The Ultimate Infidelity Guide (And How To Affair-Proof Your Marriage)

How to protect your marriage.

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Much of the content in this article is taken from my book Marriage SOS: 30 Lifelines to Rescue Your Relationship in One Month. If you're struggling with infidelity, this book can help you manage the initial "crisis period." It also provides simple, straightforward, and ongoing support to rebuild trust, and your relationship, as the days and weeks go on. Whether it is a husband who finds a forbidden lover's note tucked in his wife's purse or a wife who discovers her husband has been paying another woman's rent, it is a gut-wrenching, life-shattering experience to suddenly discover that a spouse has been unfaithful. It is equally devastating to hear a spouse confess to infidelity, even if the confession was done out of guilt and a sincere attempt to repair the marriage.


Living in suspicion can be just as emotionally exhausting. Unfortunately, many spouses who suspect their partner of cheating are correct. Classic signs of a cheating spouse include spending more time at work, financial spending that cannot be accounted for, sudden self-improvement efforts (i.e. joining a gym, dressing better, wearing cologne), secretive and defensive behavior, and even increased intimate interest in the other spouse. More often than not, the signs are there in some form.

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Today, the signs are often lying on your nightstand in the form of a smartphone. Technology — particularly social networking sites and texting — provides an easy opportunity to carry on secret extra-marital friendships that can quickly turn into affairs. Before such technology, affairs were more difficult to start and continue. A married person who wanted to have an affair with another married person would have to call his or her home and risk an angry spouse answering the phone. Nowadays, that same illicit couple can text each other while they sit at their respective dinner tables, their oblivious spouses and children only an arm's length away. Some spouses — often those who are having an affair — will grow indignant when their partner asks to whom they are texting. They might say, "That's none of your business!" or "It's private!"




Asserting this kind of privacy within the context of marriage is not only antithetical to the very concept of marriage, it facilitates infidelity and often creates a profound sense of insecurity in the other spouse. After all, those who have nothing to hide, hide nothing. Dating and social networking sites provide low-risk, high-excitement ways to connect with strangers and/or reconnect with past friends or lovers. The payoff — a rush of adrenaline and arousal — is instantaneous and people often mistakenly believe that they have made an authentic, meaningful connection with someone they have either never met or barely know.

Worse, "innocent" texting between opposite-gender friends can quickly escalate into an overt intimate dialogue due to the false sense of safety this medium provides. Many people have no problem texting graphically intimate content to a person with whom, if they were standing face-to-face, they could barely shake hands. The relationship is an empty shell, although it gives the illusion of being a virtual cornucopia of connection, attraction, and even true love.

While it is true that some affairs turn into long-term relationships, the vast majority end in disaster. The lust hormones of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin wear off and the reality — betrayal, guilt, family breakdown, regret, humiliation, alienation from one's children, and so on — kicks in. Until that happens, however, a cheating spouse may believe that he or she is "in love" with their extramarital bedmate and may demonstrate the judgment of a love-struck teenager rather than a mature adult with responsibilities. Until a cheating spouse can tell the difference between love and lust, it is virtually impossible to move ahead and repair the marriage. Here are a few thoughts to ponder on the matter. The more a person answers "No," the more likely it is that he or she is in lust, not love:

  • Do you regularly spend extended periods with this person and have you done so for at least one year?
  • Do you perform routine or mundane domestic duties with this person (ie. yardwork, shopping, home repairs, financial planning, co-parenting, getting insurance quotes, etc.)?
  • Do you have the same circle of friends?
  • Do you have biological children together?
  • Have you made large purchases together and do you own shared property?
  • Do you know and interact with this person's parents, siblings, extended family, and close friends?
  • Do you spend holidays together?
  • If you suddenly became bankrupt, would this person support you financially?
  • Has this person seen you at your very worst (ie. sick, anxious, angry, grief-stricken, etc.) and supported you through several such episodes?
  • Do you have a shared history that includes a range of diverse experiences (ie. travel, accomplishments, funerals, weddings, business ventures, etc.)?
  • If you could not be intimate with this person, would you still put as much effort into seeing her or him?
  • Would you be proud to introduce this person to your children, parents, family, and friends?
  • If you become incapacitated, would you give this person Power of Attorney over your assets, minor children, and personal health decisions?

