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This post was originally published by Holly L. Harrison on 9/5/2015. The picture has been changed and updates/edits have been made for clarity (1).
If you have been on Facebook, Twitter, or watched the news lately, you have probably seen something about the Ashley Madison website hack (this is a website specifically designed for people who are married and are looking to have an affair). In case you missed it, you can check out ABC News for a summary (2). Given the staggering number of users on the website (including public and government officials), many couples may be wondering what they can do to protect their relationship from an affair. I truly believe this is an important topic for couples to discuss, because affairs are common in relationships. It is one of the most devastating problems that could happen because of the resulting shattered trust that takes a long time to be rebuilt. Here are seven ways you can protect your relationship from an affair:
1. Acknowledge that your relationship is not affair-proof.
When couples believe, "An affair could never happen to us; we are too in love," they tend to not put protection and boundaries in place. Affairs often happen due to a slow and almost imperceptible shifting of boundaries over a long period of time. Often it is not until after the affair ends when the couple realizes it started way before that first kiss or sexual encounter. It may have begun with spending more time, as friends, with a coworker.
2. Discuss and agree on relationship boundaries, ideally early in the relationship. Tweak as needed.
Healthy boundaries are flexible enough to provide room for positive people and experiences to flow into your life, but also firm enough to provide protection against possible problems. For instance, developing positive coworker friendships can provide meaning and satisfaction in the workplace, but also being aware of not spending too much time alone with a coworker who you could become attracted to is also important.
3. Make transparency a daily habit in your relationship.
I believe in full-disclosure. If your partner has a question, you answer it. If an old flame approaches you on Facebook, you let your partner know about it right away (without having to be asked). I also advocate that couples have full access to all usernames and passwords. If you have nothing to hide, any accounts or emails that you have should be pretty boring. Knowing you have access to all your partner’s accounts at any time creates accountability and leads to a tremendous sense of security.
4. Take care of yourself and deal with stress.
Eating healthy, getting enough rest, developing a passionate hobby, and nurturing important relationships in your life, will allow you to make much better relationship decisions than someone who is not doing so. I often say to couples in counseling that our spouses frequently get “thrown under the bus” and take the brunt of the blame when we are not feeling happy in our lives. It is not realistic to expect our significant other to meet all of our needs to feel physically and emotionally healthy. If we would just take a nap, go for a walk, spend some time with a best friend, etc. we would feel a lot better.
5. Surround yourself with friends who support healthy relationships and maintain positive relationship habits.
If you want a long-term, healthy, and monogamous relationship with your spouse, befriend people who have healthy relationships. Your support network has such an incredible impact on how you respond to problems with your partner. Think about the friends you surround yourself with. What are their attitudes towards cheating? Do they give you good advice during the normal and inevitable ups and downs of a long-term relationship? Or do they take sides and create further distance between you and your loved one? Do they advocate growth and personal responsibility in their relationships or do they blame everyone else for their relationship problems and remain personally stagnant?
6. Make a commitment to use healthy communication and to resolve issues when they are small or new.
Couples who have healthy relationships enjoy learning about each other and learning how to communicate better throughout their lives. They know that the better they communicate, and the stronger their relationship is, the easier it is to handle problems that come up. Keep in mind, you will always have issues to resolve or work out with your partner – often more than anyone else in your life. A couple who only deals with relationship issues that are huge and have been going on for years, may believe that the only way out is a drastic solution such as divorce or an affair. If you are in a romantic relationship and early on experience struggles communicating, it might be an indicator you need to work on your communication through reading relationship books, attending a workshop, or going to couples counseling.
7. Keep passion alive in your relationship.
After the initial honeymoon phase (where passion comes so easy), it often takes a more proactive and planned approach to keep passion alive in the relationship. Even if it is more thought-out and planned, it can be just as wonderful! Make sure to plan dates that are fun and out of the ordinary. Do not get stuck in a rut by doing the same date every time. Surprise your partner from time to time with whatever activities or things your partner enjoys most.
To sum it all up...
The best time to discuss the above seven areas is in the early stages of a relationship, but it is never too late to discuss them! This is why I always include a discussion about affair prevention with premarital couples I work with. It can be tough for me to convince couples that they need to think about preventing an affair right at the exact moment when they are feeling so incredibly in love! But believe me, it is an important topic, because I see way too many couples who love each other at my office saying, “We never thought it would happen to us.” With a little bit of discussion and the implementation of some simple strategies, you can go a long way in protecting your relationship from an affair.
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All the best,
PS Can I send you an email about once a week? The email will have a link to my latest blog post in case there is a topic you are interested in. As the business grows and I add more products and services, I will mention in the email what has been added.
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Holly L. Harrison, MA, LMFT