Mad Men is one of my favorite shows to watch. The style is gorgeous. The stories are intriguing. The glimpse into history and culture– how many things have changed and how very many things have not– is fascinating. I’m always about a season behind, but clearly I am not the only one that enjoys it. The show has won multiple Emmys, Golden Globes, and has been nominated for countless other awards. With its many plot twists and turns, I find myself surprised with the one element that seems constant – infidelity.
This shouldn’t surprise me. Unfaithfulness has been a theme of the show since the first episode I can remember seeing. Still, for whatever naivete I carry with me, I am shocked every single time someone cheats on their spouse on this show. Every time the plot inches toward infidelity, I hold out hope that they won’t actually go through with it, and I am always disappointed. You might wonder, as some of my good friends do, why I still watch since this doesn’t seem to be going away. I suppose I consider it fiction, and I can walk away and say to myself, “That’s not real life. It doesn’t happen like that. At least, it doesn’t happen like that anymore,” and I am consoled. Recently, however, I was slapped in the face with a reminder from some friends of the reality that it does indeed happen. Infidelity happens all the time. Now the shock that I justify away as fiction has turned into heartache.
I read an article about an online dating site that currently boasts over 18 million anonymous members. They are “anonymous” because this site is not designed for people looking for their perfect soul-mate like our friends Emily and Jason. Instead, it caters to those who are already married or in committed relationships and looking to cheat! Their tagline: “Life is short. Have an affair.” draws users in to discover others who are interested in “discreet encounters.” Not only is this site growing daily, but they are actively pursuing ways to make cheating easier for their users by developing an app for your phone. The app allows users to chat with their lover via disposable phone numbers and even features a “panic button” which shuts down the app and immediately switches it over to a family friendly website. I wanted to cry as I read about this site. I thought I might throw up as I discovered that the site sees a huge spike in female sign ups the day after Mother’s Day – 439% increase! What is going on here?
If you’re wondering why I haven’t listed the name or linked to the research or website as I normally would, it’s that I simply do not want to drive up their traffic. I am still just so taken aback that infidelity could be such a lucrative business. Are we really still living in the days of Don Draper and Roger Sterling? Are so many of us choosing to look outside of our marriage for relational and sexual fulfillment, instead of looking inward at ourselves and our spouses? Have we not learned the devastating effects that infidelity has, not only on the spouse who gets cheated on, but the cheater themselves and of course their children? Maybe we haven’t.
Maybe Chris Rock was onto something when he said, “A man is basically as faithful as his options.” Various research reveals that aside from emotional disconnect, the biggest reason for infidelity is the various opportunities that present themselves, plain and simple. Those opportunities, apparently, don’t even need to wait until after the honeymoon as I read on the Huffington Post. As devastating and appalling as all of this may be, I do realize that it’s not those people who are being unfaithful. Those people are no different from any one of us. The more I think about it and recount the stories of those I know, I realize that we really all fall into one of two camps: preventing infidelity or recovering from infidelity.
I remember a good friend of mine hosting a women’s book club around the time I first got married. I was interested, but I ended up not joining them because, while the title of the book His Needs, Her Needs seemed practical enough, the subtitle really offended me: “Building an affair-proof marriage.”
Sheesh! I thought. We are not all in danger of affairs! I don’t need to read such a paranoid and depressing book.
I’ve since changed my tune. I’ve read the book and found author Willard Harley’s material so insightful that we feature it as one of the resources here at #staymarried. That newly-wed notion that infidelity simply couldn’t happen to me has been shattered over and over again as I watch my friends go through the pain of separation, divorce, or intensive counseling to recover from one or both of them straying from their marriage. It is no longer fiction set in the 1960’s that I can just turn off at the end of the night. It is real life, these are real men and women, with real children, suffering the consequences of extramarital affairs.
Now I feel fortunate instead of paranoid to be in the “Preventing Infidelity” camp. Tony and I take it seriously, and he even outlined some of the proactive and practical ways we keep ourselves out of trouble in his post, “Five Trust Building Boundaries.” While I hope never to cross the line into the other camp, I know many of you are there right now. Infidelity has been listed as the leading cause of divorce, but we don’t believe it is the only cause. Tony and I are sure that there are signs of disconnect that can be found in a marriage long before the cheating has occurred.
How Cheating Happens
In Dr. John Gottman’s latest book, What Makes Love Last? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal, he calls it “The Cheater’s Cascade.”
