A Watertight Marriage

As I wrote in my post “What if I Have an Affair?”, an astonishingly high number of people who come my way express a fear that they’re going to cheat on their partner after marriage. The topic came up in a recent session with a client:

“It seems like everywhere you look, people are having affairs,” my client said.

“Yes, the media certainly does depict a world where married couples seem incapable of remaining faithful to each other. It’s quite rare, in fact, to see a portrayal of a couple who are happily married and faithful for the duration of their marriage. But, while people certainly do cheat on each other, we also know that Hollywood isn’t the best source of reality.”

“My fear-mind says that I’ll see someone on the subway one day and we’ll just have that spark, and I’ll wonder if he would have been a better choice for a marriage partner.”

“You do realize that you have a choice regarding whether or not you even open the door that lets in the spark with someone else, don’t you?”

“What do you mean?” she asks.

“You have a choice regarding how you relate to men. Men read signals and women know how to give them. You can be standing next to someone in an elevator and send a signal that indicates that you’re available to flirting, or you can send a signal that says, ‘I’m taken.’ It’s the look in your eyes; I’m sure you know what I mean.”

“Yes, I know what you mean, and I never thought of it quite like before,” my client shared. “I always thought it was something that just overpowers you and you have no control over it.”

She’s not alone in this assumption. Again, Hollywood depicts the energy of an affair as being so strong that it overwhelms the character and she has no choice but to ride the wave. This is not reality. I look at my close circle of friends, for example, all of whom have been married for at least ten years, and not a single one has had an affair. This is obviously not a large pool, but I know that when you have a strong inner adult at the helm of your mind and body, you trust that you are in charge of your choices. And if you don’t want to subject yourself to the possible temptation of someone new, you can make a choice regarding how you relate to the opposite sex.

This isn’t always an easy choice to make. Many people, prior to marriage, become somewhat addicted to the approval and validation that they’ve received from the opposite sex (or same sex, as the case may be). They derive a sense of false self-worth from those flirtatious moments with the guy behind the meat counter or the girl at checkout. In this sense, it’s essential that a grieving process occur where you consciously let go of the way that you’ve related to half the human race. It’s equally essential that you begin to develop a sense of self-worth and aliveness that isn’t dependent on playing with someone else’s sexual energy. This is obviously easier said than done, but it’s the work of a conscious marriage.

I’m not suggesting that all flirting needs to be banished the moment you marry. Some couples are okay with their spouse flirting with someone else, and may even be turned on by it. Like all elements of marriage. there are no rules or paradigms other than the ones that the two of you create and that work for your marriage. But if you’re worried about following temptation, I would suggest creating a watertight marriage, which means not putting yourself in tempting situations or allowing anyone else’s sexual energy to penetrate into your sacred space. It begins with a gaze, a certain gaze with a meaning that we all know and understand. Why open that door if you’re not planning on letting anyone in? Better to keep it tightly shut and save that energy for the one that you’ve decided to love and honor.

12 comments to A Watertight Marriage

  • Catherine (lalalove)

    I love this! I totally know the signal thing you talk about. I remember thinking I acted different around people once I got with my partner, and it’s true, I do! It’s that “im not available” vibe – not in a rude, cold way but just you don’t give off that energy of being available. As you put it- opening the door. You can still be warm and friendly towards others, but it’s coming from a grounded, whole place instead of a “looking for something” place.

  • Marisa

    Wow, Sheryl, I really wish I had found you 8 years ago when I was 23 and scared of my own shadow. Nearly every worry you write about on your blog ran through my heart and mind during the early years of my relationship with my now husband. My very fearful self actually avoided doing many things, including exploring new hobbies, for fear of being overpowered by lust and having no choice but to have an affair. Even worse was my belief that an affair was bound to happen merely because I was afraid it would…as if my thoughts could create the opportunity.

    Although I no longer have that fear (or many of the other ones I used to wrestle with daily), until I read this post I didn’t know that it was as common a fear as you say. In fact, I didn’t know that most of my obsessive, fearful thoughts were common prior to finding this site. Your work is so important because the isolation and doubt that comes along with being highly sensitive and worrisome can be stifling, scary and damaging. Opening up the world of doubt and debunking all of its myths through your blog serves a delicate portion of the population. I pray that many more of us will find you and your wisdom.

    • September

      Marisa,

      I’m in my early twenties now and have felt so similarly to what you’ve described. Even to the point of avoiding new situations, like you’ve said. In my mind I sometimes become convinced I’ll somehow have no control if I encounter someone I find attractive somewhere else. I don’t know. I just agree so much that Sheryl’s blog has become a real haven to me, especially when I find those fear-based thoughts creeping up. I’m so grateful to have found it.

