Preventing Affairs
Talking Honestly about Attractions
by Peggy Vaughan

You probably realize it's natural for your partner (and yourself) to find others attractive. Nevertheless, it's probably something you don't want to think about. You'd like to believe it won't happen, so you may convince yourself that somehow your relationship will be different. 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.

Attractions are not, in and of themselves, a problem. The problem comes when they are acted on. And the best way to decrease the likelihood of that happening is to honestly discuss this issue and your feelings about it on an ongoing basis. 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.

This process of acknowledging attractions and discussing how they are to be handled is one that both married and unmarried couples need to address prior to any problem with affairs. Constantly wondering and worrying about this issue creates a strain between partners that may prevent their developing a sense of trust in each other. They need to talk through their feelings about monogamy and attractions to other people on an ongoing basis as their relationship develops.

Couples can't avoid affairs by assuming monogamy or even by promising monogamy without discussing the issue. Prevention is possible only through a commitment to Honesty, not a "promise" to be monogamous."

This commitment involves having ongoing honest discussions of the issue—which means more than just "not lying;" it means "not withholding relevant information." This kind of commitment to "responsible honesty" makes it possible for a couple to feel they really know each other, making it more likely they can trust that they won't deceive each other, thus preventing affairs.

Couples sometimes wonder how to "bring up" the issue of affairs…and how often. This is actually quite simple because the issue of affairs is all around us all the time. (In fact, it can't be avoided.) It's in the news, in movies, on TV, and happens among our friends, family, or acquaintances. So it's not a matter of how or when to bring it up. You need only take advantage of the many times when the issue presents itself as a potential subject for discussion.

Most people actively AVOID having in-depth discussions on an ongoing basis—because they have the false idea that it's too scary or risky. But the real risk is in NOT talking. It's only through talking (and specifically "not withholding" your thoughts about the subject) that you can gain some measure of reassurance that you know where things stand. Without this kind of sharing, you're left to wonder—with the inevitable anxiety that comes from this kind of uncertainty.

Bottom Line:
It's important to understand that it's unrealistic to think there is some kind of absolute protection, some kind of actions that can "guarantee" you'll prevent an affair. There are no guarantees. The issue of monogamy is never settled once and for all. It requires ongoing honest discussion of the issue. This makes it possible for a couple to feel they really know each other, making it more likely they can trust that they won't deceive each other, thus preventing affairs.

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