How to affair-proof your marriage!

10 min
Nicky and Sila Lee
Authors of The Marriage Book

How to affair-proof your marriage

None of us is exempt from the danger of an affair. We are all capable of being attracted to another person, sometimes when we least expect it. Affairs are easily entered into, but the ensuing hurt and damage are not so easily repaired. An affair appears alluring in the short term, promising emotional closeness, intimate conversations and exciting sex. But in the long term it leads to many regrets when a marriage is broken and family life is destroyed. In their book, The Marriage Book, Nicky and Sila Lee offer these practical ways to affair-proof your marriage.

1) Be wise

An affair is not usually premeditated. We may feel ourselves being drawn towards a relationship with another and be taken by surprise by the suddenness and strength of our emotions. If the attraction is not sexual, it may even feel “pure and good”, at least initially. The draw may be to a sense of closeness to someone who listens and seems to understand us.

Two realisations can save us from starting an affair. The first is the distinction between the initial attraction, for which we are not responsible, and the choice to pursue those thoughts, for which we are. The second realisation is that we are not strong enough to deal with the temptation on our own. We may cry out to God, asking for his forgiveness and help. And then we can confide in an older man or woman whom we can trust, seeking support and advice. Having poured out any inner turmoil, we will no longer feel alone in the struggle and be able to see the issues much more clearly.

We can then determine to put boundaries in place to avoid being unfaithful, being prepared to change jobs, or do whatever is necessary.

If we have kept our thoughts secret from our wife or husband, a distance may have grown between us. Having started to take action to prevent an affair, we are then able to tell our partner the reason for the change in our relationship dynamic and ask for forgiveness. In bringing things out into the open, we can determine to focus our thoughts on our spouse and on all that is good about our marriage. Our partner can take more care to listen to, encourage and affirm us, all of which can not only save our marriage, but allow us to grow closer than before as a result of this near-crisis.

2) Invest time and energy into the marriage relationship

Almost always, the root cause of an affair is a lack of intimacy in the marriage. For a while at least, the affair meets a dissatisfied husband’s or wife’s longing for attention, respect, affection or excitement. The best protection against unfaithfulness is therefore to take care of our marriage so that our relationship grows in strength, closeness and depth. If we do not spend time together, do not have fun as a couple, do not communicate deeply, do not make love, do not resolve our hurts, our relationship will have weak foundations. And if our love is only surface deep, we will be more prone to temptation, more critical, less understanding, less forgiving. We may struggle to accept the changes brought about by age or the arrival of children. We may idealise other people’s relationships and fantasise about other men or women. Like a rootless tree, we will not withstand the storms.

And we also miss our opportunity. Joy is not found in a new and shallow relationship, not in hotel rooms with false names, nor on guilty holidays. Real joy is found in “the beauty of those hands, recognising the sound of the footsteps on the pathway or looking at the face which you can read down to the last millimetre of muscle movement” (Alan Storkey, The Meanings of Love)

3) Set boundaries

Infidelity starts or stops in the mind. This has been true for everyone down the ages irrespective of age, culture or gender. We cannot always prevent ourselves being attracted to someone, but we can decide whether or not to control such thoughts. For the sake of our marriage, these thoughts must be put out of our minds before they are allowed to become habitual.

When we are aware of a growing attraction, we have to determine not to spend time alone with the person concerned or sometimes not to see them at all. An invitation to have lunch alone together has to be refused. Saying no early on can avoid many problems later.

Many affairs begin not with immediate sexual attraction but through intimate conversation. When a person of the opposite sex allows us into the private world of their thoughts and emotions, a dangerous (and alluring) closeness is created. As we are drawn further in, we may start to feel better understood or more needed by them than by our husband or wife. If we ever sense that we may have (even slightly) overstepped this boundary, the best course of action is to tell our husband or wife as soon as possible about the contents of the conversation.

4) Talk to someone about the feelings

Where strong feelings have been allowed to develop or have taken us by surprise, talking to someone else will often rob them of their power over us. Both partners may find themselves at different times strongly attracted to other people. The longer we keep our thoughts secret, the stronger the attraction became. Only when we confess our feelings to one another does the bubble burst and the infatuation quickly die down. If talking to our husband or wife seems impossible, we need to find someone we trust and confide in them.

The longer unfaithfulness continues, the harder it becomes to turn back. People who have set off down the road of infidelity often speak of the power of what they feel. They say that they have never before experienced such intense emotions for another person, and that these emotions seem authentic and good. They sometimes maintain that they feel alive for the first time and that this may be the only opportunity they have in their lifetime to experience such “love”. They feel that they are being swept helplessly away to a future of freedom and happiness.

Such feelings are highly unreliable. A long-term perspective is needed: in due course this infatuation (like any other) will wear off, at which point their marriage partner will not seem so inadequate and they will frequently look back with deep regret on the marriage and family life they have abandoned. Although the ending of an affair may be the hardest decision they ever make, in years to come they will look back and see it as the best.

5) Take a firm stand

What should we do if we discover that our partner is having an affair? Are we required to forgive and to carry on loving in the hope of winning him or her back? Certainly, both forgiveness and love are essential. But that does not mean condoning a partner’s behaviour when it is destructive to the marriage. There are times when to act most lovingly requires us to be tough and to take a firm stand. Gary Chapman gives the following advice: “Some things are not permissible in a marriage. When physical abuse, sexual unfaithfulness, sexual abuse of children, alcoholism, or drug addiction persist in a marriage, it is time to take loving action.” (Gary Chapman, Hope for the Separated)

Such attitudes and actions, if left unchecked, will destroy both ourselves and the marriage. Love requires us to forgive, but also at times to confront. We may tell our partner that they have undermined the trust in our relationship and that they must move out. If they persist in being unfaithful, the marriage will be over. If, however, they prove with their actions as well as their words that they want to come back, there will be a chance that the marriage can be saved. Their respect for us can grow when we have drawn a line in terms of their behaviour and they may realise that they cannot have it all their own way. They have to make a choice between the affair and their family. A firm stance like this is more loving than acquiescence because it gives the most hope for us to get back together and for the marriage to be restored.

6) Do not give up too quickly

If either you or your partner are or have been engaged in an affair and are struggling to rebuild your marriage, it is important to recognise that it takes time for trust to be rebuilt. Forgiveness will often need to be a daily decision. A man, whose wife recently had an affair, might feel, each time they have an argument, “What right does she have to disagree after what she’s done?” But forgiveness means not holding the past against her. He must allow her and their relationship a new start. Meanwhile the wife may have to learn how to be free from constant guilt through believing that both God and her husband have forgiven her past behaviour and that this is a fresh beginning for their marriage.

An unfaithful husband or wife cannot expect their partner to act as though nothing has happened. They will need to be sensitive and patient, understanding the range of emotions from anger to fear that their partner will probably go through. For some couples, seeking professional help will be important to process the strong emotions and to rebuild trust.