Wendy Warner is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in private practice at Trinity Family Counseling Center. In addition to working with couples, children, and individuals, Wendy also enjoys teaching the premarital classes for all couples planning to marry at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Macomb.
I remember when I was in my 20’s and a co-worker announced, “I feel like having an affair” as she left for a business trip. Maybe it was my newlywed status or naiveté, but I was shocked at the pre-meditated intention of straying from her marriage that included a five year old son.
After twenty six years of marriage and working as a marriage counselor, I am no longer shocked by infidelity. Instead, it grieves me for the pain infidelity inflicts on the many who are touched by it. Infidelity is rarely so premeditated as in the case of my former co-worker. It tends to creep up on people who weren’t looking to have an affair, but were starving for their own marriage to fulfill their longings for a closer connection. It is the slow death of hope that things will ever improve with their spouse, and the vulnerability of someone to the warm attention of a co-worker, neighbor or online relationship. If someone is thirsting for a kind word and complimentary interest, it will feel like a cool drink in the dessert when it is given. If it comes from someone interested in a relationship, all kinds of justification can be developed by a person dying of thirst to drink a few sips of relief.
Compliments when people are single can be flattering. After marriage, I personally still thought compliments from men were harmless and pleasant. However, some compliments come with the clear intention of flirting, and I began to see them in a different light. If a man is flirting with a married woman, he is willing to send the signal he finds her attractive. This would probably not be done in the presence of her husband, so to do it in his absence is to disrespect the husband and the marriage relationship. If a man is flirting with me, do I really want to encourage the attention of a man who is comfortable disrespecting my husband and my marriage?
The key to preventing infidelity is to strengthen our marriage relationships so neither partner is vulnerable to being so thirsty for a sip of attention that they yield to it. Once a partner connects emotionally or sexually with another person outside the marriage, all the original problems remain with the addition of betrayal, anger, hurt and a mountain of new obstacles to connecting to their spouse.
When we experience dissatisfaction, it means there is a gap between our expectations and our actual experience. Rather than looking outside our marriage to find satisfaction, it is critical to better understand our part in improving the relationship. Are the expectations unrealistic? How are we contributing to the breakdown in communication? Do we express our needs and frustrations to our spouse, or do we stuff them and become frustrated and hurt when they don’t read our mind? Is our spouse feeling attacked for their failure to live up to our expectations? How often do we take responsibility for the part we play in frustrating our spouse? These are important questions to ask ourselves because no relationship breaks down due to only one partner’s shortcomings.
If the conversation seems to go in a continual loop without any resolution, it may be time to seek a counselor who can objectively listen to the problems and help address them constructively. A good counselor remains unbiased and will not take sides. The counselor is on the side of the relationship growing stronger and succeeding.
Where are you today in your marriage? Are you so thirsty for attention that you will be drawn to the kind words of a co-worker? Are you longing for your marriage to grow closer? What can you do to open the lines of communication and soften the harshness of your conflicts? I urge you to address these issues now before affair recovery is added to the list.