“You can heal from an affair and create a marriage richer than before. I’ve seen this in countless relationships in my twelve years of practice”.
–Suzanne W. Keenon MA, LCPC
Infidelity – the action or state of being unfaithful to a spouse. Everywhere you turn you read about politicians, movie stars, and athletes ruining their marriages because of infidelity. Then closer to home you hear about your neighbor, your child’s pre-school teacher, or even your friend is involved in an affair. In her book, Not “Just Friends” Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity, Dr. Shirley Glass states, “The overwhelming majority of unfaithful individuals in my clinical practice were not out seeking opportunity. Eighty-two per cent of those who had affairs started out being social acquaintances, neighbors, or workplace colleagues with their future affair partners. They never imagined that their friends and coworkers would become co-conspirators in secret love trysts.”
In my twelve years of counseling at Fox Valley, I still hear clients say, “we were just friends” and “it just sort of happened.” I find many couples don’t recognize the warning signs.
1. Do not entertain the “F” word.
Flirting is a way to suggest interest or make advances and invite receptivity. She makes eye contact and then smiles. You smile back. She finds a reason to have a conversation and she touches your arm or shoulder. She is telling you she is interested. STOP. This warning sign often is the beginning of you sliding down a slippery slope. It is normal to be attracted to another person but if you are fantasizing what it would be like to be intimate with this person, you have arrived at a very dangerous place. This feeling is the initial infatuation and idealization stage. The long-term relationship with your spouse cannot begin to compare with the feeling of curiosity and excitement of a new and forbidden activity. Emotional sharing and fantasizing can turn two people into teenagers again dreaming of indulging in their wildest desires. In contrast, true love requires acceptance, understanding and compassion which takes time to cultivate.
2. Avoid risky situations.
Dr. Shirley Glass reported over half of the women and 62 percent of the men started their affairs at work. You must set clear and firm boundaries. If you have made excuses to be with a person of the opposite sex, STOP. This warning sign means this person is becoming a “work spouse” with whom you have a special relationship. If you know you are attracted to this person and you keep secrets about your relationship from your co-workers, an emotional affair is beginning that is just as damaging to a marriage as a sexual affair. I suggest you never go anywhere alone with this person. Invite a co-worker along and don’t drink or use drugs. These lead to lower inhibitions, intimate emotional connections, and inappropriate behavior. Clinical psychologist Willard R Harley Jr. says, “If you work with someone daily, watching each other’s backs, helping each other with the problems of life, and on top of that give that person a special title…I wouldn’t say a romantic relationship is inevitable, but it sure is highly probable.”
3. Never form a coalition against your spouse.
When we are unhappy with our spouse we often turn to others we are attracted to for comfort and support. Do not confide details about your personal life with a co-worker of the opposite sex. This can lead to you beginning to see each other as soul mates and best friends. STOP. Intimate details should be reserved for your spouse. Keep the conversations at work, about work and not about your personal life. Resist the temptation to rescue a co-worker who is sad and just needs someone to listen. And never share the problems you may be having in your marriage with that person at work who is more than willing to understand and to provide you comfort. Build privacy walls at work and maintain appropriate boundaries.
4. Make your spouse a top priority.
Discuss with your spouse any feelings or connections you may have with another person. Share if you find yourself checking on an old high school or college love interest. Bring your spouse into your world and talk together about concerns and problems. Turn off the cell phone or laptop. Stop giving YouTube and Facebook the attention that should be given to your spouse. This will result in you being more present with your spouse. Get to know and value him or her. Do you know how your spouse spent his or her summers growing up, who was his or her best friend, or what would he or she wants to do with you that you never have made happen?
5. Don’t hesitate to get help.
The cost of an affair is extremely high. You risk a divorce, losing your relationship with your spouse and children, and possibly even losing your job. You inherit sleepless nights, heartache, and emotional stress. Turn to professionals who can help you because even the most devastated marriages can be saved. A friend does not have the skill nor the training to walk with you through the healing of the affair and then the rebuilding of the marriage. Seek the assistance of a Licensed Family and Marriage therapist, an experienced pastor or Licensed Clinical Therapist with additional training in marital therapy.
Infidelity doesn’t have to end a marriage. I have worked with couples who were determined to do the hard work and they restored their marriages to be even stronger than they were before the affair.
Suzanne W. Keenon MA, LCPC