Adultery can devastate a marriage, yet it needn’t be the end. Recovering from an adultery or similar trust betrayal requires the dedication and commitment to change in the erring spouse and the full support of the other. What is adultery and you can you avoid it in your marriage? Is your relationship at risk for adultery? How can your marriage bounce back from an adultery?
What is adultery?
Adultery is an ancient concept refers a husband or wife having sexual relations with a man or woman outside of the marriage. Adultery has been and still is a crime that can bring even corporal punishment or death in some societies. Preventing adultery was of great concern to early communities since exclusive sexual access to partners ensured paternity and therefor inheritance and mutual assistance rights. More recently, adultery was one of the first accepted reasons for legal divorce.
In spite of the great consequences of adultery, infidelity has and continues to be extremely common. Luckily, adultery doesn’t have to be a marriage deal-breaker. In fact, according to a recent survey, adultery has dropped from the number one reason for divorce to number two (behind irreconcilable differences), showing that more and more couples are willing to put in the work to remedying past wrongs and preventing future ones. If you and your spouse are committed enough and set precautions to ensure that the slip-up never repeats, your relationship, too, can bounce back even stronger. Prevention is the best medicine, so read carefully over the following warning signs.
What marriages are at risk for adultery?
Lack of sexual gratification inside a relationship can spur an unsatisfied spouse to seek sex outside of the marriage. Yet sexual problems are often not enough on their own to incite an infidelity. Even with desire for a person outside of the marriage, feelings of love, loyalty and intimacy for a spouse keeps many marriages with sexual issues free from affairs. Rather, more infidelities occur when one spouse develops an intimate emotional relationships outside of the marriage with a member of the opposite sex. This emotional attachment can occur with an old fling, longtime crush, or other person with whom one spouse develops a close personal relation, such as a coworker. Opportunities for emotional attachment outside the marriage, coupled with loss of intimacy (sexual and otherwise) inside the marriage, increases the risk of seeking what should be fulfilled inside the marriage outside of it.
Marriages in which one partner has indulged in infidelity in the past, even in a previous relationship, increases the odds of adultery if the older transgressions have not been fully worked through and preventative measures were not established.
At the same time, risk for infidelity is not a sentence. Many marriages with risk factors remain faithful. What pushes a person in a marriage to commit adultery? “Most infidelities are inadvertent,” writes Dr. Susan Heitler. “Most married folks don’t intend to be unfaithful to their partner. They did, however, turn a naively blind eye to warning signs pointing to danger ahead.” Catching these danger signs and creating steps to avoid them in the future can help you save your marriage.
Warning sign #1: Continuing to talk together, email or work together in private places once sexual feelings appear.
Once you notice you have less-than-platonic feelings for a friend or coworker, do everything you can to avoid intimate interactions with this person. Do not hang out one-on-one or in social situations. Cut off all unnecessary interactions and place this person solidly in the friend or professional-zone. Indulging in interactions once you have acknowledged a sexual attraction, you will only be feeding a fire that can eventually rage out of control.
Warning sign #3: Hiding the fact you are married
In Hollywood movies, the cheating spouse takes off his wedding and outright lies about his marital status to a pretty girl at a bar. In few real-life incidents do people heading down the path of adultery make such an obvious attempt to lie, because few infidelities are planned. Still, be hyper aware in your interactions with members of the opposite sex if you catch yourself subconsciously suppressing this information, reluctant to mention your wife or husband, especially if you already feel attraction. “Failing to mention” your marital status is a huge warning sign.
Warning sign #4: Enjoying and then craving flirtatious talking
Flirting can be highly enjoyable and exciting. Flirtatious behavior, however, should be reserved for inside your marriage. Sexual attraction triggers the same pleasure zones in our brains as drug highs and can literally be addictive. Continuing to interact in a flirtatious manner with someone feeds this addiction until, as with all additions, the addiction begins controlling you. At this point an emotionally unfaithful relationship is more likely to develop into a sexually unfaithful one. Note your cravings and then see if you can refocus that fun, flirtatious energy into your marriage instead.
What is not necessarily a risk for adultery?
Lack of sexual union with your spouse is not necessarily a precursor to adultery as long as you are both on the same page about the frequency and quality of sexual interaction. Due to misinformation spread by our hyper-sexual culture, you may feel pressured to have high sex drive and frequency of sex. Men are shamed for erectile problems and women are shamed for difficulty climaxing. True, sex is very important and a wonderful part of married life, and difficulties in the bedroom can be both distressing and a sign of health problems. At the same time, if you and your spouse have naturally low libidos, that is perfectly fine. If you both crave cuddling and other physical intimacy over orgasms, no problem! They key is that you both feel satisfied and maintain intimacy in your marriage, whatever your preferences.
Secondly, crushes or feelings of attraction towards others is not necessarily a risk for adultery. It is unrealistic to expect that you will never feel attracted to someone who is not your spouse and it does you no good to agonize over this if no other danger signs of infidelity are present. Please don’t feel guilty about dreams or unbidden images of romantic interactions with another person. These subconscious explorations are completely out of your control, and are often not literal expressions of desires. Dreams tend to be highly metaphorical, and sex can represent other dynamics of intimacy, power, intrusion, or sharing that has nothing to do with the people involved in the dream or even sex itself. You may wish, however, to share particularly disturbing dreams or fantasies, with your therapist or other trusted counselor, especially if they are regular and reoccurring.
If you notice yourself developing a crush on someone that you encounter frequently, this should make you extra alert to any other behavior that might lead you down the road to infidelity. Like anger, these uncomfortable feelings can be beneficial by pointing out underlying problems in your relationship that you can then go in and address. Instead of leading to an affair, they can prompt you to refocus on your marriage and examine what you may see lacking in your relationship or spouse that you could be seeking in another person. As a result, your marriage can avoid the devastation of infidelity and come out even stronger.