First, he says, is secret keeping.
The next step is building up emotional walls with your spouse and choosing to confide in a person outside of your marriage instead.
After finding this person to confide in, the potential cheater begins to trash their partner and their relationship to them.
Then, whether warranted or not, the potential cheater considers their partner untrustworthy.
Finally, he or she is primed for a sexual relationship outside of their marriage.
Gottman notes that over a long period of time, people give themselves permission to cross small boundaries and this behavior cascades into that final betrayal. Trust is broken, confidence shattered, and even if a couple decides to take the road of recovery instead of divorce, there can be a lingering paranoia that is crippling. You may wonder if it is even possible to recover at all. We believe it is possible, and next week we’ll be sharing more about that. But for today, we thought we’d focus on prevention. Here are some of the things we are doing to prevent infidelity…
5 Ways To Prevent Infidelity
1. Keep Having Sex
Anyone who’s had sex knows that, no matter what other people say, it is not just physical. For men at least, it is the most crucial way for them to connect and maintain a sense of intimacy. It’s true that most women need to feel loved before they want sex. But, most men feel loved because they’ve had sex. A regular sex life is a vital part of a healthy marriage, and we’ve said before, it would be hard for us to believe that a couple ends up telling a divorce lawyer that the reason for the split was that they were having sex too often.
2. Guard Your Time
Tony and I have decided not to spend time with people if we know they are unfaithful to their spouse, no matter how long we may have been friends with them before. This decision is not about judging them – though we hope they’ll make better choices. It’s about not allowing that kind of thinking to influence our own behavior. We also do not spend time alone with anyone of the opposite sex. At all. Ever. I’ve gone so far as to wait to return my “brother’s” phone call until my husband is home and within earshot. Especially since he’s not actually my brother, but my oldest friend whose family cared for me and took me in during high school. It’s not that Tony doesn’t trust me, or my friend, it is simply about setting a precedent that none of us have anything to hide.
3. Make Meaningful Connections
Besides sex, and the time we spend with others, it’s important to make meaningful and non-sexual connections with each other. Quality time looks different for each of us, so Tony and I try to think of how each other feels when we know we need that time. I love date nights, time away from our kids, sitting across a table, or taking a walk and talking. Tony enjoys that too, but he also loves watching movies, sharing a late night snack, and just having me by his side on the couch without my smart phone in my hand. Regardless of how busy our lives are, it’s important that we make time for these connections as often as possible.
4. No Keeping Secrets
As Gottman mentioned in the “Cheaters Cascade,” one of the first steps toward infidelity can be confiding in someone outside of your marriage. For that very reason, Tony and I make sure not to have any secrets from each other. There is nothing that I tell even my very best girlfriends, let alone a guy friend, that I don’t tell Tony. Fortunately, my friends know me so well that if I’m sharing a frustration or hurt with them about my marriage, they always ask me if I’ve talked with Tony about it and challenge me gently to present it to him.
5. Have an Open Book Life
Along with #4, one of the ways we avoid keeping secrets is by having an open book policy with each other. We have access to each other’s email accounts, calendars, and social media passwords. We can, and do, log onto each other’s accounts regularly, mainly to help each other – “Honey, can you find this email for me?” – which keeps us in the habit of having nothing to hide.
Building trust with each other, valuing each other, making time with each other, and avoiding secrets are just some of the many ways we take our marriage seriously. When I think about the characters of Don Draper, Roger Sterling, and the many other men and women on Mad Men, I can hardly recount an instance where any of them are sincerely making these meaningful connections and building trust. In fact, they seem to try their best to do the opposite of everything I’ve listed above, essentially pursuing lives of infidelity rather than guarding themselves from it. I can only imagine it may be just these types of characters as real people who jump started the “Hey, I’d like to cheat on my wife” website I mentioned earlier in the first place.
Neither Tony nor I want to look back on our lives and find that we’ve broken each other’s hearts and our family by breaking small boundaries. All of the boundaries matter. So, we’ll stick to building trust, we’ll avoid betrayal, and we’ll #staymarried.
P.S. You are reading 5 Ways to Prevent Infidelity, as part of a #staymarried series on infidelity, pornography, and forgiveness. If you missed the first part, 7 Ways to Become a Better Forgiver, you might want to check that out. If you want to read more about safeguarding your marriage, you may also like Five Trust Building Boundaries.
Thanks for stopping by!
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