I recently had an interesting conversation with a gentleman sitting next to me on a flight. I say “interesting” because we both talked about my favorite subject: marital fidelity. I say “gentleman” because that’s the impression he made on me.
Throughout his 25-year career as a high-powered traveling salesman and CEO of a large corporation, this man has remained faithful to his wife and children because he has always wanted to do so. The opportunities for sexual indiscretions, he said, had been too numerous to count.
I found his words compelling: “I need to be able to look at myself in the mirror. I want to be able to face my family and have them always think of me as a ‘solid man.'”
It was riveting to hear him speak candidly about his fast-paced career in and out of cities throughout the world and how invitations for extra-marital flings came from single and married women alike. Was it his high-earning income that attracted these women to him? Was it his wedding ring (yes, some women are drawn in by the fact that a married man likely won’t be asking for more than a little fun)?
When I work with nearly and newly married couples on how to strengthen their relationships and protect their marriages from infidelity, more often than not they dismiss my pleas for rehearsing a “fidelity fire drill.” They often roll their eyes and say, “Ha! That would never happen to us!”
My advice? When a fire begins to burn, get yourself out of the building immediately and phone for help.
One of my colleagues, Peggy Vaughn, has made a living out of her husband’s affairs. She has studied, written on and survived the sordid details of a complicated, painful journey of infidelity.
“Society pays lip service to monogamy but supports infidelity,” she writes in my favorite book on the matter, “Monogamy Myth.”
Our wedding vows don’t keep us safe. Weddings held in a temple, synagogue or adorned cathedral don’t keep us safe. Threats to kill, malign, or otherwise cause physical or financial harm don’t keep us safe.
Maintain honesty. According to Vaughn, a commitment to responsible honesty will help keep us safe. When someone catches our eye or clouds your judgment, promptly turn and tell. There is something about shining the light on a dark, titillating secret corner that suddenly makes it less so (everyone looks better by moonlight and worse by flashlight).
Embrace monotony. Regardless of the solidity of our home, no one is immune to the threat of it catching on fire. However, when a fire is caught the moment it ignites and is doused with the quick aid of an extinguisher, little damage is done. However, if the fire is left unattended and/or unnoticed, the structure can burn to the ground, destroying all the walls and contents. It may even kill loved ones living inside.
Affairs are the same.
The heat of a roaring flame causes excitement compared to the humdrum boring, typical day when no alarms, bells and whistles sound.
Avoid old loves. Current technology of social networking and search engines bless our lives with the ability to market us and re- establish long-lost friends throughout all 24 time zones. While innocent enough, past connections are like silent embers still burning beneath ashened timbers (they actually burn even hotter than flames themselves).
It appears that our neurochemistry may store memories of young, vital loving feelings free of adult worries and complications. So, if I were to hear from Mike Johnson, my one true love from my 1981 Senior Prom, that rush of hormones and happy teenage tingles would surely accompany his email. Those feelings and emotions would catch me so off guard that I would erroneously think he is my soulmate. After all, he is so much more attractive than the man whom I may be currently arguing with over the credit card bill.
As a married couple, join your profiles on Facebook so there is no doubt of your marital commitment to the world; share your passwords and communication exchanges with friends with each other so there is no dangerous re-ignition that you or your spouse could ever be burned by.
We are all vulnerable to infidelity. Whether we are married or single, protecting the sanctity of the marriage and family bond belongs to all of us. Whenever we hear about the illicit sexual affairs of another, we should be careful in our judgment, forgive those who sin differently than we do, and get busy rehearsing our own five-alarm drill.