Most people who cheat on their partners aren’t bad people. It’s the act of cheating that’s awful—it violates the trust in the relationship, which causes a lot of pain and is very difficult to repair.
Although there are some serial philanderers who are repeatedly unfaithful, most people who cheat are ordinary, pretty-good people who make a series of unwise choices on the path to an affair. I’ve worked with a lot of couples recovering from infidelity, and here’s one thing I’ve learned: Most affairs could have been avoided.
I’m not blaming the victim here: The cheater bears responsibility for the damaging choices he or she made and all the heartache they cause. But it’s also true that long-time couples can start to feel lonely, tired, and disconnected. If you feel your spouse isn’t really interested in you as a person and a partner, it’s easy to feel attracted to someone who does pay attention to you. That makes you more vulnerable to violating the trust your partner placed in you.
There are things both partners in any couple can do to reduce the odds that one of you will be tempted to stray:
Pay attention to each other. In our busy-ness, it’s easy to stop asking what’s really going on with our partners. How does she feel about work, family, other things going on in her life? What is he enjoying about life? What’s a struggle? What are her hopes and dreams for the future? Being curious and really listening strengthens your connection. It helps avoid the (trite but common) feeling that “My wife/husband doesn’t understand me.”
Have fun together. Too often, married life can become mostly work—kids, housework, jobs. No matter how busy you are, make time to do fun things together. Go out to dinner, a movie, a walk, a weekend away. Go dancing, biking. Plan a vacation. Have friends over. Have a pillow fight. Anything that you both enjoy, especially if it makes you laugh or makes you feel energized.
Touch each other. We’re mammals; we need touch. Sexual touch is particularly good “glue” between partners. But plain old affectionate touch is also powerful. Don’t let yourself or your partner feel so hungry for touch (even subconsciously) that one of you looks elsewhere. Cuddle when you watch TV; spoon in bed; give a hug goodbye and hello; rub her shoulders while she’s doing the dishes; stroke his head when he’s had a tough day.
Novelist Jane Green has it right: The grass is greener where you water it.