Including comments by Peggy Vaughan

Fidelity Begins at Home

By Karen S. Peterson
July 6, 1999

Watch out for men whose fathers have had affairs: They are at risk for having one themselves.

Beware of office flirtations that can become so intense they jeopardize a marriage -- even if there is no sex -- and of on-line relationships that sizzle.

And teach your children honestly and early about sex if you want them to be monogamous as adults.

That's part of the advice experts who deal with infidelity give newlyweds who want to avoid affairs.

The topic was central when top experts from around the country gathered Friday for the third annual Smart Marriages: Happy Families conference, sponsored by the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education.

Women have affairs because of factors within their marriages: Seeking more intimacy, they look for someone ''to give them a little sense of romance,'' says Atlanta psychiatrist and family therapist Frank Pittman, author of Grow Up! How Taking Responsibility Can Make You a Happy Adult.

But men ''are extremely satisfied with their marriages,'' he says. Marriage works for them. They have affairs ''because that is what they have been trained to believe men do.''

Often, they are influenced by their fathers' marital patterns, he says. And if their fathers had affairs, they are much more vulnerable themselves, Pittman said in a presentation called ''Fathers, Sons and Zippers.''

Don't despair if there is an affair, Pittman cautions. In fact, the marriage can be stronger in the aftermath of a lot of soul-searching.

''A crisis gets two people to talking, and infidelity is perhaps the most personal crisis anyone has.''

Affairs can provoke ''more personal revelations, personal conversations than anything else that might happen in life,'' Pittman says.

It is lying about the affair and the feelings of betrayal the lies engender that are poisonous.

Work isn't for play.

Great temptations lurk at work, warns Baltimore marital therapist Shirley Glass, who has researched what she calls ''extramarital attachments'' for 24 years.

''Work is a danger zone,'' she says.

Don't have lunch or take coffee breaks with the same person all the time, she says.

''When you travel with a co-worker, meet in public rooms, not in a room with a bed,'' Glass says. ''And don't drink and dance with co-workers at conferences or office parties.''

Actual sex doesn't have to be part of an extramarital attachment, Glass says. Nonsexual relationships can have the intensity of an affair.

If there is ''secrecy, emotional intimacy and sexual chemistry,'' there can be enough involvement to jeopardize a marriage, she says. Most damaging to marriages are those relationships involving both emotional intensity and sex.

Glass' research with colleague Tom Wright shows that 84% of men and 78% of women who develop strong extramarital attachments are involved with co-workers, former lovers, neighbors or friends.

Mixed messages

Peggy Vaughan, author of The Monogamy Myth, despairs that many of today's adults and even teens won't be able to avoid affairs; she blames a society saturated in sexuality rather than people who are ''bad.''

''Social factors make it hard to be monogamous,'' she says. ''We glorify affairs in the media, use sex to sell everything. We idealize the image of love and marriage, assuming monogamy, and that sets us up for failure.''

She says she has more hope for today's 5-year-olds. If kids are raised so they don't feel the need to lie to their parents later about sexual experiences, they will grow up to lie less about their sex lives as married adults, she says.

Vaughan tells newlyweds to ''establish open, honest communication with (future) children and avoid a lifetime of teaching deception.''

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