What about acknowledging attractions to others?
(This was originally posted as a Question/Response)

by Peggy Vaughan

I wonder if you could address the issues of preventing affairs for a couple who have agreed to date each other exclusively. Do you think it's advisable to seek full disclosure of everything related to fidelity while dating, including acknowledging attractions to others, or is that unrealistic and harmful? I have attempted, and sought, full disclosure but I found it kept emotions constantly stirred up and jealousy flaring.

Peggy's Response:
The above letter shows an impressive awareness of and commitment to "preventing affairs." And the effort to acknowledge attractions to others is definitely the wiser alternative to either denying attractions or keeping them secret.

Having said that, however, there is still the issue of learning how to go about sharing the information about attractions without "keeping emotions constantly stirred up and jealousy flaring." (More later on how to go about doing that.)

First, I'll offer a little more perspective on why it's a smart decision to talk about attractions rather than hide them. To more clearly explain why this is worth pursuing, I want to share some excerpts from our book, Making Love Stay.

If you try to deny the possibility of attractions, you send a subtle (or not so subtle) signal to your partner that you don't want to know about any of their feelings of attraction toward others. Since attractions are both normal and inevitable, you're in essence sending a message that says, "Lie to me; pretend you're never attracted to anyone else." This, of course, causes other problems related to honesty that can have serious consequences for your relationship.

Accepting the reality of attractions to others is the first step toward being able to keep them in perspective. If you see attractions as a direct threat to your love (thinking that if your partner loved you they would never be attracted to anyone else), you're granting power to attractions that they would not otherwise possess.

Attractions become a much greater threat to the relationship whenever acknowledging them is taboo. If you can't talk about these feelings, they become your own private secret and are likely to grow in intensity and desire. But openly discussing your feelings brings a degree of reality to the issue that leads to a more sensible and responsible way of thinking, which in turn reduces the desire to act on the attractions.

(end of excerpt from Making Love Stay)

As for how to deal with any jealousy or other emotional reactions to discussing attractions... You can't reasonably expect to have these kinds of discussions unless you make a clear commitment to "responsible honesty"—which means understanding that this effort to honestly discuss attractions is for the specific purpose of preventing the attractions from getting out of hand. (Hiding attractions can be the first step toward hiding temptations, then hiding actions. So avoiding this first deception also avoids having the attraction escalate into temptation and action.)

In addition to helping prevent affairs, talking about attractions can draw you closer together and allow you to "really know each other." (Many couples cease to really know each other after years of withholding their private thoughts from one another.) And the distance created by this lack of sharing opens up possibilities for all kinds of secrets and the problems they can bring.

You can not overestimate the significance of establishing a strong commitment to honesty—which, by the way, is more than just "not lying;" it's "not withholding relevant information." Because regardless of any of the possible reasons/excuses someone may give for why they might have an affair, the rock-bottom reason (the "trump card" so to speak) is a willingness to be dishonest and deception. Without deception, there would be few affairs. So a commitment to honesty inherently helps to prevent affairs.

For more on this, you can read the Article posted on the website titled: Preventing Affairs.

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