"To love, honour and cherish", easy words to say during a fancy ceremony, but how many people actually think about what it is that they're saying? How many people commit to living those words? Complacency is one of the biggest enemies of any relationship, and it takes constant effort with both parties to avoid it and stay 'happily-ever-after'.
Once an affair has occurred, it's far too easy to lay the blame on the guilty party, but in truth, it takes two to tango, or in this case, three. The causes and reasons behind affairs aren't always black and white, just different shades of grey.
As someone who's been on both sides of the fence, I offer the following suggestions for keeping a healthy relationship going, and preventing an affair from happening in the first place.
Communication is key:
It's funny, we all know this, and we all swear up and down that we communicate with our significant others, but do we really? Paying someone lip service at the end of the day by asking how work was isn't communication, it's merely exchanging pleasantries. Do you still make time to listen to each other's hopes, dreams and aspirations? Do you still encourage and support each other, not just by being there, but with verbal and physical demonstrations?
I've often observed couples who claim to have good communication skills, only to see and hear them belittle, ridicule, ignore and undermine each other, none of which promotes a healthy atmosphere. Is it any surprise then, when one spouse finds someone else who will bolster their self esteem?
Set aside some time each day that's personal time, for just the two of you. Time without having the kids running underfoot, doing chores, or cooking dinner and make a conscious attempt to really listen to what the other has to say. If you don't make the effort to stay in tune with your partner, you run the risk of growing away and apart from each other, until one day you find yourself sitting across the table from a total stranger who you just happen to be married to. There are a million things you can do to have some quality time with each other, like walking the dog, going for an ice cream cone, or taking in a dinner theatre. Stay spontaneous; share a hobby or common interest. No matter what, keep in mind that this person is supposed to be your best friend, not just furniture with a paycheck.
Holidays are important too, even if they're just a weekend here and there. As the years go by, we lose our definition of being a couple, and instead become parents, partners, co-workers, room mates, anything but the lovers we started out as. Get a babysitter, cajole a relative, do whatever it takes, but get away from the house, the bills and the kids; make time to rediscover and appreciate each other.
Mirror, mirror on the wall:
Remember when you first started dating your sweetie, and even the first few years of your relationship? Remember spending hours fussing over your hair, picking out just the right clothes, agonizing over that hormonal blossom on your face just before it was time to go out? And why? Because you wanted to be attractive. Unfortunately, as time marches on, this also takes a backseat. There's a pervasive attitude of "I don't need to go through all that anymore because I've got him/her". You couldn't be more wrong with that train of thought. Physical attraction is just as important 30 years later as it was 30 minutes into the relationship. Granted, pregnancies, genetics and/or illness don't always play in our favour, but there's still no reason for not trying to work with what you've got.
As an example, a woman who's kept herself trim, healthy and who tries to look her best might be tempted to look elsewhere if her partner has become a human sloth with a beer belly, 3 days of facial growth and poor hygiene while he watches the tube in his jockey shorts. By the same token, a male who's kept himself in good shape might have a hard time cozying up to someone who's been layering on the pounds as though there were a famine around the corner, keeping her hair in an androgynous crew cut, and competing with him for body hair growth.
It's vitally important that through the years, you continue to pay attention to how you look to your partner. Not only will it keep their interest up, it'll keep you feeling good about yourself as well.
Keep the home fires burning:
Nothing will kill a relationship faster than sexual incompatibility or disinterest. While sex isn't the only reason that people step outside their relationships, it's a major proponent, and often, the only one that's acknowledged. When we think of our significant other betraying us, the first thing that springs to mind is a lack of control over an overactive libido.
It can't be stressed enough that sexual intimacy is crucial in a healthy relationship. It's what makes us feel desired, attractive, and on a physical level, loved. To be denied on a constant basis makes us feel rejected, we take it personally, and that spills over into everyday life.
Talking to different couples over the years, I'm amazed by the numbers who have put sex on the back burner, something they 'put up with' just to keep their partner happy. "You can't be serious, it's the middle of the day, and I don't feel like getting dressed all over again" or "I've had my kids, I don't need to do THAT anymore" or even worse, "He knows not to bother me again this month, I've marked it on the calendar" (and yes, I really have heard these and worse). It's these same spouses that cry foul when their honey finds someone who is willing to share themselves, and really, that's what sexual intimacy in a relationship is all about, sharing oneself with another.
It's not all about frequency though. It takes a certain level of creativity to keep it from getting stale. One can't possibly do the same thing with the same person for 40 years and still be excited by it. Read up on different techniques, try an unusual setting, introduce a few toys, or splurge on some lingerie. Strive to keep it fresh and interesting. Even revert back once in a while, play at being teens all over again in the backseat of your car on a dark road. There are a million different things you can do to spice things up, and the best part is that are no losers in this game.
All too often, marriage becomes not a declaration of love eternal, but one of possession and ownership. One or both partners have ceased making their partner feel cherished, desired, wanted, and loved. Even so, there's a pervasive "Okay, maybe I don't pay enough attention to him/her, but no one else can have them cause they're MINE." However, fidelity and longevity aren't things to be assumed, they have to be earned. You have to make the effort to constantly and consistently reaffirm your commitment and devotion to your partner, on all levels. Anything less leaves your relationship vulnerable to erosion and eventual collapse.
? Arlie MacGregor, 2004
Between The Sheets...The Affordable Adult Alternative http://www.betweenthesheets.net