Marriage is not easy. There are times when you argue too much, fail to connect, and have little in common. In these times, you might find yourself having some of your needs met by people other than your partner. This is fine, even healthy. A good friend, your sounding board; a relative, your problem solver. You may also find yourself connecting at some point with someone with whom romantic feelings have potential. This is where to draw the line.
1. Who, What, When, and Where of Encounters:
Who are you spending time with and why? There are healthy and unhealthy individuals; however, if attraction is of issue, best to avoid both.
What is the nature of the reasons for spending time together? Would your spouse be okay with the circumstances?
When are you placing yourself with that person? Is it day or night? Also, be aware of what you are giving up when you spend time with that person and whether you are sacrificing work or family time to meet.
Where are you spending time? Think location, location, location. Are they private or public spaces? What is the nature of the environment? If alcohol is available, monitor consumption.
2. Watch What You Watch:
How often is the premise of what you are watching or reading include some star-crossed couple beating the odds, even leaving marriages to get together? We practically cheer for it! Frankly, I am sick of the morally vapid plot line of nice married guy with mean wife accidentally falls for sweet girl and leaves wife —sometimes she even gives her blessing, as she isn't happy either! Easy-peasy! Affairs are portrayed as just that simple, exciting, and happiness guaranteed. Not so with Fatal Attraction. That movie goes a long way to support an argument for fidelity. So guard your mind, especially during times of vulnerability in your marriage.
3. Know Yourself:
Why is this person a temptation for you? What is missing in you? You are likely seeking intimacy, connection and attention that you feel is lacking in your marriage. Perhaps you no longer feel attractive or important. Be honest with yourself as to what is drawing you. When clients are in affairs, I often hear how this person gets them in a way their wife couldn't, or they connect on a different level than their husband feeling someone else can fill the void they haven't been able to heal in themselves.
4. Be Honest:
Be honest that you could have an affair, and be honest with your partner about the temptation of the affair. Talk about what needs to be worked on. Don't overestimate your resolve by putting yourself in questionable circumstances, and don't underestimate the damage an affair can cause. Frank Pittman, author of Private Lies: Infidelity and the Betrayal of Intimacy, writes in Psychology Today, "Beyond Betrayal: Life After Infidelity":
“Romantic affairs lead to a great many divorces, suicides, homicides, heart attacks, and strokes, but not to very many successful remarriages. No matter how many sacrifices you make to keep the love alive, no matter how many sacrifices your family and children make for this crazy relationship, it will gradually burn itself out when there is nothing more to sacrifice to it. Then you must face not only the wreckage of several lives, but the original depression from which the affair was an insane flight into escape.”
5. Work on Your Marriage:
Affair love isn't real, it is novel, exciting, and prohibited. It is a series of fantasies built on lies worked to maintain the fantasy at all costs. A marriage rarely gets this desperate focus and need for exoneration. Imagine putting energy into your marriage and working as hard to remove obstacles to have success with it.
People rarely set out to have an affair, and yet they are common. Janis Abrahms Spring, author of After the Affair, says that infidelity now affects 37% of couples. Often, such opportunities present when people are not feeling strong in themselves or their marriage. When the marriage is weak, obligations to spouses are not strongly felt, so not having an affair because of the marriage isn't a big enough draw. As a therapist, I have seen this many times with clients who feel they have fallen out of love with their partner. Because of this, they make dangerous compromises leading them right into the path of others who are also hurt and disillusioned and thinking a new romance is just what they need.
The Bottom line—affairs are never the answer. If you can't avoid infidelity for your spouse, do it for yourself.
1. The Purpose of Marriage:
Marriage is about growth, not happiness. Dr. David Schnarch, author of Passionate Marriage, says that marriage is a people growing machine, stating that struggling with sex and intimacy is important to go through, as it changes us. Basically, a good marriage will make you a better person, and it might take some painful pruning for both of you. If you are chasing happiness through another person and not cultivating it from within, you will be disappointed.
2. Novelty vs. Intimacy:
There is a huge difference between novelty and intimacy, and in a marriage, little is novel. Novelty is exciting, but intimacy runs deeper, bringing the good and the bad and, frankly, the reality. A quick weekend away won't reveal all your baggage and truths the way years of marriage brings light to them. Everyone can be on his or her best behaviour for a dinner out or a secretive phone conversation. The grass might seem greener with someone new, but even affairs lose their newness and excitement.
3. Do the Right Thing:
Commitment, promises, and responsibility are not bad words, nor are they archaic. See Relationships with Integrity. They are honourable, and you can sleep at night by keeping them.
