By Dr. Richard Nicastro
An affair takes an enormous emotional, physical and spiritual toll on any committed relationship. The very foundation that a relationship is built upon–trust, commitment and loyalty — are shattered, and the post-affair relationship is sometimes unsalvageable because the sense of betrayal runs so deep.
In most instances, affairs don’t happen without warning signs. The person contemplating an affair doesn’t wake up one morning and on the spot decide to betray his/her partner. Becoming affair-prone occurs gradually, and often people are unaware that the seeds of infidelity are being planted.
It is impossible to accurately predict if a person will decide to cheat on his/her partner. There are, however, certain conditions that, if set in motion, can lead to you or your partner becoming affair-prone.
Despite our best intentions at the start of the relationship, under certain circumstances (sometimes painful, extenuating ones), almost anyone can be vulnerable to having an affair. Therefore, becoming aware of the conditions that lead to this vulnerability should be a priority for all relationships.
5 conditions that can make you or your partner affair-prone:
A misunderstanding of normal relationship phases
All relationships and marriages go through a series of changes, some painful. For instance, relationships often begin in the honeymoon phase, where excitement, passion and an intense connection with your partner is the norm. Around the two-year mark (this varies from couple to couple), your relationship leaves this blissful phase and enters a stage where conflict and disagreements are more likely. The personality differences between you and your partner become more apparent and you may find that the relationship is starting to feel like a series of painful compromises and negotiations. It is easy to feel disillusioned and affair-prone at this point, especially if you misinterpret these inevitable changes as evidence that you’re with the wrong person.
Avoidance of important issues
Failure to address issues that are important to you or your partner can erode intimacy and cause you to feel lonely. It is a painful irony to feel alone while in a relationship that is meant to offer intimacy and connection. Lily from San Diego described the destructive effects of avoiding important relationship issues:
“I told my husband over and over that I felt ignored by him. I wanted to spend more time with him every day, and I needed him to be more affectionate with me. But every time I tried to talk to him about this, he became angry and said we have a good relationship and there is nothing to complain about. Over the course of our three-year marriage I began to develop a close friendship with a male coworker and I started fantasizing about being with him. I felt trapped.”
Ignoring each othe’s needs has a cumulative effect–feelings of neglect, hopelessness and resentment slowly build and drive a wedge between you and your partner. When your needs continually go unmet and a sense of futility sets in, you will be vulnerable to having your emotional and physical needs met outside the relationship.
Becoming passive about passion
The passion between you and your partner will not remain steady throughout the life of the relationship. Very often relationships start in sexual overdrive. Over the years, this degree of passion levels off and you may find that the practicalities and mundane aspects of life have replaced the intense fire that once existed.
If the physical and sensual aspects of your relationship are ignored for extended periods of time, your relationship will suffer. If you believe that your relationship should remain spontaneously passionate, without effort (like when you and your partner were first dating or married), then you erroneously believe that the sexual energy that once existed cannot return. It may feel that the only path back to passion is outside of your relationship. The antidote to this affair-inducing mindset is for you and your partner to actively take steps to increase the passion in your relationship, something all couples must do at some point.
The opposite-sex “friend” phenomenon
When you prefer to get your emotional needs met from a “friend” of the opposite sex, rather than your partner, you have moved into an affair-prone danger zone. There are several reasons why you may take this path: the friend gives you the attention you no longer receive from your partner; this friend supports and affirms you in ways your partner used to but no longer does; you feel recharged by any feelings of physical attraction you may have toward this friend. Friendships should complement your marriage (or romantic relationship), not replace it.
Rule of thumb: If you say things to this friend that you wouldn’t say if your partner were in the room, you’re headed down the road of becoming affair-prone.
Negative relationship role models
For better or for worse, we’ve learned how to be in relationships from observing the unions that surrounded us throughout our lives. If you grew up in a family where loyalty and commitment were top priorities, and conflicts were dealt with rather than swept away, you’re apt to bring these pro-relationship qualities to your marriage or relationship. If, on the other hand, you observed infidelity, deceit and a lack of commitment, you may struggle with similar patterns, especially when your relationship hits a rough spot. This does not mean that you are destined to repeat the same affair-prone behaviors as your parents or caregivers. Awareness of these early negative relationship patterns and remaining mindful of how they influence your behavior will give you the means to creating a committed relationship where intimacy is a priority.
Couples are often faced with any one of the above five issues at some point in the course of their relationship. This is to be expected. However, when most (or all) of these conditions are in place, you (or your partner) have entered an affair-prone danger zone. Become conscious of these conditions and discuss this with your partner. This type of focused, active awareness will help you and your partner uproot affair-prone tendencies and replace them with the seeds of commitment and loyalty.