I don’t think there’s any intimate relationship topic that makes people feel more afraid and upset than the topic of infidelity. Infidelity violates our basic assumptions of a relationship or marriage. Most of us would say that we believe cheating on our partners is wrong. Yet despite our fear and judgment, for all kinds of reasons, infidelity happens! I have had the privilege of working with couples as they recover from infidelity, so I know that couples can come through the storm– some even emerge stronger than ever. But what about prevention? Here are 4 tips you and your partner can explore in order to reduce the chances that you’ll face the crisis of cheating:
1) Talk about sexual monogamy: Sexual monogamy is a high bar for a relationship! Although sexual monogamy is widely touted as ideal, preferable, and “normal,” we tend to be reluctant to talk openly and honestly about what is actually required for a couple to be happy and successful with their decision to be monogamous. While there certainly are many reasons to practice sexual monogamy, doing so requires effort. Couples who are able to talk with each other about their sexual needs and desires are the ones who are most satisfied with their sexual relationships. Talk openly together: Why you are choosing to be sexually monogamous? What does each of you need in order to feel good about that choice? What does the relationship needs in order to thrive? Making this explicit rather than assumed goes a long ways toward preventing infidelity. It is important to note that couples in sexually non-monogamous relationships experience infidelity when a partner violates mutually agreed-upon rules/guidelines for sex outside the primary relationship.
2) Social support: Surround yourself with friends who are friends of your intimate relationship. Even if you feel content in your intimate relationship, chances are good that you will find yourself feeling attracted to other people. It’s all about what you do with those feelings. Compare these scenarios:
- You tell your best friend that you are feeling attracted to someone at work and he responds by saying, “She’s gorgeous and I think she’s into you.”
- You tell your best friend that you are feeling attracted to someone at work and he responds by saying, “No doubt, she’s hot. It’s a good thing you’ve a great partner at home. You’re really lucky!”
Side note: my husband is telling me that men don’t talk like this, but I think they should! My point is that, for better or for worse, your friends can affect how you feel in your intimate relationship.
3) Stay engaged: Infidelity does not happen “out of the blue.” When I am doing therapy with an individual or a couple dealing with infidelity, it is important that we look at the story of the infidelity. What was going on for the couple in the days, weeks, and months leading up to the infidelity? This process occurs NOT in order to blame the person who was cheated on, but in order to highlight ways in which the relationship was vulnerable. One common storyline is that one or both partners disengaged (emotionally and/or physically) from the relationship prior to the infidelity. Staying engaged with each other requires actively tending to the relationship: spending time together, being curious about each other’s worlds, connecting physically and sexually, and setting goals together. If you or your partner feel disengaged, working with a couples therapist can be a great way to reconnect and reduce the risk of betrayal.
4) Don’t think you’re immune: In the wake of cheating, I have heard over and over again in my therapy office some version of: “I never thought it could happen to us,” “I am not the kind of person who cheats, but here I am,” or “I have no clue how we ended up here.” Stay humble. Relationships are complex and mysterious journeys. Effort and care are required…always.
In love, there are no guarantees. And the only person’s behavior we ever can control is our own. But these tips can go a long ways toward stacking the deck in your favor.