Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Dismaying Story #14: The Affair-Proof Marriage

Dear Andrew,

Several months ago my best friend's husband informed her that he had been having an affair for over two years and he was leaving her for another woman. Just recently another friend caught her husband cheating. This couple has not separated yet but I won't be surprised if they do, and soon. She's so upset that I don't see how they can last. I thought both of these couples were happy together. My husband and I get along fine and I've never worried about him cheating on me, but all of this has made me realize it can happen to anybody. Now I find myself terrified I'm going to end up just like my friends. What do you think -- CAN it happen to anyone?

Suddenly Insecure

Dear Suddenly,

There may be a couple of reasons for your letter. You might have a sneaking suspicion about your husband that you're not willing to admit in the letter, or maybe not even to yourself. If so, there are a number of common signs you can look for to tell if your husband might be cheating on you. For example, does he have unexplained absences or excessive mileage on his car? What about changes in grooming, wardrobe, spending habits or level of affection toward you and your children? Do the same unknown numbers show up repeatedly on his cell phone bill, often immediately after leaving or before returning home? Perhaps he has frequent short phone calls when he is home, to which he doesn't want anyone to listen. You can find more extensive lists of signs here and here. The same indicators, by and large, also apply to wives who cheat.

If you ever find yourself in a situation similar to your girlfriends, I urge you to seek help from a qualified third party such as a counselor or psychologist. Depending on the circumstances, you may also benefit from the services of a private investigator or lawyer. Dealing with the aftermath of an affair can be extremely traumatic and you needn't (in fact, shouldn't) go through it alone. Children typically find the experience difficult and are also likely to benefit from some help.

Another possibility is that your worry has nothing to do with your husband's behavior. Your stress may be strictly a response to what your girlfriends are going through. Based on your letter, I suspect this might be closer to the truth for you. This brings me back to your essential question: In the absence of any signs of cheating, should you be worried anyway?

Think about what happens when a married person cheats. At some point in the process they are presented with an opportunity; a potential partner becomes available. Now they have a choice. They can opt to begin the affair or decline the opportunity. Obviously, some people choose to cheat. But can it really happen to anybody? Does everyone on the planet have a particular set of temptations that, for them, would tip the scales and cause them to cheat? Or are some people immune to such temptations?

I firmly believe that many, many people are immune. The evidence is all around us. A tremendous number of couples are faithful to each other for their entire lives. This couldn't happen if everyone was constantly at risk of leaping into bed with someone else. What defines a person like this? I can sum up the difference between those at risk of cheating and those who aren't in one word: commitment.

Some people enter marriage with an astonishingly low level of commitment. Stories of spouses who cheat right from the beginning are all too common. (...which makes me wonder why they bother spending all that money on a wedding, but maybe that's just me.) Others seem to give up; problems and discontentment grow to the point where the marriage loses much of its appeal. As the level of caring drops, susceptibility to temptation outside the marriage can grow.

Not everyone is like that, however. By definition, when someone is truly committed to their marriage, cheating is not an option. It is simply not part of the plan.

A committed partner:
  • accepts the inevitability that their spouse will be imperfect, just like everyone else;
  • does not view imperfection as grounds for long-term discontent;
  • believes in solving problems instead of running away from them;
  • is repulsed by the thought of hurting their spouse and children;
  • could not bear the possibility of waking up each morning and having breakfast in a different house from their spouse and children; and
  • realizes that the grass on the other side of the fence is no greener. In fact, the other plot of grass is sure to have its own patch of weeds.
When two truly committed people are married to each other, I consider that to be an affair-proof marriage.

How can you tell which situation applies to you? I urge you to trust your instincts. If you have suspicions, you might want to check out the links I've provided above. Many husbands, though, are loving and completely devoted partners. These men could camp out for months in the Playboy mansion with no danger whatsoever that they would do anything to hurt their spouses. (Okay, so the camping trip alone might be enough to raise some eyebrows, but you know what I mean.) If your gut says your man is such a guy, then open your heart and give him the trust he deserves. Not only will this improve your peace of mind, it might save you from creating the very problem you so desperately want to avoid. Baseless suspicion and mistrust can drive a wedge between you and your husband. In some cases this even leads men to seek comfort elsewhere.

In short, it's kind of like the song: Don't worry, be happy ... unless you know of a specific reason to do otherwise.


Do you have a concern about your relationship? I am truly committed to answering any questions you might like to send in.


  1. Hi, this is an interesting blog. I love reading about relationships, primarily because I'm in one, and it's a relationship that I just love! I can tell you without any doubt that my husband would never cheat on me, and I would never cheat on him. We've been together for 10 years. I'm not even interested in other men. It's like the sole focus of my life is on my husband. He is the same way with me. Whenever we're not together, we can hardly bear it.

  2. Hi Stacey,
    Thanks for dropping by. And I'm always glad to hear good news stories. :o)

  3. If you ever want to hear from the "other" woman - let me know.

    What I will never understand, is that all the signs of a cheat are dead on. Why doesn't the wife see it? I'm the other person and I'm aware of any little change in routine.

    Do you think it's possible to be the other woman and it will turn out to be a successful relationship down the road?

  4. wow, that's a very interesting and thought provoking answer. while it doesn't change my opinion on men entirely, it definitely gives me another opinion to think about. thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.

