“Fences” or clear boundaries allow us to focus on taking care of the good things growing in our own garden and allow others to do the same. Solid boundaries are a must for a committed relationship. When your partner is your best friend, the one you confide in first and foremost and the one you don’t have secrets from, your relationship has the appropriate boundaries.
That we experience an attraction to another person’s energy who is not our partner is normal. Or as Shirley Glass says, “being attracted means you’re still breathing”. We are usually drawn to an energy our partnership is missing, when we are attracted to somebody other than our partner. The choice of an affair partner appears to be based on how that person differs from the spouse. The attraction is not so much about the other person, but about the energy they embody.
If our marriage has been missing playfulness because the everyday problems have been weighing heavily on us, we might be attracted to somebody else who we are not carrying any responsibilities with, due to their playfulness. Or if we have felt not good enough in our marriage in one or more ways, another person who laughs at our jokes and seems to think we are the best thing since sliced bread is a huge temptation. If our partner hasn’t paid us any compliments in a long time and somebody else feels we are beautiful and smart, that is a strong attraction.
So what is it that enables some people to resist having an affair, while others slide into one? There is of course a complex dynamic of opportunities, vulnerabilities, unmet needs, and values at play. One important factor is whether clear boundaries with others exist. Couples who are dedicated to each other are as protective of their relationship as couples who’ve just fallen in love. They have built a safe couple bubble and they act in accordance with the rule that other people are third parties and that the partner always comes first. They see each other as best friends, primary confidants and are conscious of each others vulnerabilities and needs.
Often “outside observers will speculate unfairly and ignorantly that the betrayed wife must have been reluctant or inadequate in the bedroom… Just as uniformed gossip often blames inadequacies or weaknesses in the betrayed partner, women are more prone than men to blame themselves for their partner’s infidelity.” (Glass) Women have a tendency to think if they had been more loving, available, patient, sexy, slender and so on, the affair would never have happened. Glass calls this the prevention myth. A loving partner or good marriage does not prevent affairs. The less aware a couple is of appropriate boundaries with others, the more likely it is that one partner will slip into an affair.
Couples who know how to safeguard their long-term relationship follow basic guidelines:
- They know that attraction to others is normal but that just because you feel it does not mean you need to act on it. Being attracted to someone else does not mean that you are with the wrong person, but it means that there is some energy or trait you are attracted to in the affair partner which needs to be brought into your long-term relationship. It is never easy to talk to your spouse about the attraction you are experiencing, but it is worth it. It can save your marriage and make it even stronger.
- They don’t allow themselves to fantasize what it would be like to be with that other person because affairs begin in the mind.
- They are conscious about not flirting. Even though “flirting” is usually considered harmless, it signals that you are available.
- They avoid risky situations, e.g. being alone with a potential affair partner.
In her book “Not ‘Just Friends’” Shirley Glass uses the symbols of walls and windows each relationship has. When you withhold information from your partner and keep secrets, you create walls, but if you open up to each other, the window between you allows you to know each other free of illusions and be truly intimate with each other. “In a committed relationship, a couple constructs a wall that shields them from any outside forces that have the power to split them. They look at the world outside their relationship through a shared window of openness and honesty. The couple is a unit, and they have a united front to deal with children, in-laws, and friends.” (Glass, “Not ‘Just Friends’”)
When a love affair happens, the unfaithful partner has built a wall to shut out the marriage partner and has opened a window to let the affair partner in. After the affair, the walls and windows must be reconstructed to be in line with the “safety code” every relationship house requires. A solid wall needs to be established to block out the affair partner and the window between the marriage partners needs to be installed and kept open. Appropriate walls are necessary to safeguard the relationship against further betrayal.
Further guidelines to follow to protect a relationship are:
- Not to discuss relationship problems with anyone who could be a potential alternative to your spouse. When you complain about your partner or listen to somebody else’s complains, you establish intimacy. That opens a window and begins to create a bond with the outsider that then often develops into an affair.
- Only discuss your relationship with a professional or a person who is a true friend of the marriage. A friend of the marriage is somebody who is not in competition with the marriage but reinforces the value of your committed relationship and being honest with your partner. ”Single people on the prowl or married people who openly complain about their current relationship are least likely to be friends of the marriage” (Glass). A meddling mother or father who is not able to see their own child in their true light is also not the right person to commiserate with. If you cannot be sure that the other person will encourage you to speak to your partner and work through things, do not talk to them.
- When one of you has a friend who wants to talk about personal problems, be careful about your boundaries. Include your partner in these conversations or helping gestures towards the friend. The moment you keep a secret, you have created a wall that shuts out your partner.
You can also read or listen to my three part article “I Don’t Trust You“.
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