"I, (Name), Take you, (Name),
We take these vows when we marry, brimming with hope and commitment to maintaining a strong, stable marriage for as long as we both shall live. This beautiful sentiment expresses a heartfelt belief in the promise of a long and happy life together.
A poll by the Pew Research Center in November 2007 noted that most Americans regard marriage as the ideal state, with upwards of 80% marrying. A poll by Parade Magazine in September 2008 also reflects the importance placed on having someone 'to have and to hold, to love and to cherish.' In response to the question: "Why did you get married?" more than 80% answered, "For love."
We begin marriage with the firm conviction that our love will sustain us through the years and our marriage vows will protect us.
While most of us are very much in love and really mean the vows we take at the time we say them, we may not have considered just what's required to realize the dreams we have for our marriage.
In light of our much longer lifespans today, making these promises is a huge commitment, so we need to be fully aware of what we're saying and what it means for the future.
While we may have every intention of keeping our promises, all too often we don't follow up with the actions and behaviors that are essential in making our intentions a reality.
This book will help you understand the need to translate your beliefs and intentions into actions. It will guide you in engaging in the behaviors that can allow you to reach your goal of having a strong, stable marriage.
It's critical to have some serious conversations about the meaning of the commitments you're making before you get married. It's tempting to wait until there are problems in the marriage to do this kind of talking about the tough stuff, but doing so may help achieve your goal of a lifetime with someone 'to have and to hold.'
It's not enough to talk only in general terms about your relationship and your hopes for it. As the saying goes, "the devil is in the details."
One of the details that couples tend to avoid discussing is the issue of maintaining monogamy throughout their marriage. In fact, the only time they may speak about it is if they use a version of the marriage vows that includes the phrase "forsaking all others, be faithful to him (or her)."
Preventing affairs, however, involves far more than just making an initial vow. It's not like getting a one-time inoculationor even getting occasional booster shots. It's more like taking a pill every day for the rest of your life!
This book is written specifically for those couples who have not faced the issue of affairsand want to prevent ever having to face it. I've spent many years working to help couples recover from affairs, and I realize that one of the reasons they failed to prevent the affairs in the first place was that they had just assumed they would be monogamous. Since they never considered they might be vulnerable, they didn't actively work at preventing affairsor even recognize it as an issue that needed to be discussed.
You CAN have a monogamous marriage, but not by just assuming you're immune. Having a long-term monogamous marriage requires knowing what's involved in preventing affairsand acting on that knowledge on an ongoing basis as a couple.
Although you may have every intention of being monogamous and no idea of becoming involved in an extramarital affair, that doesn't make you (or your spouse) immune; in fact, no one is immune.
Here's the way I described the situation in The Monogamy Myth.
"Monogamy is something most people say they believe in and want for themselves. Every survey ever done on this question shows a high percentage of people think monogamy is important to marriage and that affairs are wrong. But a belief in monogamy as an ideal doesn't prevent large numbers of people from having extramarital affairs.
"No one is immune from having affairs disrupt their lives or the lives of those they care about; they happen to all kinds of people, in all walks of life."
When I first wrote those words in 1989, many people still held the false idea that 'bad people have affairs and good people don't.' But through the years, the public is coming to recognize that affairs also happen to good people in good marriages.
In fact, couples may be even more vulnerable to affairs when they hold the attitude that "an affair could never happen in our marriage." This has been the experience of many couples who felt good about their marriages (often being the envy of their friends), then discovered too late that no marriage is immune.
There's a great deal of denial and rationalization when it comes to focusing directly on the issue of affairs. So it's a 'tough sell' to get couples to see that they can't just assume monogamy. Assuming monogamy is one of many false beliefs (myths) that make up 'the monogamy myth.' Unfortunately, this myth has not changed during the years since I first wrote about it.
For instance, I recently spoke to a woman who was newly married, and I asked her what kind of discussions she and her husband had about preventing affairs. She made a typical response: "We didn't talk about it; we just assume we'll be monogamous!"
One of the reasons so many people assume monogamy is because they think affairs happen only in a few marriages. People will say, "Well, I don't know anyone who has had an affair." My response is, "Yes, you do know people who've had affairs; they just kept it secret and never told you about it."
