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Morals Are Not Enough To Prevent Affairs



Morals Are Not Enough To Prevent Affairs

Why no one can rely on morals to avoid affairs

Dear Duana,

I got a tad obsessed with a “Guy” at work.  As soon as I noticed Guy occupying too much headspace, I told my husband about him, promised never to interact with Guy more than absolutely necessary, and stuck to it.

My girlfriends think telling my spouse was mean, ending the friendship was unnecessary, and that my character and my happy marriage would have prevented anything “happening”.

I think they’re naïve.

Who’s right?  And is there anything more that can affair-proof my marriage?


Dear Ruby,

Your core assumption is Right:  Most affairs are launched by bad *Circumstances*—not bad people.

Yet if Circumstances lead to infidelities, Circumstances can also prevent them.

 And I think you’ll see a lot of your Wisdom in the following Four Proven Affairs-Prevention Techniques:      


Toss Out Bad Beliefs

Your girlfriends’ assumptions— that good people and happy marriages stave off infidelity— are popular.  Popular, but naïve.

In fact, these beliefs are Bad, because they ironically form a core Circumstance that helps *create* the affairs they supposedly prevent.   


Per the data, the logic/illogic goes like this:

“I’m a good person, and happily married—which means it’s impossible that I would ever cheat.  So even though Guy is cute and interesting, and yeah, I’m attracted to him, my Goodness and Happiness will protect me  if we:  talk some more…get coffee…go for lunch…text/email/call each other…share intimate details of our lives…criticize our spouses to one another…say things to each other our mates wouldn’t approve…increase the amount of hidden contact…gradually become closer to each other and more distant from our mates…tell each other we’re attracted but that we won’t do anything about it…

Hey, how did we wind up in bed together?!


Build Good Fences

If you value your monogamous marriage, only two people belong in it:  You and your mate.


The #1 Candidate for an affair today is not the willful philanderer identified in an earlier Love Science—but the spouse who gradually –and usually without planning it—allows a Friendship (especially from work) to usurp their mate’s place of intimacy.

Put another way, Good Fences Make Good Neighbors.  Most affairs happen from bad Boundaries, not bad people—so the *top* thing you can do to prevent infidelity is simply to keep the communication between you and your mate wide Open.  And to other men—Closed.


That does *not* necessarily mean avoiding all Friends, but rather, keeping those Friends outside your marital Core. 

To decide where the Core is, take this quick quiz—perhaps with your mate:


Can you agree on areas where, if you were observing your mate interacting with a Friend (or he observed you), you would *not* be okay with what’s going on?


Having identified your Fences,  the next step is deciding how to protect those Boundaries.   I recommend formalizing this—saying *precisely* what you expect from each other.    

Indeed, you may already have done this.  For instance, I can imagine your saying,

“We’re married, not dead.  I love you, but attractions happen.  I promise to be honest with myself when I’m getting attracted to another man, or if I am sharing too much personal information with another man—and I promise to avoid those men as much as I possibly can.  I promise to tell you about it, too, so I’m accountable to stick with staying away from anyone who could threaten our marriage.

I want your commitment to do the same about women other than me.” 


Monitor Friendships

Clearly, a big part of building good fences is Knowing Thy Neighbor. 

(Not Biblically.) 


Look at that Quiz again.  Who do you most want to tell all about your day?  Are there things you say or do with an opposite-sex Friend that your spouse couldn’t comfortably witness?  Do you find yourself withholding details of your Friendship from your mate—but telling your Friend things only your husband should know (or—worse—criticizing your husband to your Friend)?  Is there an intensity in your thoughts about your Friend that would be threatening to you if *your spouse* felt that way about one of his Friends?

Or does your husband have such a Friend?


Some—probably *most*—Friends are not a threat.

But if any are drifting into the Danger Zone id’d above, you cannot have it both ways!  In which case, my research-backed opinion is that it’s time to do away with the Friendship altogether.

The way you Wisely did with Guy.


Heed Smoke Alarms

Jealousy has gotten a bad rap due to bona-fide nutjobs who –without former cause!— monitor their mate’s every move, mile, call, email, text, and bathroom break.

Fortunately, though, science has revealed that Jealousy is usually, for us non-nutjobs, an evolved mechanism that operates much like a smoke alarm.


When it’s working well, Jealousy gets tripped fairly easily in response to just a bit of smoke—a name mentioned too often, a growing silence, an escalating intensity attached to the presence or absence of a particular Friend.

If it’s working poorly, Jealousy either fails to alarm until the blaze has engulfed the proverbial house…or else, it goes off constantly with no provocation (See nutjobs, above; change battery or replace unit if you have such a model!).


How’s your alarm?  If it rarely trips, Trust It.  Pay attention and ask your husband what’s up.  You might just prevent a fire. 


Ruby, you seem to have an intuitive grasp of many of these things already, and I congratulate you.  Yes, your friends are a bit naïve—but doubtless, well-meaning.  Perhaps you’ll be the one to share this advice with them…and maybe find that more than one marriage is affair-proofed in the process.






The author wishes to acknowledge the following scientists & sources:

Shirley Glass, for authoring THE book on affair prevention and recovery—Not “Just Friends” : Protect Your Relationship from Infidelity and Heal the Trauma of Betrayal —and doing much of the research showing what works and what doesn’t. 

David M. Buss and book, The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is As Necessary As Love and Sex , which explains how Jealousy can be an advantageous smoke alarm. 



Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., is the author of Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do, coming in January, 2015. She also contributes at Psychology Today and teaches psychology at Austin-area universities. Get a free chapter of Love Factually!

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