Beware the affair: is your marriage at risk?

Relationships, etc Beware the affair: is your marriage at risk

With technology making infidelity easier than ever, one in three men and one in four women will have an affair. So it makes sense to be aware of the danger signs, says marital therapist Andrew G Marshall

Spot the signs of an affair

Alarm bells: Is he’s not
coping well with a restructuring at work or financial problems

Signs that he might be tempted

He always feels criticised

He feels ‘I can’t win’ or thinks he’s let you down – perhaps his business is in trouble – or believes that you are permanently disappointed.

Why it’s dangerous In your head, there are perfectly good reasons why you’re critical (‘He really doesn’t pull his weight around the house’). However, this is what makes this scenario particularly risky. From where he’s standing, your criticism is unjustified. He believes nothing he says or does can make things better, so why bother That’s why he has already half checked out of your marriage.

Turn it round We think one compliment will undo one complaint, but US research shows that we need five. Keep a mental tally over the next few days of how many positive and negative comments you make. When relationships are in crisis, people become very good at communicating complaints, but keep what they admire about their partner to themselves. So the next time you think, ‘You’re a great father’ or something else that’s nice, tell him.

You’re going through a sexual dry spell
You’ve been tired and preoccupied lately, but tell yourself that you’ll have time to repair the damage on holiday or when your youngest starts school.

Why it’s dangerous Never underestimate how central sex is to a man’s self-esteem. While women have their needs for intimacy met from all sorts of sources (friends, family and cuddling their children), men get close through sex. It’s also how they show love.

Turn it round The number-one reason men cheat is for sexual variety or sexual connection, so plan a surprise: dress up, or take a picnic blanket to a secluded spot and get hot and heavy. Alternatively, create variety by mixing up how you touch him, for example going slow and taking him to the brink then making him beg for more by suddenly stopping.

He’s under a huge amount of pressure
It could be restructuring at work or financial problems, but he’s not coping well: he’s bottling it all up, flying off the handle or drinking too much.

Why it’s dangerous Men are trained to be self-sufficient and solve problems themselves. When it’s not possible, they don’t ask for help but go for temporary fixes to reduce their stress – such as drink or recreational drugs. He could also be heading for a self-medicating affair – using the flattery and attention to boost his self-esteem or forget his troubles.

Turn it round Ask him again how you can help (because the closer he is to cracking, the more likely he is to open up). Suggest taking over some of his responsibilities around the house, offer a back rub or leave little gifts in his car or desk. If he knows you appreciate what he’s doing for you and the children, he can endure much more.

He’s angry all the time

He seems like a bear with a sore head (or he used to be like that but suddenly everything is running smoothly and you think you’re out of the woods).

Why it’s dangerous He could be finding fault – where there was none before – because he’s trying to convince himself that your marriage has ‘no future’ or ‘she doesn’t care’ so he is justified in looking around for someone else. Alternatively, he’s given up all hope of ever feeling understood, appreciated and sexually fulfilled and has either sunk into depression or has his eye on somebody else.

Turn it round Next time he’s angry or turns his back when you’d been expecting an explosion, instead of losing your temper or walking on eggshells, try addressing the issue calmly: ‘What’s the matter’ or ‘Why are you so angry’ He’ll either snap back or say, ‘Nothing. I’m fine’. If you get the former, listen, ask questions but don’t take the bait and fight back. If you get the latter, be persistent, ask again and give evidence about his recent dark moods to explain why you’re concerned. Although these conversations will be difficult, once the problems are out in the open, you can begin to fix them.

He can’t stop talking about a special friend
You might not have met her if she’s just a work colleague or shares a hobby with your husband, but he drops her into the conversation a lot. She might even be positioning herself as a family friend and buying presents for your children.

Why it’s dangerous Your instincts have told you ‘she’s trouble’, but either you’ve talked yourself round or your husband has told you not to be stupid. However, you’ve had these niggling doubts for a reason and it is very easy for special friends to cross the line into having ‘feelings’ and acting on them.

Turn it roundDon’t go in guns blazing as it will make him defensive. First, remind him of your own special connection with a ‘turn back the clock’ date or weekend – where you go back to somewhere memorable from your courting days or do something you used to enjoy together.
Next, tell him your concerns, listen to his reassurances but still ask for changes to how often he speaks to or emails the special friend, and monitor that they happen.