You're likely to learn of an affair only if it leads to divorce; however, the majority of couples stay together, often keeping the experience secret from friends and family. This secrecy creates a distorted view of the prevalence of affairsbecause we tend to think that the few affairs that are disclosed are the only ones that happen.
The Prevalence of Affairs
The reason it's important for people to understand the prevalence of affairs is that without that understanding they have a false sense of security. And thinking they're not vulnerable makes it less likely they will put forth the necessary effort to prevent affairs.
Since so many people are desperate for evidence that affairs are not a big threat to them personally, they want to believe that affairs are not prevalentand they gravitate toward any survey or study that provides some reassurance
For instance, one prominent study a few years ago reported that only 25% of people have affairs. This is questionable due to the fact that statistics were higher than that way back in the 40s and 50s with the famous Kinsey studies. His samples included 5,000 men and showed that by age 40, 50 percent of the men had experienced extramarital sexual intercourse. And Kinsey's original samples of 6,000 women showed that by age 40, 26 percent of the women had experienced extramarital sexual intercourse. Anyone who thinks there has been no increase in affairs during the past half-century is living in a dream world.
Definition of an Affair
One of the reasons it's so difficult to establish an accurate measurement of the prevalence of affairs is that respondents to surveys often filter their responses through their own denial and rationalization about this issue. For instance, many people will report that they haven't had an affair based on their personal 'definition' of an affair. They may consider a one-night stand or a brief fling while out of town or a massage that includes sexual aspects or paid sex of any kind not to be an affair. Likewise, many people consider an 'online affair' or an 'emotional affair' not to be an affair. And they bring these personal interpretations to their responses to the surveys that ask about having an affair.
Before going any further in discussing how to prevent affairs, it's important to establish just what constitutes an affair. Here's a working definition:
Any outside relationship with a sexual or an emotional connection that is kept secret from the spouse is a threat to the marriage and can legitimately be defined as 'an affair.'
The Importance of Monogamy
There is evidence that monogamy is a very important issue for couples, as reflected in a 2007 report from the nonprofit Pew Research Center. The results of their interviews of 2,020 American adults showed that the top factor (seen as most important to success in marriage) was 'faithfulness,' chosen by 93% of those interviewed.
So if preventing affairs is viewed as the most important factor in marital success, it warrants making a major effort to be as informed and active as possibledespite the confusing statistics that make it difficult to know precisely how many affairs are happening.
However, regardless of the particular statistics as to how many men have affairs and how many women have affairsthose having affairs are not all married to each other. So the total number of marriages affected by affairs is necessarily larger than the numbers of either men or women having affairs.
In trying to get people to focus on the prevalence of affairs, I feel somewhat like a 'voice in the wilderness' or the only one saying "The Emperor has no clothes." But this awareness is essential if we are to help people prevent affairsand to recover if it happens. It's only by recognizing the prevalence of affairs that couples will be adequately alerted to the need to take positive steps to achieve their hopes for a long-term monogamous marriage. I hope this book will be helpful in making this possible for more couples.
Survey on Preventing Affairs
In preparation for writing this book, I conducted a Survey to get a clearer understanding of the most commonly-held attitudes and beliefs about prevention. In order to help people be more effective in preventing affairs, I felt a need to know where they were starting from.
I listed 16 items and asked people to choose the 5 that they thought were most likely to be effective in preventing affairs. (They could also add to the list by checking "other" and specifying what they would like to add to the list.)
Since attitudes about prevention are often determined by a number of very personal factors, I began the survey by asking people to identify themselves on three characteristics: gender, marital status, and personal experience in dealing with affairs.
Below is a breakdown of the respondents:
Total Responses: 755
Results of the Survey
The results of this survey do not necessarily reflect the actual relative importance of the factors most effective in preventing affairs, only which are the most commonly-held beliefs about which factors are most important. However, I did a careful count of the responses and provide a detailed list of the Rankings of all 16 items, with percentages choosing each item. (See Appendix II for the full breakdown of percentages and rankings.)
Appendix II also includes breakdowns by subcategories, including:
The significance of the items is better understood by focusing on these breakdowns than by looking at the overall rankings. In fact, these breakdowns provide the most important information to be gained from the survey results.
Note that all the data from the survey are included in the four Appendices at the end of the book: