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Dr. Fran Cohen Praver Headshot

Inoculate Your Marriage Against Infidelity

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Did you know that about 57 percent of men cheat and roughly 54 percent of women cheat? It may seem it's about sex, but in reality sex is better at home. Why then do spouses cheat? The main reason is lack of emotional connectedness that arises because of negative interactions.

Before I go into the problems and preventive measures, here is a brief overview of the newest, most exciting scientific findings that underlie my work.

In an intimate relationship, mirror neurons -- miniscule brain cells located behind the eye sockets -- connect spouses at an internal level. Each spouse mirrors the other spouse's actions and feelings of attraction, romance, love, lust, good memories and happy times. To ensure that these heady experiences occur, the brain triggers the release of love-inducing chemicals such as oxytocin, vasopressin, dopamine, testosterone and natural opioids along with mood-enhancing neurotransmitters, serotonin and GABA. And so the chemistry we feel has a scientific explanation. Indeed, the brain is the seat of love and mirror neurons its beating pulse.

Unfortunately problems or relationship killers, such as the ones I will address, arise. When problems are not resolved, mirror neurons connect you and your spouse in resentments, disappointments and a waning of passion and sexual desire. Hurtful interactions are repeated over and over and get lodged in the brain. Love-inducing chemicals are on hold, and it seems like the end of love and passion. And the relationship is ripe for infidelity.

1. Poor Communication Skills

Communicating in ways to get your needs met is essential. When communication breaks down, so do love and lust. For example, your spouse may seem confident and independent, but most of us have our insecurities. So if you demand or nag, the message your spouse gets is that he or she is not good enough. Try saying, "Darling, I need your help" instead of "You never do this."

2. Talking at Your Spouse, Instead of Listening

Although we have two ears and two eyes and only one mouth, we don't always listen or look at the nonverbal cues of our spouses. Instead we talk at our spouses. Often one spouse is talking or showing some emotional reaction and the other is in his or her own head. When that spouse responds, it is not based on emotional connectedness and so there is a disconnection between the two.

3. Failure in Empathy

Emotional connectedness entails getting into your spouse at a deep level, so that you not only hear what he or she says, but that you allow his or her experiences to permeate your being, and that you walk in your spouse's shoes. It's that emotional resonance -- the empathic attunement where you experience your spouse's feelings, thoughts, desires, intentions and goals -- that is the sine qua non of intimate relationships. This type of deep connection at an internal plane will inoculate your relationship against infidelity

4. Unequal Powers

Inequality in power can evolve into polarizing relationships and is a setup for the choreography of control. For the most part, men have dominated and women have submitted. If you see red flags in your relationship, take heed. Many women who are powerful, independent and autonomous in their work lives nevertheless dumb themselves down in their love lives. The irony is that strong women make better lovers.

If you think this is an age thing, I find that even young women lose themselves in their men and depend on them to shore them up. Their emotional boundaries are blurred, and in an effort to please their men, these women go up and down with their spouse's moods.

That's not to say that women should not try to please their spouses or to depend on them for love and emotional and sexual fulfillment. It's when the pendulum swings too far and a woman loses her self-worth that peril sets in. It is then a man may well look outside of the marriage and find a strong woman who is feisty and fun. So ladies, go on a journey to savor your strengths and face your frailties.

5. Differences That Divide

Why is it that so many of us fall in love with our spouse, only to try to change him or her? Although you may think you are a strong person who wants to change your spouse, it is a sign of weakness. Usually there is a fear of abandonment that underlies the need to change your spouse. So if he or she is just like you, you think you won't be alone, but the irony is that then you are alone. Indeed, if you swallow your spouse up, you have no one to share ideas, thoughts, feelings and goals with and you are alone.

Actually, differences can be divine. The research shows that married couples in long-lasting relationships relish their differences. It is through these differences that spouses enhance each other and grow together

6. Negative Fortune Telling

By negative fortune telling, I am referring to the unconscious interaction in which mirror neurons connect us in harmful self-fulfilling prophesies. If it seems like black magic it is not. Let me reveal the trick.

The motivation for negative fortune telling lies in our need to be seen in the best light. That means we will unconsciously disown our negative traits, but they don't really disappear. We project these unwanted traits onto our spouses, and with the help of mirror neurons, our spouses identify with them and act them out.

Here's an example of negative fortune telling. If you hate your aggressive mean traits, you may disown them and expect to find them in your spouse. You may then provoke him or her to act out these traits. Here's how: You may talk about your spouse's issues to his brother who will confront him. Your spouse's ire will mount and he will explode, rant, rave and hurl mean invectives at you. And so a negative fortune telling event came true. In psychoanalytic circles, this process is known as "projective identification."

If you see any of the above or other relationship killers rear their ugly heads, stop the interaction right now. We come into the world with mirror neurons and also with free will, so if you create change in your behavior, your spouse can't help but change also. You then will inoculate your marriage against infidelity.

For more ways to keep your marriage free from infidelity, read my book, "The New Science of Love: How Understanding the Brain's Wiring Can Help Rekindle Your Relationship."