When a spouse discovers a partner's affair, he or she often wants to know all of the details. Who? Where? What did you do? How many times did you do it? Was he or she better than me? How long has this been going on? Do you love this person? Do you fantasize about him or her while we are making love? The answers to some questions may be more valuable than the answers to others. For example, a spouse is fully entitled to know the identity of the extramarital girlfriend or boyfriend, whether there was intimate activity, if the partner feels he or she is "in love" with the other person, how long the affair lasted, and whether it is still going on. Moving past an affair is practically impossible without these kinds of answers.

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Other questions that a betrayed spouse might ask — although perfectly understandable and natural to ask — may be less helpful. These are the gory details. When deciding how many details you want or need, you may wish to ask yourself the following question, and use it as a guideline: How much information do I require from my spouse to reassure me that he or she has ended the affair, loves me and only me, and will work to save our marriage? Be realistic but honest with yourself about the information and details you need to know. Remember that once you hear an answer, you can't unhear it. It may be helpful to write down your questions and sit on them for a few days. Even if you don't change your mind about needing to know the answers, at least you will have had time to collect yourself before asking them.

A betrayed spouse should avoid the tendency to constantly attack a partner with a slew of never-ending questions. An ongoing assault of gut-wrenching, explicit questions about the affair can be exhausting and embarrassing and can cause even a well-intentioned spouse to shut down. Agreeing upon a specific time when the affair and its necessary details can be discussed at length may be helpful. This reassures the betrayed spouse that his or her questions will be answered while allowing marriage and family life to continue with a degree of normality.


Sometimes a spouse wishes to end an affair and rebuild the marriage but finds it difficult to tell his or her extra-marital bedmate that it is over. The spouse may feel guilty about ending it and may worry about how the end of the affair will affect the other person. This type of inaction, flip-flopping, or hesitation to end the affair, once and for all, is misplaced loyalty in the extreme. It can do irreparable harm to the marriage, as the betrayed spouse begins to see his or her partner as even more unfaithful, uncommitted, and unreliable.

It is impossible to move past infidelity and rebuild a marriage while one spouse is emotionally or physically involved with another person. Moreover, the other person — the marital interloper — does not require, and is not entitled to, time or effort when it comes to ending the affair. He or she should not have had a presence in the first place. There is no need for private meetings to "find closure" or continued communication. An unfaithful spouse who claims differently is adding to both the insult and injury he or she has already caused his or her spouse. A dramatic shift in priorities and loyalties is required if the marriage is to survive and thrive.

There are two steps to rebuilding trust after infidelity. These are time and transparency; and repeated positive experiences. Time heals all wounds, right? Wrong. If a couple who has suffered through infidelity does not properly recover and heal from it, time only makes the scar more visible. The wound may even reopen now and then. But if a couple uses time smartly, it can soothe the pain, and the scar can begin to fade.

For that reason, a spouse who has cheated on his or her partner must be fully transparent in the days, weeks, and months after infidelity. Transparency, in terms of behavior, implies complete honesty, openness, and accessibility. There can be no unexplained absences from the home, no private passwords for computers or smartphones, no whispered phone calls, no texting in the next room, and no significant expenditures that cannot be accounted for.


Of course, the degree of transparency will depend on the betrayed spouse's comfort level. Some spouses may be OK with private passwords, others may not. Some may wish to randomly check up on a partner, others may not. The spouse's comfort level may change as time goes on.

When a betrayed spouse is trying to regain trust in a partner, it is essential for the partner who cheated to have patience and humility. Unfortunately, some partners quickly lose their patience and may say something like, "It's been two months! You need to get over it and stop snooping through my phone!" This sends the message that this partner is not willing to do what it takes to regain his or her spouse's trust. It also feels as though he or she is shifting the problem onto the betrayed spouse, while too quickly absolving himself or herself of blame.

