Immunized Against Infidelity : Chicago Tribune 8/8/99
Sun Aug 8 21:49:28 EDT 1999
from: Smart Marriages
Immunized Against Infidelity
Want to avoid divorce? Then learn how to be faithful
By Shirley Barnes
Special to the Tribune
August 8, 1999
With much of the nation focused on the rogue's gallery of famous straying
spouses who've pranced through the headlines in recent years, Dr. Frank
Pittman thinks it's time to turn our attention elsewhere: to the adultery
that wreaks havoc in average American homes.
"Infidelity is the sine qua non of divorce," says Pittman, who has seen
plenty of it in his 39 years as an Atlanta psychiatrist, family therapist
and author. "Grow Up" (Golden Books, $14) is his latest book on the
He recites his scorecard. Out of 7,000 cases in 39 years, "I've seen only
five established first marriages ending in divorce without somebody being
unfaithful. Every year I think I've seen the sixth, but I wait and sure
enough the other man or woman surfaces even though they deny and deny and
deny. I saw nine cases of infidelity just today, kind of a typical day,"
says in a telephone interview from his Atlanta home.
Marital therapists spend much of their time trying to fix marriages
broken by affairs. But Pittman advocates a more positive approach:
couples how to inoculate their marriages against infidelity before it
He was one of several experts to tackle the topic at the recent Smart
Marriages conference in Washington, D.C., put on by the Coalition for
Marriage, Family and Couples Education, an influential, growing group of
researchers, counselors and therapists who champion skills-based marriage
education to stem the country's divorce epidemic.
Most starry-eyed newlyweds ignore the threat of infidelity even though
research shows it's most apt to occur in the first three years of
says Barry McCarthy, a certified marriage and sex therapist with the
Washington Psychological Center in Washington, D.C.
To boost couples' chances of sidestepping affairs, "You can't be so naive
as to think you won't be attracted to other people (after marriage)," says
Baltimore researcher and psychologist Shirley Glass.
According to Glass, married people have to consciously put up "certain
kinds of walls in relationships to people who are attractive (to them)."
Most people don't realize "it's a bigger leap from a platonic relationship
to the first romantic kiss than from a kiss to sexual intercourse," she
At the Smart Marriages conference, Glass released her latest study,
indicating 73 percent of men and 42 percent of women meet their
extramarital affair partners at work.
Such statistics are a warning to be wary of office relationships that step
over the line from healthy friendships to strong emotional bonds that can
Some couples are getting the idea.
Stung by his first wife's infidelity, Arthur Ross of Chicago was
it wouldn't happen again. Joy, his second wife, whom he met and courted on
the Internet, agrees.
"We have decided we aren't going to have that in our marriage," she says.
Even before they met in person, Arthur sent Joy a book on how to build an
To Joy, who moved to Chicago from her home in the Bahamas, the key is "to
keep our relationship solid and make sure there's not something missing."
This is her first marriage.
"Obviously it's not true" that married people are never attracted to
others, says Arthur, an electrical engineer turned computer consultant.
"But I deal with it by not putting myself into a position that I'm not
going to be able to get myself out of." He doesn't go out to lunch with
unattached female business associates.
The Rosses also enrolled in a PAIRS marriage education course to reinforce
Author Peggy Vaughan describes the essential ingredient in faithful
marriages as "honest communication so you're so much in touch with each
other you can't deceive each other." Vaughan's first book, "The Monogamy
Myth" (Newmarket Press, $14.95), was written with her husband, Jim, and
chronicled her husband's affairs and the couple's painful but successful
effort to repair their marriage. "More couples stay together (after an
affair) than people realize," she says.
As America Online's infidelity expert, Vaughan spends weekdays answering
queries at the Web site she shares with her husband (vaughan-vaughan.com),
from people skewered by each corner of extramarital triangles. The site
averages 18,000 hits a day.
"Preventing affairs is not like having a one-time inoculation - or even
getting occasional booster shots. It's more like taking a pill every day
for the rest of your life," she says.
