Many marriages have been rocked by an extramarital affair. Listening to those interviewed by the media could lead one to believe that, if you are married, it is inevitable that someone is going to cheat. According to psychiatrist and author Dr. Scott Haltzman, that is just not true.
"Affairs are complicated," says Haltzman. "Very few people actually set out to cheat on their spouse. After conducting research in this area, I have found that infidelity has to do with a combination of Need, Opportunity and Disinhibition, the 'NOD.'"
Need: People often report that it was the need for respect, sex, validation, attention or an escape that led them to look outside their marriage to get the need satisfied.
"I met a sports trainer in California who told me he had had 20 to 30 affairs with women," says Haltzman. "He thought he was being helpful, stating he gave them attention, listened, appreciated what they were going through, and made them feel good about themselves. 'I was giving them what their husbands weren't.'
"This is not helpful. People who leave a marriage because their needs aren't being met show no higher level of happiness five years after ending the marriage (unless they are victims of abuse or they are in a second marriage)."
Opportunity: People are presented with more opportunities than ever before to be in close proximity with the opposite sex. The most common place for an affair to begin is the workplace followed closely by the gym.
"One particular opportunity that has trumped everything else when it comes to affairs is the Internet, says Haltzman. "Ten years ago, only 6 percent of affairs began or were perpetuated by the Internet. Today, 65 percent of affairs are initiated or maintained through the Internet."
Disinhibition: This is a medical term used to describe people who are unable to suppress their impulses. A number of years ago, a researcher conducted an experiment with children in which he placed a marshmallow in front of them and told them he would be back in five minutes. If they waited until he returned to eat the marshmallow, he would give them an additional marshmallow to eat. Almost all of the kids struggled. Ten years later, the researcher followed up on the children. The ones who could not suppress their impulses with the one marshmallow were more likely to drop out of school and get in trouble with the law.
"This trait continues into adulthood," says Haltzman. "So when this person is presented with an opportunity to cheat, they are at greater risk for impulsive behavior."
So how do you guard against affairs? Examine your needs and determine what needs aren't being met. What can you do to have your marriage fulfill those needs? There may be some needs that are never met, so what can you live without?
Reduce the opportunity to cheat. Avoid conversations about your spouse with members of the opposite sex. Don't go to lunch alone with a coworker of the opposite sex. If you start feeling like someone is attracted to you, move away. You have a responsibility to your marriage to learn to control your impulses and maintain appropriate boundaries.
"People don't just end up in affairs," says Haltzman. "There is a 'NOD' between two people that they are willing to go there."
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.