After a review of the latest research on affair risks for committed relationships (those that are exclusive sexually and romantically), the most thought-provoking discovery was not the research itself. Instead, it was the presentation of the infidelity statistics as “highly variable” and having much “uncertainty.” As an example, when consolidating research findings, Gottman (2017) notes a “cautious conclusion” stating infidelity rates are “probably about 20% for men and
15% for women.” The author’s use of such vague words while concluding the data is “basically unknown” seem to fit the topic of affair risk well. All too often, the inherent risks leading to infidelity can be vague and unknown by many couples.
Conversations about how to affair-proof the relational risk of infidelity is often taboo and can seem our morals are in question. While everyone’s relationship experience is different, everyday intricacies can forge a path to the unfortunate experience of an affair. Sharing the knowledge of these intricacies can save much pain, including PTSD-like symptoms of a betrayed partner. In this light, the blog will explore four risks as well as basic ideas to guardrail a relationship from
the infidelity trap.
Risk One: Attraction to someone else interwoven with opportunity, vulnerability, and values creates an illusion that one must be committed or married to the wrong person (Glass 2007). We live in our sexuality, and our attraction to others is embedded in this, and it is healthy.
However, an attraction not being aware of flirting, risky situations, and perpetuating fantasies outside of our committed relationship will adversely impact the relationship dynamic with one’s partner (Glass, 2017).
Awareness: Being aware of this risk while taking steps to carve out a roadmap with one’s partner to navigate this situation is imperative. At the minimum, having a support plan with someone who can be objective and provide accountability is a must.
Risk Two: Having a friendship that may not be safe for the relationship.
Awareness: Glass (2007) notes three thresholds that separate platonic friendships from emotional affairs. They include the areas of emotional intimacy, secrecy, and sexual chemistry, and these can serve as a guide.
1. Emotional intimacy troubles can occur when “sharing more about hopes and fears” with a friend than with one’s partner. Often, an emotional connection develops while discussing troubling aspects of the marriages instead of working on them with one’s partner (Glass, 2007).
2. Secrecy of a relationship or friendship intensifies and fuels the relationship. It feels like “a world well away from the pressure, responsibilities, and routines of ordinary family life” (Glass, 2007).
3. Discussion of sexual chemistry with another ignites and enhances the experience. Further, if there is an agreement that neither will act on their mutual desire, the suppression increases the sexual tension (Glass, 2007).
Risk Three: Gottman (2017) notes a lack of attunement and emotion dismissing enable trust erosion to begin for a couple. Seemingly innocently, a partner seeks to fulfill intimacy from someone else to meet a need, and over time that cascades into the infidelity (Gottman, 2017). The research of Glass (2007) concurs, noting, “85% of women and 55% of men reported a deep emotional attachment to the affair partner.” The affair is most often not about sex.
Awareness: Being intentional about staying well attuned and emotionally enabled curtails trust erosion (Gottman 2017). An intimate relationship requires being “present,” respectful, understanding, empathetic, and curious of your partner’s inner world (Gottman 2017). While listening, the goal is not to take responsibility for the other partner’s feelings, thoughts, nor problem solve (Gottman 2017). Instead, it is to get a felt sense of their experience and validate.
Risk Four: Woolley (2016) states that technology can create pseudo-intimacy. The allure creates fewer negative stimuli resulting in less anxiety, reducing inhibitions, and fueling the online fantasy (Woolley, 2016). This results in sexual affairs and the research of Gottman (2017) supports this. That data notes that 31% of online conversations lead to real-time sexual affairs. Finally, pseudo-intimacy increases the risk of emotional affairs as well (Woolley, 2016).
Awareness: As technology increases access with less cost and anonymity, it requires more responsibility than ever before. What would the interactions be like if your partner was reading DM conversation being typed? At this moment, the famous college basketball coach John Wooden might say, “The true test of a [person’s] character is what [they do] when no one is watching.”
- Allen, E. S., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., Markman, H. J., Williams, T., Melton, J., & Clements, M. L. (2008). Premarital precursors of marital infidelity. Family process, 47(2), 243-259
- Glass, S. (2007). Not” just friends”: Rebuilding trust and recovering your sanity after infidelity. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
- Gottman, J. & Gottman. J. (2017). Treating Affairs and Trauma: A Gottman approach for therapists on the treatment of affairs and posttraumatic stress. Seattle, WA: The Gottman Institute, Inc.
- Woolley, S. (2016). Healing Affairs: An EFT approach. Retrieved from: http://www.eftsummit.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Healing