Are you thinking about having an affair

Alarm bells: You're extremely vulnerable to men who flatter
and seek you out at social gatherings

Signs that you might be tempted

He’s not very thoughtful

It’s ages since he surprised you with a kind gesture or gift. Although you know he cares, he doesn’t go so far as actually demonstrating how much he loves you.

Why it’s dangerous We all need to feel special and if he’s not doing the job, you are likely to respond when someone else shows a little bit of attention. Especially if you’ve spent a lot of time at the gym lately and you’re in your best shape for years!

Turn it roundInstead of dropping hints or making sarcastic comments to try to shock him into acting differently, why not ask for what you need For instance, although we fear that asking for a hug will make it less special, it still feels good and before too long will happen naturally. Research into oxytocin, the bonding chemical, has found that we need eight hugs, cuddles or casual touches a day to feel loved.

You put yourself last
You’re so busy running round after the children or your partner that you never have time for yourself.

Why it’s dangerous You are extremely vulnerable to men who flatter (‘You’re looking nice today’ or ‘Have I ever told you that I’ve always fancied you’) and seek you out at social gatherings. Alternatively, you can stumble across them on an internet chat forum about something harmless – such as playing Scrabble – and they always seem to have time to send a friendly message or remember that you’re off to the doctor. It is easy to think that these men care or put you first. Unfortunately, they are normally sexual predators who know how to manipulate the fairy-tale idea of the princess being rescued from an everyday humdrum world. No wonder women fall head over heels and make the biggest mistake of their life.

Turn it round We have to take responsibility for our own happiness, rather than expecting our partner to boost our self-esteem or thinking, ‘If I can make everybody else happy, they will return the favour’. So book some me time to pamper yourself or pursue a personal interest. Don’t think of it as being selfish, but as recharging your batteries.

You’re feeling resentful
He never seems to listen or take your feelings seriously. So why bother talking about anything

Why it’s dangerous You feel the balance of chores is off-kilter. It’s not just that you’re tired and have a long to-do list that’s stopping you feeling sexy, but you are also thinking, ‘Why should I do this for him, when he does so little for me’

Turn it round Explain why you’ve been so snappy lately and how feeling taken for granted affects your libido. If that sounds difficult, try the following strategy for discussing contentious topics. First, you have five minutes uninterrupted to talk about the chores that you particularly resent. He listens and summarises your main points to check he’s understood. Swap over. He talks about how he sees the situation while you listen for five minutes and repeat his viewpoint. Keep going until you’ve reached an agreement for a more equitable split of jobs and a way of prioritising your sex life more.

You’re desperate for a bit of fun
It seems like your life is just cleaning, the school run and work. Shouldn’t there be more to it than this

Why it’s dangerous Your judgment can become so clouded that flirting with other men – perhaps a colleague or friend’s husband – seems like harmless fun. If you do have second thoughts, you tell yourself, ‘I deserve a little excitement’. Before long, you’re going out of your way to ‘accidentally’ bump into this person – and if you’re not careful, proximity can lead to having feelings. Alternatively, you’ve been consumed with fantasies about a stranger – perhaps someone you saw kissing his girlfriend passionately – and started daydreaming of how life might be different with him.

Turn it round Date nights can become a chore if you’ve got to arrange everything yourself. Instead make it a shared task: for example, you arrange childcare and he takes the initiative on where you’re going. On the night, don’t share the bathroom but get ready separately to create an air of excitement.

You’ve lost touch with who you are

Where did that girl with all that promise go – surely, you’re not just someone’s wife

Why it’s dangerous We all need to stop and take stock, especially at life’s transition points – for example, when your youngest child is going off to university. However, if you ignore perfectly healthy questions such as ‘Who am I’ or ‘What do I want to do in the second half of my life’ and carry on regardless, an affair can seem to offer a way to make sense of your life or feel like a teenager again.

Turn it round The happiest people have a variety of ways of making their life meaningful. Your love for your partner can be central, but there are other reasons for getting up in the morning: creating something (such as a business), doing something challenging (such as running a marathon) or helping others (such as doing some voluntary work or caring for aged parents). You need to update your goals every five to ten years and at similar intervals to review your relationship – value its strengths and talk to your partner about its weaknesses.

Andrew G Marshall is a marital therapist and author of Build a Life-long Love Affair: Seven Steps to Revitalising Your Relationship (Bloomsbury, 6.99)*