“Life is short. Have an affair.” So reads the tagline of a now infamous “dating” site for married people. With millions of married people signing up, the media is abuzz about what triggers affairs and how to know if your spouse is having one. But is all this talk doing anything to actually reduce the odds of infidelity? Or is it simply making us more paranoid?
Reading Between the Lines
What’s driving the trend of deliberate, subscription-based infidelity? The pro-infidelity website expedites the process of finding a willing sexual partner, usually one who is also married (and therefore less likely to want anything more from the relationship). The site’s tagline is tempting; like any other clever marketing pitch, it targets our fears as well as our desires. “Time on this earth is short and pleasures are few,” the message suggests. “You don’t want to miss out…”
The logic of the message, of course, could be applied to just about any self-gratifying but ultimately destructive act. “Life is short. Steal from a friend.” “Life is short. Prematurely seize your parent’s home and assets.” “Life is short. Cast your young children out on the street and make them fend for themselves.” Similarly, the “perks” of infidelity only come at the expense of someone you love.
Ignorance = Bliss?
But if your spouse never finds out about the affair, will it do him or her any harm? Even if your spouse never finds conclusive “proof” of an affair, he or she is likely to be nagged by suspicions. Or, your spouse may experience underserved feelings of guilt or inadequacy. “He/she seems so distant, what did I do?” “My spouse hasn’t touched me in weeks — don’t I interest him/her anymore?” Even if you are crafty enough to hide the physical evidence of an affair, your spouse is likely to sense that something is amiss. Affairs can’t be totally contained; there is always emotional fallout.
Working It Out
If you are tempted to have an affair, consider what’s behind the impulse. Lack of physical connection with your spouse? Lack of emotional connection? Has the relationship become dull, tense or distant? Regardless of the issue, the solution lies in working on the problems with your spouse, not in starting another relationship.
To Snoop (or Not to Snoop)
Given the prevalence of infidelity — and the ways technology seems to make it easier — what’s a husband or wife to do? Should you check your spouse’s phone/text records? Should you monitor your spouse’s online activity? Is it naïve to simply trust your spouse to be faithful?
Countless affairs have been exposed through electronic evidence. The urge to spy on your partner can be powerful, but it’s not a sure path to peace. Best case: You rummage through your partner’s digital wallet and don’t find anything incriminating. You’re likely to feel guilty about having done so. And if your spouse finds out, he or she is likely to feel angry and betrayed.
The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
Can paranoia about infidelity cause infidelity? Not directly, but jealousy and suspicion put your spouse on the defensive. He or she may pull away, sensing your mistrust. A better approach is to directly address any concerns about inappropriate behaviors or relationships. Say, “I value the good thing we have together. I see some patterns emerging that I think have potential to compromise our relationship. I’d like to discuss some ways we can strengthen and protect our marriage together…”
The Internet Age
Setting Healthy Boundaries
Temptation will always exist. But you can help reduce the temptation to cheat by setting appropriate boundaries in your online (and offline) interactions with others. It is rarely necessary to privately communicate on a personal level with people (other than your spouse) you might be attracted to. Avoid private chats, direct messages, and texts to anyone you find even faintly attractive. Emotional infidelity often precedes a physical affair.
You don’t necessarily have to share your passwords, etc. with your spouse. But neither should you have anything to hide from him or her. Live and communicate in a transparent way that helps to reduce suspicion and safeguard your marriage.
Focus on the Positive
Rather than engaging in endless — and often fruitless — speculation about your partner’s fidelity, focus on the positive aspects of your relationship. Affirm the specific traits you admire in your spouse and be confident in your desirability as a mate. These behaviors enhance your appeal to your spouse; nagging or cross-examining your spouse is far less attractive.
If you see obvious signals that something is wrong in your marriage, don’t stick your head in the sand. But don’t become obsessed with digging up dirt on your spouse either—especially if insecurity or paranoia is what’s motivating your investigation. The Internet era has introduced numerous complications for marriage. However, the foundations of a strong marriage (love, honor, trust and devotion) have remained unchanged by time. By continuing to invest in these aspects of marriage, you can strengthen your marriage’s immunity to seductive (and destructive) messages that infidelity is the best way to secure your happiness.