When deciding on the terms of transparency, couples must make sure that they have the same expectations. A betrayed spouse should put some thought into this so that his or her expectations are realistic and workable, yet comprehensive enough to provide the reassurance that he or she needs from the other spouse. But time and transparency aren't enough to rebuild trust. It is also essential that the negative feelings, memories, and experiences that surround the infidelity be replaced with positive feelings, memories, and experiences. Rebuilding trust is an active, collaborative process.

A commitment to work on the marriage is certainly a positive step. Endeavoring to learn what made the relationship vulnerable to infidelity is important, as is a desire to create a marriage that is happier and healthier than ever before. But the little things count, too. Small or spontaneous romantic gestures may be welcome. Unexpected texts, phone calls, or love notes might help, as may an increase in family time, affection, sincere compliments, and sharing of chores.


Sometimes, a spouse who wishes to regain a partner's trust doesn't know what kinds of gestures he or she should do. It seems that no matter what he or she tries, it falls on deaf ears or, even worse, comes across as insincere and provokes, rather than pleases, the spouse. In such cases, it may be helpful if the betrayed spouse can suggest some positive gestures that his or her partner might perform. These should be acts that the spouse feels are meaningful, sincere, and demonstrative of the partner's commitment to remain faithful. This approach eliminates guesswork on the part of the other partner and can avoid unnecessary conflict.

People often say that their marriage ended because their spouse had an affair; however, infidelity isn't always the cause of marital breakdown. Usually, it's a symptom of a relationship that is already unhealthy and unhappy in some way. If a person is not getting what they need from the marriage, they may go outside the marriage to have their need(s) met. This does not excuse infidelity. There is no excuse for it. But there may be an explanation that can help couples understand why it happened. You can't rebuild a relationship until you know why it fell apart in the first place.

Trying to figure out why a spouse cheated can be a confusing, gut-wrenching process. Infidelity doesn't always stem from a weakened marriage. Sadly, some people are just untrustworthy and self-indulgent. If it feels good, they'll do it. Serial cheaters fall into this category. If your partner has cheated more than once — or if your partner refuses to be accountable for his or her actions — you're better off booking an appointment with a divorce lawyer than a marriage counselor. It just ain't worth it.

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Here's how to cope with cheating by taking steps to affair-proof your marriage:

1. Don't ignore your partner's complaints

It is foolish, short-sighted, and selfish to shrug off a partner's complaints, whether they are about housework, money, a lack of affection, in-laws, or texting. It is even worse to become ignorant or defensive when your partner tries to express the reasons for his or her unhappiness. You don't need to agree with what he or she is saying. But you do need to listen, care, and do something to improve the situation.

2. Don't let intimacy fall off the radar

Intimacy is a big part of marriage. Regular physical intimacy is a prevailing reason to get married. Order-in supper more often, put the kids to bed earlier, chew on a handful of chocolate-covered coffee beans before bed — do whatever it takes to keep some energy for it. If you are having relationship problems that are standing in the way of a healthy love life, fix them. Get professional help if you must. But stop making excuses.

3. Show interest in your partner's life

Ask yourself every day, "What can I do to make my partner's life happier and easier?" If both partners are doing this, you have it made.

4. Have fun together

When was the last time you and your partner shared a good belly laugh? When was the last time you couldn't stop smiling? If it's been a while, you need to "lighten up" your relationship. People are naturally drawn toward those who are fun to be around.


5. Appreciate your partner

Not a day should go by that you don't express appreciation for your partner in words and deeds. Feeling unappreciated is a major complaint in almost all troubled marriages.



6. Put technology in its place

Translation: Put down the phone and talk to your partner! Nothing is more irritating than feeling second-place to a smartphone.


7. Talk to your partner like he or she is someone you love

Be vigilant of your voice tone and manners. Keep contempt, defensiveness, criticism, and rudeness out of your marriage.

8. Create shared rituals

Whether it's HBO Sunday nights or Sunday night walks in the park, couples need to have traditions. These give couples a sense of identity and continuity as a couple.

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Debra Macleod, B.A., LL.B. is an author and conflict specialist who offers a fast, focused, and no-nonsense alternative to couples counseling and ineffective marriage coaching systems.