After an affair, couples often feel blindsided by the betrayal. "I have no clue how we got here," one partner will say. "I can't believe this happened to us."
But therapists who counsel couples in such a position usually have a very good understanding of why it happened. And they also know what couples can do to stave off an affair in the future. Below, experts share seven things couples can do to minimize their risk of infidelity.
1. Don't think you're immune to an affair.
If you think infidelity is something that happens to other couples, think again. Accepting that an affair can occur in any relationship ensures that you're better equipped to see the warning signs, said Alexandra H. Solomon, a clinical psychologist and the author of Brave, Deep, Intimate: 20 Lessons To Get You Ready For The Love Of A Lifetime.
"I have heard over and over again in my therapy office some version of 'I never thought it could happen' or 'I am not the kind of person who cheats, but here I am,'" she said. "It's important to stay humble. Relationships are complex and mysterious journeys. Effort and care are required, always."
2. Recognize and tend to the needs of your relationship.
People who cheat often talk about how their affair partners simply fulfilled a need their spouse couldn't, be it physical or emotional. To sidestep the same fate, clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark said you need to fiercely guard the connection that initially brought you two together. At the same time, check in occasionally to make sure everything is still A-OK on your partner's end.
"Keep tabs on how connected you feel and how successfully you are meeting each other’s needs," she said. "Faithful couples understand the importance of physical and emotional connection and make sure to tend to these needs. This requires forging compromises that are mutually satisfying and sustainable."
3. Define what monogamy means to you.
Talk openly and honestly about what kind of behavior isn't acceptable outside the confines of your relationship, then set some clear, mutually agreed-upon boundaries, said Solomon. (You might think your borderline flirty behavior at dinner parties is OK; your partner may think you need a reality check.)
While you're on the subject, discuss what sexual needs and desires you need fulfilled in order to be satisfied in a monogamous relationship, Solomon said.
"Practicing sexual monogamy requires effort," she said. "Ask yourselves: Why you are choosing to be sexually monogamous? What does each of you need in order to feel good about that choice? What does the relationship needs in order to thrive?"
4. Close the door on old flames.
With Facebook at your fingertips, it's all too easy to reconnect with an old boyfriend or or that girl from biology class you always had a thing for in high school. It only takes a click to add him or her but ask yourself: Is it really worth the temptation? If you're already having problems in your relationship, your answer should be a clear-cut no, said Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist and the author of The Ripple Effect: How Better Sex Can Lead to a Better Life.
"It’s just too slippery a slope, to go from 'but we are still friends!' to 'I feel that old attraction again,'" she explained. "If you or your partner want to maintain friendships with an ex great, but do it together. Go out with spouses or go out as a group -- the likeliness for flirting or being too cozy will be diminished because you have other observers."
5. Make time for sex.
It's natural for your sex drive to wax and wane in a long-term relationship. But if you can't recall the last time the two of you got busy, you may want to address the issue, said Clark.
"Without sounding cliché, the importance of sexual intimacy -- and touch, in particular -- to protecting a relationship from infidelity cannot be overstated," she said. "The truth is, touching and sexual activity drive up chemical reactions in our brain that promote feelings of connection, attachment and desire."
Keep in mind that sex alone isn't always enough. "Sex has to be emotionally intimate and physically satisfying in order to promote the kinds of feelings of closeness and connection that are fidelity protective," she said.
6. Don't confide in someone other than your spouse (especially an attractive someone).
It's fine and healthy to have close friends and family who listen to your relationship rants. But discuss your relationship problems with someone you're drawn to in a physical way and you could be well on your way to an emotional affair, said Saltz.
"Discussing marital trouble with a potential interest makes him or her feel that the door is open," she said. "And that kind of communication often brings on intimacy. When you discuss marital troubles with others, it can feel like a betrayal to your spouse. Talk to your spouse about the trouble!"
7. Actively show how much your partner means to you.
The love you feel for your partner may be more than you ever imagined possible, but don't assume he or she knows that. Your partner wants to feel wanted; make a point to prove your feelings, said Clark.
"If you want to satisfy your partner's needs, show him or her the attention, affection and appreciation they need in order to feel valued," she said. "Look for ways to say 'thank you' and cultivate gratitude. This can help maintain a healthy mindset that promotes happiness and satisfaction, further protecting your relationship from the inevitable pitfalls of frustration and disappointment that can lead to infidelity."
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