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Marriage Fear: The Most Common Engagement Anxiety May Be ...

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If you're a thoughtful, sensitive, analytical person, there are host of questions that will likely run across the screen of your mind during your engagement. The most common that I see in my practice are:

The root of all of these questions is the same: the fear of losing the marriage. We enter marriage aware of the 50% divorce rate. We enter knowing that we're taking an immense risk. We fly off the cliff of the wedding day and pray with a heavy dose of faith that the parachute opens and we land safely in the fields of the first year. We leap knowing that many before us were caught on the craggy cliffs of romantic fantasies and unrealistic expectations about what marriage is supposed to provide. We jump past our personal histories of divorce or unhappy marriages. We hold hands, look each other in the eyes, and hope for the best.

For those who find their way to me, this is far from a blind leap of faith. As I said, my clients and e-course members are among the most intelligent, emotionally aware and conscientious people I've had the privilege of meeting. They have avoided falling prey to the culturally encouraged quest to plan the perfect wedding and have instead spent the months leading to their sacred day doing the proper emotional work that will lay a healthy foundation on which to begin their marriage. This isn't easy work. It's a lot more fun (in an addictive and denial-laden sort of way) to search for the exact right shade of napkins to match the exact right shade of tablecloths. But for my clients the real work of the engagement is to examine their relationship under a microscope to make sure it's marriage-worthy, then dive in to the courageous work of attending to their own grief of letting go of being single, letting go of their primary attachment to their family of origin, grieving paths not taken and doors unopened (no more first dates, no more first kisses), and facing their fears of the unknown and the uncertainty of the enormous commitment they are about to make.

I've addressed many of the bulleted fears above in other articles, but the fear of having an affair has received less attention. Sure, the fear of one's partner having an affair also arises, but, interestingly, the bigger fear of the people I counsel is that he or she will have an affair. What is this really about?

The surface layer is a cognitive distortion that many people carry that says, "If I find someone else attractive, does that mean I'll inevitably cheat on my partner?" Since we're not properly educated about love, romance, attraction and marriage, we often carry a host of erroneous beliefs about the nature of attraction. If you're a thoughtful person and you're aware of the statistics, you're likely in a hyper-vigilent state regarding any issue connected to attraction. It's astonishing, but many people simply don't understand that just because you get married that doesn't mean you cease to be a living, breathing human being that notices other living, breathing human beings. In other words, finding someone else attractive doesn't mean you're going to have an affair!

But I rarely leave an analysis at the surface layer. My work is characterized by digging deep into the human psyche to reveal the root cause of fears, anxiety and intrusive thoughts. Digging into the inner core of the fear of having an affair ultimately reveals the fear of losing control. It's indicative of that the person doesn't have a solid adult at the helm of their psyche and instead believes that forces greater than themselves will "force" them to make choice that they don't want to make.

Affairs don't just happen to you. If you have an affair, it's because you let it happen. There was an opening in your heart or a hole in your marriage and instead of addressing it directly and responsibly, you put yourself in a position to be available to an affair. You allowed yourself to spend extra time in the coffee room with an attractive colleague who clearly had the hots for you. You sent a signal of receptivity that said, "Notice me. See me. Desire me." Again, this doesn't happen to you by some invisible, powerful force. You allow an affair to happen when you're not taking full responsibility for your actions.

Or... you don't allow it. If you decide that your marriage is an impenetrable door, you send a clear signal to the world that says, "Not available." You don't flirt. You don't spend unnecessary extra time in the coffee room with colleagues who clearly have the hots for you. Does this mean that you won't find other people attractive? Of course not! As I said above, if you're a warm-blooded human being, it's natural and healthy to notice attractiveness. But there's a bit difference between noticing attraction and acting on attraction. And none of this means that your marriage has to be perfect in order to be affair-proof. There's no such thing as a perfect marriage. But if your commitment is to honesty and to continually working on yourself and the issues that you bring to the table of your marriage, you will take responsibility for your relationship and commit to addressing the holes as they arise.

Bottom line: There are many things we can't control when we take the risk of getting married. You can't control if your partner contracts a difficult illness. You can't control if life throws you a curve ball that threatens the foundation of your marriage, like losing a child. You can't control the unknown and uncertain factors of how the two of you will weather the storms of life's normal transitions: becoming parents, job loss and career changes, caring for aging parents, your own aging process. But you can control whether or not you have an affair. And it's really as simple as this: If you don't want to have an affair, don't have one!

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Sheryl Paul, M.A., has counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, her e-courses and her website. She has appeared several times on "The Oprah Winfrey Show", as well as on "Good Morning America" and other top media shows and publications around the globe. To sign up for her free 78-page eBook, "Conscious Transitions: The 7 Most Common (and Traumatic) Life Changes", visit her website at http://conscious-transitions.com. And if you're suffering from relationship anxiety - whether single, dating, engaged, or married - give yourself the gift of her popular E-Course.