weak times — times when we feel seen, heard, and loved, and times when we feel alone. As individuals, we have times when we are really grounded in who we are, and times when we seek validation outside ourselves. With all of these factors at play, there are times when a relationship is more vulnerable. If Brad and I had just had a fight and were in a weaker place as a couple, when I got the little message on Instagram, I could have simply pushed “accept.” Often, this is where an affair starts. There is a moment that starts a conversation, and it rolls from there. People get caught up in the situation before they even realize what is happening.
So, what can we do? First, I would start with really defining your boundaries. Everyone has different opinions on whether you can be friends with the gender you are attracted to, for example, and where the lines are on social media. Have those conversations with your person once in a while to stay on the same page.
Second, communicate, communicate, communicate! At the moment the handsome man messaged me, if I had chosen to hide it instead of saying, "Look Brad, someone thinks I'm pretty!” a little secret would have started. Too often, those little secrets grow to big secrets. If Brad would have opted to leave out the story of his bold proposition, and instead, one of his friends mentioned it later, I might have had a very different reaction than I did last night. Keeping yourself accountable to your person can keep you out of trouble.
Now, for the partner who is hearing about the proposition or sideways message, it is equally as important to not react with accusations or shame. Understand that even though the conversation may make you a bit uncomfortable (I may have looked up the woman on Facebook...shhh), this is the best case scenario. These are the types of conversations that keep us centered in our own relationships. Rich conversations.
Third, do everything you can to foster your relationship and your health as an individual. Go on dates, get help when you need help, keep passion and desire alive, and keep in mind that every relationship has its highs and lows. Do not neglect your own mind, body, and spirit as an individual. We simply cannot fully connect with another person if we are internally struggling.
Finally, when a friend or family member is dealing with an affair, focus on supporting them without judgement. Just because their reality is one of our biggest fears does not mean that we should ignore their needs.
Speaking of fostering your relationship, join us for our upcoming retreat in Idaho Falls — a perfect way for you to spend time together reinforcing your relationship while learning skills that keep it Thriving. For more information: https://www.thethrivingrelationship.com/retreat.