Whenever I stumble across the words "affair-proof," my mind responds like the Incredible Hulk -- raging and ready to rip. Now, don't get me wrong, I wish I could find solace in those words and place my faith in their sanctity.
But I can't.
Because there is no such thing as an affair-proof relationship.
It simply doesn't exist. And pretending that it does only causes additional pain and heartbreak.
Implied in those words is the understanding that if an affair occurs, the betrayed obviously did not perform his or her duties effectively to affair-proof the marriage. It places the blame for the infidelity squarely on the shoulders on the one who was cheated upon.
And for everyone but the betrayed, that's a comfortable place to lay the blame. Obviously, the unfaithful would like to be able to pass the baton of responsibility for their actions to the one they wronged. But even more so, the multitudes that have never been betrayed find comfort in the idea that they can avoid betrayal's impact if they only work hard enough to affair-proof their relationship.
The message then becomes that you are responsible for your partner's choices.
But the truth?
You can never control another's actions. Only your responses.
You cannot affair-proof a marriage, but you can affair-proof yourself.
Let's examine three of the common reasons cited for infidelity and explore how you can affair-proof yourself:
Lack of Emotional Connection
For some reason I have been receiving quite a few messages lately from people who are looking for my validation of their decision to a) have an affair, b) continue an affair, c) abandon their unsuspecting spouse or d) all of the above.
There are some common themes in all of the messages I receive in this category. They all tell me that their spouse would be better off without them. They all speak of interest in another man or woman. They all seem hesitant to speak to their spouse.
And most of all, the attention is focused outside of the marriage.
Well, then, it's no wonder the marriage is floundering. How can you expect a marriage to flourish when your efforts are spent elsewhere? Before you diagnose your marriage with a fatal case of failure to thrive, feed it. Nurture it.
Whatever you nurture, grows.
Be fully present with your partner. Listen rather than assume. See your spouse as an individual, not just as your other half. Put as much energy into the marriage as you put into other areas.
A healthy marriage needs attention from both sides to thrive. But again, you can only control your choices. Don't complain that the marriage is wilting if you're not willing to water it.
Lack of Passion
It is a given that sex changes as a relationship matures. The initial excitement and energy of a new partner has an expiration date. That does not mean, however, that the passion has to fade. You can maintain an enthusiastic sex life over the years.
But there is a trade-off.
As we settle into relationships, we often exchange passion for security, trading in the excitement of the unknown for the comfort of stability. It's a false exchange; however, as security is an illusion.
You can maintain passion. You can draw out excitement. But it does mean letting go of the illusion of security. It means protecting your passion even when it can be scary.
Try listening to your partner with an open mind rather than leading with assumptions. He or she will surprise you if you allow it. When you believe you know all there is to know about someone, you begin to fill in the gaps automatically. But if you listen, really listen, you may discover something you didn't know. Of course, that something may also be against your preferences. There's the trade-off.
Look at your partner as an individual. Watch them in their element. See the best side of them come alive. It may or may not be a characteristic that you normally witness in them. See it. Appreciate it. Recognize that you are a team but not a single entity. Your partner is his or her own person. As you are yours. Maintain some separation, some mystery. In that way, you always leave room for discovery.
Be proactive about maintaining experiences as a couple outside of routine. Routines allow us to function but they also become suffocating if you never deviate. Try new things. The excitement will transfer to the relationship. Embrace a certain amount of unpredictability. Don't restrain laughter. Be willing to try and look foolish.
Don't depend upon your partner to create passion. Find it yourself. Explore the things that bring you joy, that give you purpose and allow you to create. Your partner may not share your interest in gardening or ju-jitsu, but you can share the energy that it brings you. Take responsibility for your joy. Passion has a way of being contagious. Pass it on.
Apart from passion, take responsibility for your own sexual health. If you are experiencing difficulty with arousal or desire, get help. Be open to advances and be willing to take initiative. Don't use sex as manipulation or punishment. Be vocal about your needs and be open to listening to your partner's. Sex is supposed to be fun. Enjoy it.
One of the most painful human experiences is to be ignored. Babies who have faced neglect fare as poorly or even worse than those who have suffered abuse. It is possible to be lonelier in a marriage than when single. To feel invisible in your own marriage.
So make sure your partner feels visible and recognized.
Leave love bites, little notes or drawings that bring a smile. Be as polite with your partner as you are with a server. Put down the phone instead of your spouse. Make the effort to recognize his or her contributions; a "thank you" for a daily chore pays dividends. Recognize his or her strengths, especially those in areas unimportant or unfamiliar to you. Listen to how others speak about your partner; a fresh perspective can be enlightening.
You cannot act in such a way to ensure that your partner will never stray, but you can work to make yourself a better partner. Instead of trying to affair-proof your marriage, seek to affair-proof yourself. You may just find it's contagious.
Read more from Lisa Arends on her blog Lessons From the End of a Marriage.