There are many stories about cheating in marriages and long-term relationships.
Many of these could have been prevented by simple, honest communication.
In English speaking countries, we have some general assumptions about marriage and about what cheating is.
However, when you start to examine those assumptions, there is a lot of diversity even regarding labels like marriage or monogamy.
People have their assumptions about cheating, but often are unaware of what they specifically are.
Preventing cheating boils down to one simple thing. Bring your assumptions out into the open. Talk about them, and about how to prevent problems.
Have you recently talked with your partner about the assumptions and expectations you each have about what behaviors are acceptable and which ones are not, and why, Do you expect the same things from yourself as you do from your partner?
If you haven’t talked about these things together, recently or ever, then you’re setting yourself up for problems in this area. You could very well be assuming something very different from your partner’s assumptions.
I’ve had intimacy coaching clients who have had very different assumptions about what cheating is and is not.
Several clients have told me they were in a monogamous marriage. When asked, what monogamy meant, they told me that monogamy meant they could do anything sexually with anyone, except for penetrative sex (i.e. inserting a penis).
I was surprised by this definition of monogamy. It leaves a lot of things on the table including deep kissing, fondling and petting, erotic massage, oral sex and anal toy play. But, the people who told me this, held the view quite sincerely. Upon questioning, I learned they believed this was the “normal” view of acceptable behavior within monogamous relationships and marriages.
On the other extreme, I’ve also had clients who – in a very similar way – were very sincere about their view that even so much as a kiss on the cheek to anyone in greeting was infidelity. They believed it was cheating, a break of any kind of monogamy or marriage vow.
This made me wonder, too. A kiss on the cheek as a friendship greeting is very common in France, some European countries and some Latin American countries. While it may not be as widespread in English speaking countries, these cultures do influence us also. In the cultures where it’s commonplace, it’s seen as nothing more than a way of saying hello to friends, like a hug or a handshake.
While I respect the opinions that these people had about what is best for their lives, my point is there is a wide range of what people sincerely believe is acceptable or not acceptable in a marriage or long-term relationship.
A common thread in all these cases is that these people had not discussed with their partner, serious boyfriend, girlfriend or prospective partner what behaviors were acceptable or cheating. They just assumed the other person would have the same definition of the boundaries of monogamy.
Even if your preferred relationship model is polyamory or some version of open relationships, cheating can still occur. Everything here applies to both monogamous and polyamorous relationships, though the discussion and negotiation for the latter will take more effort and time.
So, here is the simplest way to prevent cheating in your relationship. The good thing is that taking each of these steps will strengthen the intimacy and bond with each other. Worst case, it will show you the truth about your relationship so you will have some reliable data to work with.
1. Bring your assumptions about marriage cheating and infidelity out into the open.
What are your assumptions about what behavior is acceptable,
What specific behaviors are cheating?
You can’t stop temptation, but what attitudes and what ways of approaching the desire to get it on with someone other than your partner are good or not allowable,
First, you need to figure this out for yourself and then talk it over with your partner to find an agreement that everyone can wholeheartedly feel good about honoring.
If you’re dating, this discussion gives you an opportunity to pick someone who shares your beliefs on the matter. If you’re already married and never discussed the subject it could require more discussion and negotiation to find an agreement that feels good to all.
2. Discuss and explore how you can support each other to prevent cheating
When you have an idea of what is allowable or not, an important question is how can we support each other,
If your partner is feeling tempted to break those commitments about behavior, how can you support them and help them to say no to cheating,
Talk in advance about how you will talk together about the desire to cheat and how you will help each other. (You can be sure that time will come.). How can you talk about it together in a way that is supportive and empowering, rather than damaging to the relationship,
3. Have spoken relationship commitments, updated regularly
Most of us grew up in families where everyone assumed what marriage meant and what was expected. At the same time, we also saw the opposite in TV and magazines and among public figures.
The high divorce rate (over 50%) gives us a clue that relying on assumptions does not work.
The way to create a strong relationship that lasts and is free of cheating, is to not to rely on assumptions. Don’t rely on what you talked about six years ago, or even six months ago,
Instead, check in regularly about the agreements you have and how they are working,
By creating a habit of ongoing communication, you can do so in a nonconfrontational way. These conversations can be an expression of love that takes the pressure off talking about a problem when it does come up.
4. Explore and creatively address unmet needs
If you want to prevent cheating in a long-term relationship or marriage, it’s important to understand that cheating usually comes about because of unmet needs.
We all have different types of needs. There are different ways of meeting these needs. There are usually multiple ways – not just one way – to meet your needs.
You can’t meet all your partner’s needs and they can’t meet all yours. That’s not humanly possible. Such expectations would put a great deal of unreasonable pressure on a marriage.
There are different ways of meeting unmet needs. So, I encourage you to consider and talk about what needs are being met or not being in your relationship. By making a habit to check in and talk about unmet needs from time to time you can do so in a supportive way that builds the relationship and increases intimacy. If you wait to talk about these things until there is a problem, it will be very difficult to not do it in a controversial or judgmental way that stresses the relationship.
How are we doing, What needs of yours are not being met, What is the best way that I can support you, How can I be a part of helping you find creative ways to meet those unmet needs within our relationship commitments,
When you approach the question of unmet needs together in a way that’s loving, supportive, kind and compassionate you can strengthen the relationship rather than it being pulled down by confrontation and controversy,
So, I hope that you’ll consider talking about your expectations in the relationship that you’re in now or with someone who you’re dating.
How to talk with your partner or date
It’s true that for many people, the prospect of such a serious conversation is frightening. This is because your relationship was not built on the solid foundation of honest, authentic discussions about things that really matter.
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If you think you can have a good marriage without regularly having open, honest conversations like this then you are kidding yourself. There’s a train wreck coming or already happening.
Keep in mind that there’s not a right or wrong way to start this conversation.
The most important things are that you approach this with a loving intention, and that you actually start the conversation.
It’s much better to talk about it and do so less than perfectly than to not talk about it at all.
That’s a lot better than waiting until there’s a problem to solve.
Having a conversation can likely spare you and your partner some heartbreak.
So hopefully you’ll talk about your expectations about cheating. I hope you will also explore what needs your relationship is meeting and what needs are not being met.
When you know, what needs are not being met you have the option to creatively work together to resolve them. On the other hand, you’ll also have the option to decide they aren’t as important as you originally thought. Some people may even decide that meeting the need is more important than the relationship. Even when this happens and even – though it can be painful – in the long-term the clear knowledge of yourself and your partner will lead you to closer, more intimate relationships than working from guesses and assumptions.
The important thing is to gain a deep understanding of your core needs, how important they are to you, ways that work and don’t work to meet them, and to get to know your partner’s needs and priorities.
The bottom line about preventing cheating and infidelity
If you don’t want your partner to cheat then you need to take responsibility for having clear, spoken and regularly updated agreements. It’s also important to commit to encouraging and supportively helping your partner (not forcing or fixing) when they feel tempted to break the agreements they wholeheartedly signed up for.
A case can be made that it’s not your job to do these things. However, doing them is also the easiest way to keep infidelity and cheating from poisoning your relationship.