There's no way to absolutely guarantee that your marriage won't be blindsided by an affair on your part or your spouse's, but there are definite steps you can take to greatly reduce the probability of that happening.
It's important to know what you can do to strengthen your marital connection and keep your marriage vibrant and healthy. A rewarding, satisfying marriage that meets the needs of both partners is your best protection against the destructive intrusion of an affair.
So what can you do to "affair proof" your marriage as much as possible? The following twelve steps will guide you in building a stronger marriage partnership and help you and your spouse to withstand the lusty lure of temptation:
1. Make your relationship with your spouse your top priority in the hierarchy involving family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and others.
Make a real commitment of time, energy, and effort to your marriage. You can end up pulled in so many different directions and over-extended that your most valuable and precious relationship can end up at the bottom of the list unless you make it a top priority.
2. Nurture the emotional intimacy in your marriage.
Make time to talk each day, not just about the events that have happened, but also about your feelings. Share on an emotional level-your fears, your frustrations, your joys, your disappointments, and your challenges. Let your partner know how much you value being able to talk to him or her about anything and to connect on a deep level.
3. Show appreciation on a regular basis.
Be generous with compliments and thank you's. Tell your spouse at least once a week how much you appreciate him or her and list the qualities that you love, admire, and respect. Don't worry that you've said these things before-no one gets tired of hearing their good traits praised!
4. Spend time together doing fun things and just "hanging out."
Bonding can deepen when you and your spouse have unstructured time to just relax and hang out together. If every minute of your time together is tightly scheduled and rushed, you'll miss out on opportunities to be spontaneous. Look for fun things to do-a picnic in the park, a hike, trying a new restaurant, going out dancing, or going swimming.
5. Keep your sex life active.
Sometimes being sick or fatigued gets in the way of sexual desire, as does family stress like caring for an ill or aging parent. Certainly the energy and time required to raise children can leave parents drained and "on empty."
In spite of these challenges, it's essential to make time for sex. The sobering reality is that most spouses are more vulnerable to flirtations and sexual advances from others when their sex life is unhappy at home.
6. Discuss and resolve issues as they come up.
Don't just bury them or neglect trying to resolve them. Learn how to disagree without being disagreeable and causing long-term damage to your relationship. Above all-communicate, communicate, communicate. Keep the communication door wide open at all times.
7. Talk about the problem of infidelity and know that it can strike any marriage.
Bring the subject out into the open and express your feelings and deepest fears. Brainstorm with your spouse about how you can keep your marriage strong and what the two of you think would be helpful in preventing an affair from happening. Commit to telling your spouse if you feel vulnerable or if things start getting out of control in any situation.
8. Share goals for the present and future that inspire you.
When you and your spouse share common goals that you're passionate about, you will feel closer to each other and more connected. It helps you to feel like a real team. The feeling of partnership is important in deepening commitment to each other. Whatever your mutual dream is, the passion you bring to pursuing it can draw you closer together.
9. Make wise decisions about contact with the opposite sex at work and other settings.
You may encounter special situations and temptations on business trips or at business parties or in your work setting. Talk frankly with your spouse and agree on what you both feel comfortable with. If your spouse is on a business trip and the group goes out dancing, will you be upset if your spouse participates? Plan ahead and head off potential problems.
10. Know the danger signals.
Many affairs have started with individuals sharing intimate personal information with each other on a regular basis while not confiding in their respective spouses. Intimacy can mushroom quickly when secrecy is involved and a feeling of connection develops. Other danger signals are having increased sexual excitement about seeing someone in particular, being in settings with lots of alcohol and drinking when your spouse isn't present, and being more vulnerable than usual due to feelings of loneliness, rejection, or anger at your spouse.
11. Celebrate your love, anniversaries, birthdays, and other special occasions.
Value your marriage and take advantage of every opportunity to celebrate, such as your wedding anniversary, the date that you met, your spouse's birthday, and any other special days that the two of you share. This helps to keep the romance alive and also to keep your connection strong. Celebrate your love, your time together, your plans for the future, and the priceless present moment.
12. Support each other's goals.
Make a commitment to help your spouse be all that he or she is capable of being. Your marriage is only strengthened when each of you is happy and fulfilled with your life. It's to your advantage to help your spouse reach goals that are important to him or her, even if they aren't your particular goals. Be positive and encouraging of your spouse's desires to live up to his or her potential.
Nancy J. Wasson, Ph.D., is co-author of Keep Your Marriage: What to Do When Your Spouse Says "I don't love you anymore!" This is available at http://www.KeepYourMarriage.com, where you can also sign up for the free weekly Keep Your Marriage Internet Magazine to get ideas and support for improving your marriage.