After embarking on the treacherous journey of understanding the 10 types of affairs and why affairs occur, we have finally arrived at the safe harbor of actions spouses can take to prevent affairs. Of course, each human person and each marriage is unique, and so there is no “silver bullet” which will affair-proof your marriage. What works for one couple may not work for another. However, although each marriage is different there are certain principles and practices which can help any marriage’s overall health as well as defend against affairs. Three of those defenses include: (1) a commitment to transparency; (2) a culture of appreciation and positivity; and (3) a strong spiritual life. Let’s look at each one in turn.
Defense Against Affairs #1: A Commitment to Transparency
Knowledge that one spouse has should not be intentionally withheld from the other spouse.
Whether or not couples should have secrets has been debated both among mental health professionals and laymen for quite some time. Before explaining the reasoning behind the need for transparency within a marriage, we should first discuss an exception to that idea. There are three types of secrets: natural, promised, and professional. A natural secret is one where the contents are not to be revealed due to the very nature of the knowledge. For example, a person might not want her boss to know that she is looking for another job. A promised secret, on the other hand, is one where a person explicitly gives another individual his word that he will not reveal a certain action. A friend might confide that he is planning to propose to his girlfriend, and of course he doesn’t want her to know. Finally, a professional secret is one where the content of a person’s job demands that she preserve certain secrets. Someone who works for the CIA or FBI will have certain knowledge which cannot be divulged to his spouse for both national and personal security.
The first two types of secrets have little place within a marriage, whereas professional secrets might be necessary. In general, knowledge that one spouse has should not be intentionally withheld from the other spouse. For example, a man has no right to hide from his wife knowledge about a credit card account he opened without her consent. The best way for couples to protect their marriage is to be willing to share such things as one bank account, text message history, and Facebook history. Some couples even share social media passwords with each other to make clear they are not hiding any online activity. Further, one will check with his spouse before going out with friends. With these actions, one conveys both that he has nothing to hide and that he values his spouse’s input into his daily life.
Defense Against Affairs #2: A Culture of Appreciation and Positivity
As the culture of appreciation and admiration in a marriage goes, so goes the marriage.
As mentioned in the last article, John Gottman’s research has strongly indicated that a couple’s ability to appreciate each other and to interpret both their past and present in a positive manner is the heartbeat of a marriage. When a spouse no longer see any redeemable quality within the other, then the marriage is psychologically dead. Thus, it is essential for couples to always seek to find the positive qualities within each other, and to then let each other know that they see these positive qualities. Some practices which couples can do to help increase their “emotional bank account” (as Gottman calls it) include the following:
- Take twenty minutes once a week to tell your spouse what you appreciate about them.
- Once a week, ask your spouse what she needs from you in the coming week.
- Send a nice text, email, or even a love letter to your spouse each day.
With these practices, spouses let each other know how much they value each other, and how much they both value their marriage. It cannot be stressed enough that as the culture of appreciation and admiration in a marriage goes, so goes the marriage.
Defense Against Affairs #3: A Strong Spiritual Life
A strong spiritual life does not end temptation, but…is a strong shield against temptations of this world.
All those with a faith background agree that the couple that prays together, stays together. Psychologically, a good spiritual life helps us to become the best version of ourselves. Catholics also understand that a strong sacramental life – receiving Communion frequently and going to Confession regularly – is a necessary part of a good spiritual life. A strong spiritual life does not end temptation, but praying regularly and utilizing the Church’s sacramental graces is a strong shield against temptations of this world. More than a shield, though, spiritual practices and frequent reception of the sacraments better disposes each person to develop the virtues (e.g. fortitude and prudence) needed within the marital vocation. Some concrete recommendations which spouses can use to bolster their spiritual lives include:
- Praying together (for Catholics, the Rosary is a great means to do this).
- Reading the Bible together.
- Attending Church services together on at least a weekly basis.
- Praying before meals.
It should also be stressed that having a strong spiritual life will not magically improve your marriage. It is up to each person to cooperate with the graces he receives from God. Couples should not expect prayer to solve everything. We must use our reason and free will in conjunction with our prayers to grow in holiness and strengthen our marriages.
No Silver Bullet
All mental health professionals wish that they could provide ‘cookie cutter’ interventions which would prevent harm from occurring in a person’s life. However, that is simply unrealistic. Life happens, and God calls us to be flexible and courageous when life becomes difficult. Time and again therapists are asked why one person turns out one way, while another turns out “just fine.” While there are clear answers sometimes to this question, much of life is what some people would consider ‘good/bad luck.’ There is no bulletproof way to protect a marriage, but if couples take committing to transparency, building a culture of appreciation, and strengthening their spiritual lives seriously, they better their chances of avoiding the traumatic experience of an affair. As this series comes to a close, we should appeal to those who are currently suffering from a spouse’s affair. Never lose hope that both you and your spouse can recover from this difficult time. With the proper help, patience, prayer, and a willingness to forgive, you both will see happier and brighter days.