Counseling psychologist and author Lissy Ann A. Puno talks to Lifestyle Asia about how to protect marriages, repair relationships and recover from indiscretions and infidelities
Affairs DON’T “just happen.” There are underlying causes, contributing factors, “hooks” so to speak, that make a marriage vulnerable to infidelity. Often these are subtle, seemingly insignificant or innocent, until you look back at a once happy relationship and realize too late that the warning signs were there all along.
A Relationship Checkup
If affairs don’t just happen, you ask, then might your own marriage be at risk? Are you and your spouse unknowingly drifting apart? Could you be attracting an affair without you realizing it?
To check, ask yourselves questions like these:
- Are you distracted by the day-to-day challenges of life that you are paying more attention to other things than to each other?
- Is your schedule dominated by your work and social calendar that there is really no safeguarding of couple time?
- Do you assume that there is really no need to ask about each other’s lives because, if there was something to be known, then the other would speak up about it?
- Have you stopped behaving in caring, romantic and affectionate ways to one another because you believe that these are not important?
Relationships and marriages today are experiencing significant challenges. The fast-paced busy-ness of life takes away from the time needed to maintain a strong relationship. The push for individual happiness and prioritizing what the “me” wants and feels it deserves creates disconnected “parallel lives” that make a relationship vulnerable. Worse, the social media image of what an ideal relationship should be sets such a high standard for couples that greater dissatisfaction is felt sooner. The result? Long-term, committed relationships, and marriage is now becoming optional for young people.
The Stages of a Relationship
All relationships start out with what is called the Romantic Love stage. A flood of “feel good” feelings fuels the passion and ecstasy of this stage, creating the illusion of attachment. It is a time full of promise. But those promises last just long enough to convince you both are head over heels in love and cannot live without one another. The world exists only for the two of you. This stage of romantic love does not last long, though. It is unstable and fleeting and yet is often the basis of a lifelong decision!
Soon enough, when the relationship feels more settled, the second stage comes in. Things start to change. This change is inevitable and natural. But most couples are not aware of how it works. This could be the beginning of wondering whether you are right for each other. You start to question if you had made a mistake, and doubts about whether you are truly compatible creep in. A predominant feature of this stage is a form of “power struggle” between you. The longer you experience this with your partner, the more disillusioned and unhappy you become.
This is the stage when most affairs can happen. You and your partner are looking for that “feel good” feeling you used to share. Not finding it with one another, a coincidental meeting with someone new who makes you “feel good” again can just create that unconscious hook of attraction and intrigue. And the risk of an affair sets in.
It is at this point when couples start to slowly exit their marriages without them realizing it. It starts with legitimate excuses that seem quite acceptable for some time. Then, it leads to unaccountable behavior, longer and longer periods spent away from home, and a change in behavior that seems so out of character. Those are the “red flags” of an affair.
Some partners, upon learning of the infidelity, claim that they had no idea at all of the affair, as the changes in their spouse were so subtle. They insist that they were so shocked to discover there was an affair in the making or that one was taking place right in the midst of their marriage. But as we said, affairs don’t just happen! There are warning signs and should serve as signals that your relationship needs safeguarding.
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Preserve and Protect Your Relationship
Preventing an affair from happening begins by focusing on a few basic things such as:
- Safeguard your couple time.
- Regularly connect in close and loving ways.
- Express admiration for each other.
- Stay interested in each other’s lives.
- Exchange gestures of affection daily.
- Grow in all areas of intimacy (there are 12 of them!).
- Know yourself, and your spouse should know you the best.
- Keep a long-term picture of your relationship in your mind.
Recovery from an Affair is Possible
If your marriage has experienced this painful bump in your journey together, affair recovery is possible with commitment and hard work. In fact, 86% of marriages do recover from unfaithfulness, and a significant number of couples regret leaving their marriage due to an affair. So, give it your best shot! There is a way to rebuild your marriage in a way that is safe and secure.
Here are a few ways to recover after an affair:
- Choose to love each other.
- Decide to trust again.
- Remember that the pain will pass.
- Desire for the loving and fulfilling marriage that is emerging.
- Put in the time and effort to rebuild a new and better marriage.
- Be aware of relationship issues that need to be worked on.
- Accept imperfections.
- Display strength and courage when things get tough.
Your marriage is worth fighting for as it is the foundation that your family is built upon. Strong marriages create strong parents able to raise strong children and forge a strong family. As the extended life span of people today gives us all an opportunity for longer lives, so too will marriages last for more decades than before. Let’s make it work, one couple at a time.
An Excerpt from the book “Affairs Don’t Just Happen” by Lissy Ann A. Puno:
Bart and Mia have been married for 20 years. Both were always highly responsible individuals who ‘did the right things.’ They had a wonderful family, successful careers and a set of friends they enjoyed spending time with. The couple had two children and Bart worked hard to give them the best education and a very comfortable lifestyle.
As midlife approached, though, Bart began having thoughts about their marriage. Thoughts he had never had before. He would catch himself looking at Mia and wondering what truly brought them together in their younger years. He could see now that Mia may have come from a different background that made her emotionally needy, while Bart had been looking for someone to rescue. He liked being attracted to women who needed him in their life and appeared like they could not live without him. He had always been a responsible son and, now as a spouse and father, he liked being the hero and the knight in shining armor.
Then, Bart met Susan. She showered him with all the things he may have suppressed because of the hero role he thought he should play. He enjoyed this new experience of someone caring for him and making him the center of her attention, affection and admiration. Susan was a strong and determined woman. She planned things for them to do and enjoy. She made decisions and followed through. She didn’t need taking care of.
Bart was happy about this new discovery but felt guilty at the same time. “Why now at 45 years old?” What about my family? I am not being responsible by entertaining Susan.” Yet, he also began to ask himself, “What about me? Am I happy? Am I really in love with my wife? Has anyone thought of me through the years?” Seemingly, the answers to these questions were confusing to him.
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