4. What Affairs Say to Your Children:
As a parent, you are modelling relationships of all kinds for your children. In your marriage you show love, communication, and conflict resolution. Failure to have space and healing between relationships give confusing messages to children. Although people often appropriately try to protect their children from affairs, things often come to light and the effects will be present. Children will at least pick up on your distracted state. Many clients I have worked with have spoken about secret texts going back and forth and being glued to their blackberry during intense moments of vulnerability or co-dependence in the affair.
5. Wherever You Go, There You Are:
If you don't deal with your issues in your current relationship—like insecurity, jealousy, anger—they are bound to repeat in the next. I have seen people go from one affair to the next due to the root problems being avoided. Clearly another relationship wasn't the solution. Instead of dealing with the actual issues, new distractions were sought.
In the end, adding a new person to the mix will never help you make a clear and emotionally healthy decision about your relationship. Affairs are fraught with conflict, and painful for all involved. When you are having an affair, peace is elusive. Relationships built from affairs have to work through tons of trust issues. I have sat with clients feeling torn down the middle—lost between what they feel they should do and what they want to do, and it is excruciating for them. The results of taking this slippery sloped direction in life are painful, difficult, and best avoided.
Favouritism, comically confessed as our children take turns being the most lovely or least naughty in our homes. Bloggers, like Canadian Buzz Bishop, who have acknowledged favourites among their children have been criticized, challenged, and even called abusive. Yet others are relating. Favouritism isn't necessarily static. It can be something that changes in a minute or a month. "Abusive" might not be the act or the word we are looking for, but if you are inflating one child and deflating another, "harmful" is definitely appropriate.
Favouritism is common in what we watch and read. We laughed at Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development with her revolving door of (least) favourites and lack of affection towards her children—”You're my third least favourite son.” We cringed at the best man's speech on the Wedding Singer, “Harold's always been the dependable one. I've always been the screwed up one, right dad? . . . best man? Better man!” We read in Shakespeare's King Lear favouritism is shown in two families with fatal consequences. There are also cautionary tales in the Bible—golden child Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. We might not relate to these extremes in our family, but as responsible parents, we must avoid the expression of favouritism and its damaging effects.
Influences Self Worth and Self Esteem
Parental favouritism affects how your children view themselves and directly impacts their psychological well being. Rick Ackerley, author of The Genius in Every Child, suggests that generalizations, comparisons, and labels are often common and naively said, and favouritism is the dangerous extreme. Parents who practice this are “insensitive to the mindsets they implant in their children,” compromising optimal development.
Causes Sibling Rivalry
Another problem with comparisons is that the children often resent their siblings for the lack of fairness in the family. With comparison, children are not loved for who they are, they are resented for who they are not.
Has Long-Lasting Effects
Genevieve Simperingham (The Way of the Peaceful Parent) wrote about comparisons in families on her website, which lead to numerous comments from readers about the damaging effects that have continued into adulthood. The consequences vary—unhealthy sibling relationships, favouritism among their children, adults still trying to get recognition from a parent, and low self-esteem are some examples. In a study by Cornell gerontologist Karl Piellemer, depression was shown to be higher in siblings who experienced their mother's unequal treatment, whether rejected or preferred.
Watch What You Say
Differences are okay, worth laden comparisons are not—stay clear! Simperingham says that although we might notice differences between our children, we must be “mindful and diplomatic when expressing anything that comes across as a comparison.”
Talk Openly About Differences
Ariadne Brill of positive parenting connection says that as a mom of three children, she knows that “equal isn't fair and fair isn't always equal.” Having family meetings where the children can share about what feels unfair can be helpful.
Embrace the Differences
There are differences between children. For example, you might have a child that needs an earlier bedtime than what their sibling had at their age, so you enforce it. In an article in Psychology Today, "The Narcissus in All of Us," authors Joshua D. Foster and Ilan Shrira state, “It's important to keep in mind that parental favouritism is only problematic when there are consistent and arbitrary differences in treatment. In cases where favouritism is unavoidable (e.g., with newborns, needier children), parents who explain its necessity to the other children can usually offset any negative consequences.”
Affirm the Family Unit and the Person
Work on encouraging the collective with times of togetherness and opportunities for cooperation, not competition. Additionally, recognize the individual. Affirm and celebrate the uniqueness that is your child.
Every child needs their parents' love. It's up to us to consciously create a loving environment where children feel unique and valued. A place where they can thrive, equipped to extend this to the families they create.
Has parental favouritism affected you? I would love to hear from you. Comment below or visit me on my facebook page.