At the Washington, D.C., conference, she warned of a new spawning ground
for infidelity: the Internet. Vaughan reported that her Web site is full
tales from stay-at-home moms, among others, whose chat room visits become
hazard to their marriage when they discover a cyberspace soulmate. The
honesty that's absent in their marriage is spilled out on the screen to a
To track the role honesty plays in preventing affairs and in patching up
marriages damaged by them, Vaughan this fall will release the results of
on-line survey she's conducting in cooperation with long-time marriage
researcher John Gottman of the University of Washington.
"People like to think that there's some way to affair-proof your marriage,
some one-time event or promise or set of values and beliefs that will
no matter what. But the issue of affairs is never settled once and for
it requires honest discussions about the normal attractions to others and
how as a couple you will handle these attractions," Vaughan says. "Don't
wait for a crisis. Don't wait until you are attracted or tempted," she
Couples have to figure out before it happens "how to make it safe to tell
each other if they're attracted to other people," says Paul Gerlach, an
Park family life educator who heads the Stepfamily Association of
"And how to tell each other that they're not satisfied" when things are
working in the marriage.
It takes self-awareness and courage to avoid affairs, Gerlach says.
it's a secretary making eyes at you or the guy in the next office, "You
have to stop to realize, 'Wow, I am aware I am feeling attracted. I think
I'd better get square with what's going on inside of me.' "
"All things flow from that awareness," Gerlach says, suggesting that
infidelity is often due to the fact that one or both marriage partners are
not aware "their relationship has a hole in it. They need to realize
something is not balanced inside of me, or inside of us."
Trying to ignore the attraction doesn't work, Gerlach says, "if you go to
bed with lusty, guilty thoughts and give off signals the next day to the
"You need to go home and talk to your wife (or husband) about the yellow
light that's going on," he says, something that's much easier to do if the
couple has already agreed that such a topic is not taboo.
"People think it's too scary to talk about attractions, but in fact it's
the safest thing to do," Vaughan says. She thinks talking openly in a
marriage about the threat of potential attractions may be easier for
couples today because "marriages are more egalitarian. Men are more aware
that women are also having affairs. Supposedly women weren't attracted to
men (in years past), but now you hear them talking about such things as a
It makes it easier to talk about possible attractions when both parties
know it could be mutual, she says.
Barry McCarthy urges husbands and wives to take a realistic look at their
vulnerability and attitudes toward the different kinds of adultery.
Although more men are susceptible to the short-lived high opportunity/low
involvement tryst or the same-time-next-month ongoing affair, women tend
gravitate to entangling "comparison affairs" with the neighbor or office
colleague. These liaisons are most apt to lead to divorce because "more
emotional and sexual needs are met in the affair than in the marriage,"
McCarthy says. The wronged spouse feels betrayed because the lover "knows
so much about you and us."
"I don't know if you can prevent affairs for the philandering types, or
entitled types or people who are very unhappy in their marriage. But there
are a whole bunch of other people who are pretty satisfied with good
relationships. They love their spouses, and then they sort of slide into
affair because they are not aware of their boundaries" Glass says. "This
happening more and more as men and women are working together in collegial
"The No. 1 cause for the breakdown in marriages today is the same issue
that causes infidelity. Couples aren't prioritizing their marriage," says
Michele Weiner-Davis, a Woodstock marriage and family therapist and author
of "Divorce Busting" (Fireside, $12). Weiner-Davis' Web site's message
board (divorcebusting.com) is full of personal struggles with infidelity.
"People spend time on their careers, their kids, community affairs,
hobbies, sports. But they take their spouses for granted. It just doesn't
work that way," she says.
Overstressed couples need to "remember what was so great about the
beginning of their relationship, when they used to laugh at each other's
jokes, compliment each other, use pet names," Weiner-Davis says, adding
that it's a good way to safeguard marriages. "Those little things mean so
much. They make people feel sexy, attractive, smart, valued."
"Around the Coalition" shares information on marriage and divorce and on
skills-based educational approaches. Opinions expressed are not
necessarily shared by members of the Coalition.
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