What Makes a Spouse Vulnerable to an Affair?

Nancy Wasson

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Do you ever worry about your spouse becoming involved in an affair? Have you wondered what makes a spouse easy prey for someone else who’s looking for an excuse to stray?

If so, then you have plenty of company. Given all the news stories and movies about cheating spouses, you’d have to be an ostrich with your head buried in the sand not to at least occasionally consider the possibility.

If you’ve always said, “My husband (or wife) would never cheat on me, ” you’re being unrealistic and naïve. Most people who have affairs aren’t bad or weak individuals, but they are vulnerable at the time the affair begins.

Of course, there are some husbands and wives who engage in multiple affairs and appear incapable of being faithful—that’s a different situation. In this article, I’m focusing on spouses who have a history of being faithful and then surprise themselves and others by cheating on their partner.

Here are some points to consider as you consider ways to strengthen your marriage and reduce the odds that your spouse will find solace in someone else’s arms:

1. A spouse who is experiencing issues with aging and the stereotypic “mid-life crisis” is vulnerable. Self-esteem can plummet as an individual feels less attractive and desirable, and this can make her (or him) more susceptible to attention and compliments from someone other than the spouse.

2. A spouse who feels unappreciated by his (or her) partner is at higher risk for becoming involved with someone else who appreciates his good qualities and doesn’t take him for granted. Many spouses who stray say that the mate only viewed them as a paycheck or someone to make their life easier. They didn’t feel appreciated for who they were and their positive contributions to the marriage.

3. A spouse who is in a sexless marriage is very vulnerable. This is also true when there is a *** relationship but the partner treats sex as a “duty. ” This is a sure set-up for trouble.

Couples sometimes try to coast along for years in this situation, with the unhappy mate trying to tolerate the situation for the sake of the marriage and/or the children. But the reality is that the spouse is often easy prey when “hot sex” with someone who enjoys it comes along.

4. A spouse who does not feel emotionally connected to her (or his) mate is at risk. In this situation, the individual may first become involved in an emotional affair with a co-worker or business associate, and this may eventually lead to more. A marriage that is lacking intimacy and a feeling of connection between the spouses is a set-up for an affair.

5. A spouse who is depressed, anxious, and unusually stressed is at risk. When an individual is depressed, worried, or under intense prolonged pressure, *** libido decreases. As a result, the spouse may erroneously conclude that he or she is no longer in love with the partner, not realizing that the physiological and emotional conditions are impacting the lack of *** desire.

Also, depressed individuals tend to focus on the negatives in a relationship and minimize the positives. Thus, it’s easy for them to blame the partner for any problems in the marriage and view a new *** partner who arouses their desire as validation that everything is the spouse’s fault.

6. A spouse who is in an unhappy marriage with long-term unresolved problems is at risk. Discouragement, anger, frustration, and bitterness cause emotional debris to accumulate that makes a spouse more vulnerable to an affair. Often, one or both partners lack the skills to resolve the problems and either they haven’t tried marriage counseling or they didn’t find the therapist who was right for them.

7. A spouse who has difficulty in confronting relationship problems directly is vulnerable to an affair. She (or he) will be likely to pretend that everything is okay and try to bury any negative feelings in order to keep the peace.

But eventually the unresolved feelings will surface and snuff out the passion in the marriage. At that point, the partner still may not have a clue about the depth of his mate’s unhappiness and her susceptibility to a potential affair.

8. A spouse who doesn’t have good problem solving skills and doesn’t know what to do about an unsatisfying marriage is vulnerable. It’s not uncommon for a spouse in this position to drift into an affair as a way to finally escape the marriage when the partner finds out. That way, the spouse gives the mate a solid reason to request a divorce and take the initiative in ending the marriage.

9. A spouse who uses escape as a way to avoid having to confront problems is vulnerable. The escape behavior can take the form of alcohol or drug abuse, working all the time, or involvement in an affair. When a spouse has a history of not taking responsibility and not dealing with problems, then escaping the reality of the marriage problems by putting focus and energy into an affair as a distraction and diversion is a very real possibility.

10. A spouse who doesn’t feel that the partner really knows her (or him) for who she is and doesn’t care about her is vulnerable. Many times, an individual involved in an affair will tell a counselor that the other person understands her and knows her much better than her own husband does. If a spouse acts uninterested in the mate’s life, thoughts, and feelings, the resulting hurt and emotional pain can make her more susceptible to an affair.

Some of the situations listed above are situational, such as aging and prolonged stress, and may require giving a spouse extra attention and nurturance for a time. Others are reflective of a long-term relationship with major unresolved problems that could benefit from marriage counseling.

As you assess your own marriage and what steps to take to strengthen it, remember the importance of paying attention and giving consistent time, effort, and focus to your relationship.

Whatever you do, don’t take your marriage or your spouse for granted. After all, if you don’t appreciate and value your spouse, there’s probably someone else out there who would be glad to step in and fill the void.

Nancy J. Wasson, Ph. D. , is co-creator of Overcome Control Conflict with Your Spouse or Partner, available at http://www.ControllingSpouse.com She is also co-author of Keep Your Marriage: What to Do When Your Spouse Says “I don't love you anymore!" which is available at http://www.KeepYourMarriage.com , as well as a free weekly Keep Your Marriage Internet Magazine . Dr. Wasson offers telephone and email coaching to individuals and couples who want to overcome relationship problems and create a rewarding, loving partnership.


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