Cheating in relationships is rampant. We can assume most partners will cheat at some point in a committed relationship. Why? I’m going to answer that question a number of ways, and then teach you how to guard against it happening. But first, some statistics. The U.S. divorce rate for first marriages is near 50%, and significantly higher if you include second and third marriages. Divorces don’t necessarily involve cheating, but the two are connected. Cheating is sometimes a cause of divorce and at other times as a symptom of a weakened relationship. An estimated half of married partners cheat on their spouse. If you include other types of committed relationships, the percentage of cheating goes up.
I don’t mean to imply that cheating is always a bad thing. Affairs can sometimes make a relationship stronger, as many in the affair recovery movement can testify. Whereas a couple may have been neglecting their sex life, not paying enough attention to their emotional bond, or not communicating honestly about needs and desires, an affair can sometimes spur a couple to get their act together and function more securely. Cheating can sometimes be a way to end an unhealthy relationship, or gain clarity about what is truly fulfilling. An affair can be a way to make a move in a stagnant relationship rather than hang out in limbo for years. But cheating is also generally a very painful experience for one or both committed partners.
I also don’t mean to imply that monogamous relationships are somehow better than other kinds of arrangements. To each his own. But by and large, most people in the Western world still choose to function in mutually agreed-upon committed relationships. So it makes sense to explore what prevents cheating and how to protect your relationship from it, or at least stack the odds in your favor. Especially because cheating can have a negative effect not just on adults in relationship, but on young children who depend physically and emotionally on the stability of adult relationships.
Dr. Stan Tatkin, author of Wired for Love, has written on the importance of having explicit agreements. “Everything that is assumed does not really exist,” he says. Agreements should be clear, and cover how to handle others’ advances, what information is shared (attraction to others), and how quickly you tell each other about romantic or flirty experiences. There should be a conversation on what constitutes cheating, because initially partners may not be on the same page. For example, one partner may think it’s fine to go out dancing with their friends, flirt with folks, and maybe even have some ‘innocent’ kisses on the dance floor, while their partner may consider that behavior out of bounds. Partners can have very different ideas on what constitutes an emotional affair, and if it qualifies as cheating.
The best defense against cheating is a great relationship. When our needs are met physically and emotionally, we don’t have as much interest to look elsewhere. Examine how well you meet your partner’s wants and needs, and how well they meet yours. Make sure to step it up in areas that are weak, and to communicate honestly about what you need to feel fulfilled and fully happy.
Do things together that challenge you to grow together. We all change as we age. It’s not enough to put our partnerships on cruise control and expect them to last. How are you going to keep up with your partner’s changing thoughts, preferences, ideas and desires? How do they keep up with yours? Read books together, attend seminars, or find a good online relationship education program to keep your partnership on the cutting edge of moving forward so you are continually discovering one another.
Sounds simple. But it’s not. Your partner has all kinds of secret thoughts and feelings they probably don’t tell you, or possibly anyone. You need to be safe enough to your partner that you get the full skinny. How? Encourage honesty with alot of compassion and no judgment. Find out the few things about your partner that no one else knows. Use that information to ‘be on the inside’ every day in terms of their experiences in the relationship, at work, and with themselves. Know things their mom or friends don’t even know. This knowledge makes you valuable in a way few others can replicate.
If you suspect your partner’s attention may be drifting elsewhere, it may push them further away to become angry and critical with them. Jealousy is natural, but try to focus on wooing your partner even more with your talents and capabilities. Give them more of a reason to love and value you. Being upset with them may frighten them temporarily into being more careful, but it’s not an effective long-term strategy, and often doesn’t work in the short term either. You can’t keep a partner around reliably or happily using threats and fear. Only the positive reasons for being together hold up as glue that will protect you from others getting in on the action.
It’s the 21st Century. The old-time stigma of seeing a couples counselor is long-gone. Find a good, capable therapist, and see them for “positive and pro-active” relationship support. Go in before you have major issues. After is often too late for counseling to be fully effective. We all have blind spots in the way are with others. Some of those come from our family history, such as the things our parents tended to do in relationship, or more importantly, what they did not do with one another. Our map of healthy, secure relationship is usually only as good as what we have seen and experienced first-hand. Counseling, even a few sessions here and there, can help us develop a more comprehensive map of how to tend to our partnerships and share life together more enjoyably.
You have to be the go-to person. Anything you don’t provide in terms of emotional, intellectual and physical needs, your partner will look to others for. And they should. In other words, we all seek to meet our needs, and if our partner isn’t there in certain ways, we find others. Those others sometimes form the basis for an affair, or an emotional bond that replaces our partner, or takes energy away from the partnership that it really needs to grow and adapt. Think of being a partner as applying for a job every day. Why should your partner keep you around and not fire you? What do you do that someone else cannot easily do instead? You have to be so good that others can’t really compete. This is, more than anything, the secret to preventing separations and break-ups, and it works much better than fear and guilt.
We are not wired for monogamy. Biologically, there are many imperatives to cheating, beginning with the added immune system and cell protections that come from mixing the gene pool. So why stay true? Well, there have to be excellent reasons for staying committed. What could those be? After all, the physical lust center of the brain really thrives on novelty, strangers and the exotic. Left to its own devices, that part of the brain may act on desires with others besides our partner. Think of the benefits of commitment: A partner who knows you better than anyone else; someone you have shared history and life memories with; someone you can rely on; someone who, when our beauty fades, our youthfulness is gone, and our health and sex drive diminish, still wants to be our companion and share life together; someone to grow old with. You and your partner need to remind yourselves of the reasons for commitment so the animal part of your brain doesn’t run unchecked.
Affairs and cheating are primarily an issue with the strength and satisfaction of our current relationship, so it’s always best to look there first before blaming others or circumstance. But in second place as a contributing culprit is opportunity. Affairs and cheating are often a function of opportunity. Traveling with a co-worker, being at a party late without your partner, spending lots of time alone, drinking too much, or having independent social circles and activities can create opportunities. So what to do? Pay extra attention to these types of situations. Try to do things together, so others don’t have as much access. Stay in touch during the day, and text if one of you is out late at night. Check in while traveling, and send loving care packages with your traveling partner so they feel connected to you. If others begin to text or call your partner too much, it’s fair to ask that some of that energy be directed back into the primary relationship.
Talk frequently and openly about sex, fantasies and desires. Try new hobbies together to keep things fun, humorous and exciting. Laugh together, wrestle. Try an unusual class. Choose TV shows to watch together you’ve never seen. Ask other couple friends for ideas on trips and local experiences they have liked. Try new things in the bedroom. Do things that are a little embarrassing, but still within your comfort zone. New, exciting activities, especially in the area of emotional and physical intimacy, keep your interest kindled and help you bond.
The best protection against cheating and affairs is ensuring your relationship is too awesome to mess with. Being attractive to your partner every day works better than fear, guilt or threats in maintaining the security of your commitment. Keeping things fresh in your friendship and love life additionally stimulate the brain in ways that maintain attention within the primary partnership. And if you suspect your partner may be looking elsewhere for an erotic shot in the arm or a deeper emotional friendship than what you typically provide, take steps to up your game rather than threaten to leave or become too critical. Sometimes, moments of interest in other people and experiences can tip you off to where you need to turn on the jets as a partner or couple. Improving your relationship needs to be a constant. Keep the focus on making yourselves stronger, not worrying so much about others and the world ‘out there.’
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