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Safeguard Your Marriage

  • Published
  • By Maj. Ryan L. Buhite
  • 380th Expeditionary Medical Group Clinical Psychologist
Extra-marital affairs are a significant problem in American society. Research suggests that 50 percent of all couples will break their vows of sexual or emotional exclusivity during their relationship. Research also suggests that 25 percent of wives and 44 percent of husbands are unfaithful at some point in their marriage. Anecdotal evidence suggests that extra-marital affairs are significant problems and may be even more prevalent during deployments.

I can attest that affairs are common reasons people seek behavioral health services while deployed. This may be the case because military members are away from their spouse, children, home, and typical life responsibilities. Not feeling "weighed down" by the usual commitments can instill a sense of "freedom." The absence of family in the deployed setting sends an illusion of being "single." Spending work and play time with other deployed "singles" of the opposite sex may lead to feelings of shared connections and physical attraction. It does not help that the statement, "what goes TDY, stays TDY" is commonly believed to some degree.

This sentiment is so pervasive that people accept it as true, or at least believe they have tacit social approval for having an affair. Furthermore, when the general perception is that most folks are involved in an affair or are "hooking up," the idea that having an affair is not a big deal because "everyone is doing it."

Despite what the social norms might be, having an affair can have a devastating effect on a member's personal and occupational life and can affect military readiness. The information in this article is taken from the book Not Just Friends written by Shirley Glass, a psychologist and expert in extra-marital affairs. Consider why you may want to try and "affair-proof" your marriage and what suggestions below might be able to be applied to your life.

Let us first look at the reasons to not have an affair. Do you believe having an affair is morally wrong? Sex outside of marriage is considered inappropriate in most religious and moral codes. It is also considered morally wrong by most people, even those who have had affairs. Ask yourself, on your wedding day, did you think that it would be ok to go outside of your marriage for significant emotional support and sex? Would you be ok if your spouse decided to have an affair? Do you consider having an affair to be "OK?" If you have children, consider whether you would have thought it was ok for one of your parents to have an affair and jeopardize the family. More often than not, people find that having an affair breaks their own moral code, which should probably be the primary motivation not to have one.

Aside from the argument of morality, here are some negative consequences of affairs: divorce, broken families, negative impact on children, anxiety, depression, loss of respect, loss of personal status, financial loss, sexually transmitted disease, and negative impact on a military career. Even at the most basic level, you can see how the saying "what happens on TDY, stays on TDY" is false if you contract a sexually transmitted disease. Consider the conversation with your spouse if they contract it from you.

Should you decide that your marriage is too important to jeopardize and the potential negative consequences outweigh the positive you need to take steps to safeguard your relationship. Every marriage is at risk. Dr. Glass contends there are false assumptions that affairs only happen in marriages that are unhappy or affairs occur mostly because of sexual attraction. She writes that most affairs actually start with friendships that lead to more and more personal sharing and an emotional connection that then leads to sex. In Glass's clinical sample, two-thirds of husbands and wives who had extramarital intercourse regarded falling in love as justification for having an affair. However, you can also have an affair without sex. Glass defines infidelity is any emotional or sexual intimacy that violates the trust of your spouse.

Ten ways to prevent infidelity:

1. Consider with whom you hang out. Research suggests you are more likely to be unfaithful if your friends and family members have cheated. Consider primarily socializing with people who hold marital vows sacred.

2. Don't discuss relationship problems with anyone who could be a potential alternative to your spouse.

3. If you do feel the need to talk to someone about marital problems, ensure it is someone who is a friend of the marriage and most preferably, a member of the same sex.

4. Prevent feelings from developing before they start. Don't spend too much time with someone of the opposite sex. It is natural for someone to be attracted and lower boundaries with someone with whom they spend a lot of time and share a lot of their thoughts and feelings.

5. Don't fall into the rescuer role. If you have a friend of the opposite sex who wants to talk about personal problems, do not get too involved. Talking about highly emotional issues lead to emotional intimacy and connection. Not talking to a friend about problems may feel like "abandoning" them, but remember your top priority should be your spouse.

6. Behaviors lead to emotions. If you do notice feelings starting to develop for someone, change your behaviors and stop socializing with them. This may hurt at first, but it will likely save you a lot of turmoil in the end. It's a lot easier to stop feelings early and before you "love" the other person.

7. Being attracted to people is normal. However, feeling it and acting on it are not the same. Just because you are attracted to someone else doesn't mean you should abandon your spouse.

8. Don't let yourself fantasize about a life with the other person.

9. Don't flirt. This sends a signal that you are available and further escalates the likelihood you will act on your attraction.

10. Avoid risky situations. This could be the bar, the dance club, or any situation that might lead your emotions or hormones to get the better of you.

It's easy for people to put themselves in situations that are not initially compromising, but slowly and surely become more and more involved. This may lead to emotional or sexual intimacy with others that will not likely end well for anyone. Studies consistently show that only about 10 percent of people who have an affair eventually marry their affair partner and if they do marry, about 75 percent of those marriages end in divorce. It is also easier to remember all the problems in your marriage and be lured in by the promise of the relationship with another. However, most of the time there are very few stresses or commitments with that other person, which may be a large part of the reason it seems so "great". Just remember, the grass may seem greener on the other side of the fence, but only because you don't have to mow it.