There's an old saying, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Just like your body needs healthy food to keep it fit and strong, your intimate relationship NEEDS romantic attention and energy to keep it thriving and running well.
When we stop acknowledging, understanding and serving each other's needs, one or both partners may, intentionally or unintentionally, feed that hunger elsewhere.
The challenge of maintaining a long-term relationship is that we often take it for granted and expect it to flourish without work, attention or nurturing.
Many couples slide into the all too common facade of what looks like a 'happy' and committed relationship. On the surface, everything may seem calm -- even perfect. But all too often, a destructive, emotional tidal wave could unknowingly be headed your way.
There are always warning signs of underwater disturbances before the waves come crashing down.
Here are seven high-risk indicators that a tsunami might be coming to your shore, as outlined in my book Chatting or Cheating:
1. We Share an Address, But Little Else: Living in the same house but in different worlds does NOT a relationship make! Statistics show that couples who lead separate social lives (i.e. separate friends, hobbies, careers, travel plans) are much more prone to cheat than partners who spend more of their time together and give each other loving attention, appreciation and affection. If there is a physical or emotional distance in your partnership, you may feel the reverberating impact of being alone and seek the company and support from someone who "gets you." It's human nature to want to connect, so if you feel that your relationship isn't fulfilling this innate desire, it could lead you to search somewhere else to get this need met.
2. We Talk, But Nothing of Substance Gets Said: Intimate communication involves honesty, vulnerability and the ability and willingness to be fully present and available with our partner. When our words, feelings and thoughts are heard and received, it feels like love at the deepest level of our being.
Without open, truthful and clear communication, we are left in the dark. This darkness is where our fears are given strength, our doubts given power and our trust becomes fragile. It is during these times when you or your partner may seek the ears (and hearts) of another who IS available to talk with you and who wants to hear and understand you.
3. I Love You, I'm Just Not IN Love With You Anymore: Both physical and emotional intimacy are essential for any relationship to survive and thrive long term. When couples stop seeing each other through the eyes of desire, romance and sexuality declines and emotional separation grows. Without focused and ongoing attention to keeping the spark alive and the romance renewed, couples often find themselves becoming more like roommates than loving, sexual partners. One of the most common reasons for cheating is a lack of love and affection. Feeling unappreciated or undesired in your relationship may cause one or both of you to seek fulfillment elsewhere in order to gain a sense of being desired, admired and loved.
4. I'm Yearning For Something New: Most of us have been guilty of falling into a routine or becoming complacent with the status quo; it's comfortable, predictable and seemingly stable. Our comfort zones keep us in a false sense of security. All human beings need a degree of certainty in their life (some more than others). When we fall into a routine, this need is satisfied. However, whenever we take our partner for granted, excitement and desire fall by the wayside. That's because in addition to certainty, all human beings also need uncertainty. A surprise gift, a new restaurant or a new sexual position adds excitement and "newness" to our lives. An overabundance of complacency becomes the breeding ground for someone else to ignite that fire or passion and create the variety all of us need at one time or another.
5. Our Sex has Become a Bore (or Chore): No one ever said monogamy was easy. However, if sex becomes more like an obligation, or you stop feeling physically or emotionally attracted to your partner, then you may consciously or unconsciously start looking for another way (or person) to satisfy this need. Sex is an important element to a relationship and is what sets it apart from all other relationships in our lives. When physical or emotional intimacy goes, so do we -- looking for it with someone else (texting, 'friends,' internet porn or a full-blown affair).
6. I Deserve a Little Something for Me: You may be working too hard and your needs are going unmet or you feel all you do is sacrifice for others and are getting nothing in return. An affair is an easy way to distract yourself from your chores and duties. Satisfying your unmet needs and desires by creating an 'oasis of romance' (physical or emotional) for yourself feels like something that is owed to you. Unfortunately, it often feels simpler to build a new connection than attempting to rebuild the old one with your partner. It's easier to give birth than to raise the dead.
7. The Kids May Be Alright, But What Happened to Us?: Couples who have a family can be time-strapped and quite often stressed to balance career, family, school, homework, household and... oh yeah, a relationship! Focusing on children is important and necessary. However, when adults put their needs on hold for homework and little league, it's challenging to build a solid relationship with your partner. Child-centered partnerships put the adult relationship needs at risk, leaving parents feeling romantically disconnected and isolated. When the kids are a priority at the expense of mommy and daddy's loving needs, everyone suffers.
An affair can destroy a marriage, a family and a person's self-esteem for years. Emotional, cyber and physical affairs take root in the vacuum of unmet needs and emotional separation. The first step to affair-proofing your relationship is to recognize where the weak spots are and then take the action needed to feed, fortify and protect it.
The road map to higher ground involves nourishing your relationship and each other with the three "A"s (attention, appreciation and affection) on a daily basis. While grand gestures and celebrations are exciting and sensational, love grows strong and flourishes in the consistent, steady stream of positive daily contact, loving attention, consideration and truly feeling valued.
This ounce of prevention will thwart a ton of pain.
Sheri Meyers, Psy.D is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Los Angeles, CA, and author of Chatting or Cheating: How to Detect Infidelity, Rebuild Love, and Affair-Proof Your Relationship.
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