  • Thank you, Marisa. What’s so fascinating about the obsession with fear-based thoughts is that the wounded/ego/small self truly believes that by thinking about it you can prevent it from happening. So you see that the core issue is about the illusion of control, and it’s usually the highly sensitive people that are more sensitized to the inherently vulnerable nature of being human, the passage of time, the awareness of change, death, and transitions. More about that later… : )

  • gaby

    wow sheryl ,you seem to be reading my mind,everytime i get an anxiety set back ,you write a post about it!i totally understand that look and self validation you are talking about and im in the process of moving into it .Atm im doing a diet working out and really stressed at work too so it could have been a trigger,i was just watching a film called shes not that into you ,and basically this guy has an affair and i flipped !!im like omg omg omg what if it happened to me?? sometimes i freak out he would do it even though i do trust him!and its true sheryl,best is to avoid it straight away cause both men and women are bees to honey when they see a woman or man with a wedding ring ive come to the conclusion that they try temp a married person for the purpose of self validation and satisfaction!pff theyr not confident or hotter!they need therapy!

  • Thank you. That was very insightful. And you are so right. We do have a choice about the signals we send and the attention and energy we welcome.

  • Andrea R

    This post was beneficial for me to read. My issue is with ex’s. Some of my ex’s email or text from time to time and I respond. Cheating on my boyfriend has never been a thought, but there is still a level of enjoyment derived from the experience. I don’t lie about it to my boyfriend, but I don’t stop the behavior either.

    It was a sore spot when we first started dating. He said I was giving temptation an invitation. I couldn’t see why he couldn’t see that there was no attachment to those men anymore, I did my work on those relationships and moved on, and I had what I wanted with him, so why was it an issue? He said if I was truly over them, I wouldn’t have any motivation to respond. From his perspective, what I was doing was keeping the door propped open and communicating doubt about us. Even if you are not tempted today, that open door may become a temptation when your relationship goes through a tuff spot as it likely will. My boyfriend felt like I was taking the emotional connecting that should be fueling our relationship and spending it elsewhere…on an outfit that never really fit in the first place, no less! He said that the best way to prevent disconnection in our relationship was to put “social controls” in place with others. That certainly doesn’t mean we stop noticing attractive people or even stop flirting from time to time; but it means that we have to be aware of the fine line and not cross over.

    So now I have to come clean. I have convinced myself over the years that it is hurtful, un-evolved, and even rude to brush off an attempt to connect by an ex with whom I once shared an experience. I can see how that has allowed me to continue behavior that is hurtful to my boyfriend and keeps me from being truly vulnerable in the relationship, which is a love-block. I admit with a bit of shame that it does feel good to get the attention from the ex’s. The wounded child in me gets to say “you didn’t choose me then, but now you are seeking me out so I guess I’m not so undesirable after all.” So yucky, but so true.

    Sheryl: I know that this connects with some other dots I’m connecting on the Open Your Heart e-course. So I thank you for the dots. 😉

    • What an honest, vulnerable, insightful response, Andrea. Thank you for sharing here and on the Open Your Heart forum. Your wisdom always shines through your words and I know is a great source of learning for others.

  • liz

    I’m so glad I came across this website…it’s such a relief to hear other people are struggling with the same things as I do. I thought I was crazy to worry about taking up new hobbies in case I met a man that I found attractive. I thought I was the only one to have these fears. Having an affair is just one of my fears about being married and this article has been as helpful as all the others I have read. I also really appreciate the honest of others too.

  • kiki

    Wow, I can’t believe this! This is exactly how I have been feeling. I have felt that I didn’t want to go somewhere with friends, try a new hobby or explore places just incase I meet someone “better” for me. This led me to feel that I wasn’t living my life and that my boyfriend was holding me back, when in reality, it was my fear. Thank you so much for this! <3

  • Emma

    This is so comforting to read. I’m afraid of marriage because I’m so worried about “falling out of love” with my future husband, or finding someone “perfect” and somehow being miserable. It’s a relief to think about it from the context of “you don’t have to open the door.”

    I also have this thing where I feel like I get “crushes” on random guys, often ones I don’t know well at all. It’s not like I actually like them, it’s like they’re someone I would have been interested in pre-boyfriend and all my mind can think is “omg what if you start to like them, that’s so unfair to [boyfriend], do you not even like [boyfriend] at all?” on and on times infinity.

    Summary: thank you for this. I still feel crazy, but this helps.