  5. Dear Andrew:

    Thanks for visiting my blog and for your encouraging comment.

    I have linked you as requested.

    Rod Smith

    (Difficult Relationships)

  6. Hi Dr. Mc,
    Thanks for commenting at my blog. You shouldn't find it strange that this is the post I decided to comment on. I read this post, and the links included, and would like to add one thing to the "signs" via story of experience.

    I never ever thought my spouse would cheat on me. Ever. Then he started asking me questions insinuating that he felt I was cheating on him. Things were really rough for a while. A friend of mine that had a cheating ex-spouse asked me if I thought he could be having an affair, to which I of course said no. They warned me to keep on open mind about the accusations I was receiving from my spouse because my friend had seen this happen before. My friend said it was often referred to as "guilt displacement". Someone accusing their partner of doing something that they themselves are actually guilty of.

    Small signs began surfacing, first and foremost being the cell phone bill. It quit coming in paper bill with details. Being smarter than the average bear, I went online to find the details. It was all there, in black and white. I have them all printed out and tucked safely away in a folder for future use.

    I'm still with him. Some days i really question myself as to why. The answer to that is not an easy one. The answer is still floating around in all that gray matter that falls between the black and the white areas.

    I have thought about typing out my story for you to read and get your opinion. I know there are always 3 sides to every story-- his, hers, and the truth.

    Maybe one day I can correspond with you further about it.

  7. I think a lot women choose not to see the red flags in a relationship gone sour. I was not one of them. My ex-husband used to turn into a pumpkin at midnite on a Saturday while we were out with other couples, and then all of a sudden he was out until 6am on a work night claiming to have been playing cards (something I had never even seen him do) with "friends" and couldn't hear his cell phone. Yeah, right.

    I should've known there was a reason that he decided to take over the bills from me when he claimed that since I was so busy with the kids, I wasn't doing them right anymore (?)...since I always gave in to him and allowed him to make me feel so beneath him, I let him do it. Forget red flags...that was a huge billboard with flashing red lights! Once they don't let you see the Visa or cell phone bill anymore, you've got problems. I eventually got my hands on them and that is how I proved that he was indeed cheating (yes, I had asked him about a thousand times if he was, and each time he swore he wasn't. Scary, huh?). Too many very long calls to one particular number (which I of course called), and a ski trip for two upstate that was pre-paid for (something I had asked him to do with me every year since we met, and he "never had time"). It hurt like anything when my marriage ended, but I refused to let anyone treat me like I was stupid, and I could never trust him again, ever.

    I have a sister-in-law (my present husband's sister) who is absolutely gorgeous, with a scoundrel for a husband. His whole being is a red flag. This guy has been caught being dishonest a thousand times, and yet she chooses to believe his warped lies and make excuses for him every time. The whole family wants to shake her and wake her up, but does she REALLY not see him for what he is?? Or is she THAT ignorant? I looked up "pathological liar" on the internet, and came up with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is this guy to a "T", and Inverted Narcissist, which is probably her (they are illegally wealthy and put tremedous value on people according to their financial worth, and nothing else. Mother Theresa wouldn't be allowed in their house, but they would roll out the red carpet for John Gotti). If I seem obsessed with this scenario, it's because he came on to me one time too many, and my husband wanted to kill him. He of course tried to "rally his troops" and told the whole family that we were on drugs, and that I actually came on to HIM (I have never used drugs in my entire life, and I'm not even going to get into what a turnoff this guy has always been to me, mainly because of his arrogant personality). The sad truth was that they believed him for a few months ("How could he cheat on a wife that looks like THAT?"), but after he went to prison, all of his lies started to surface. They all know the truth now, after a year and a half. And so does my sister-in-law, but she still sweeps it under the rug along with several other serious issues that her kids are having due to this scenario. The Queen of De-Nial".

    I do get angry for what my family has been put through by these people's lies. You know, I could care less if that's the way she wanted to live her life...but once that crap came into my house, I had to put my foot down. I don't go through life lying to make it seem "perfect". People either like me for who I am, or they don't. Period. But I guess my sister-in-law and brother-in-law have defined themselves by their income for so long, they have no idea who they really are (or they don't want to face who they really are).

    Sorry for venting! I'm still trying to figure out how to post this story to my own blog, but the details of it read like a novel. Hey, maybe THAT'S what I should do! ;)


  8. This article really made me think. Not that I suspect that my husband would cheat, but what about when his affections are being diverted by something altogether different...his engineering degree!! He is so beaten down by school that he has little time or energy to spend on our love affair - how can I help my husband stay receptive to romance while he's in school. Right now, I would pretty much have to write physics problems all over my body with a permanent marker to get his attention (Hey, maybe that's not a bad idea!)

  9. I know this was posted some time ago, and forgive me if my observation has already been addressed in another post. I just came across your blog and am trying to get up to speed. I am enjoying the thoughtful reflections you're providing.

    I wonder how correlated an affair-proof marriage is to a happy marriage. Are the two synonymous with each other. Or can you have an affair-proof marriage that still isn't fulfilling?

    And, in wondering that, I it is more than commitment that guarantees an affair-proof marriage...

    Again, I appreciate your blog and look forward to reading more!