Affairs, Open Marriages, and The Pool Boy

The wife of a wealthy real estate mogul rushed breathlessly into my office, cheeks flushed pink.

I looked at her curiously.

“You won’t believe what happened,” she said in a hushed tone. “The pool boy. I was…flirting with him,” she paused dramatically.

“OK,” I said calmly, trying to conceal my amusement.

“I mean, I’d never be with him, but I was…attracted to him.” she whispered in embarrassment, yet somehow, unable to conceal her thrill and excitement. She had been married for 16 years, and had two grown children. This little spark of lust was unexpected, yet titillating. Once I normalized her housewife fantasy, co-signed her decision NOT to act on it, we quickly moved past it and focused on the real issues that sparked this reverie—her broken marriage, coupled with the utter boredom of the monotony of her “idyllic” suburban life.

Attraction happens. All the time. To everyone. Single, coupled, and married—no one is exempt. 

One of the biggest fallacies I hear is, “When you’re really in love, you won’t be attracted to anyone else.” Wrong. It is human nature, the birds and the bees. It’s evolutionary theory—we need attraction in order for society to procreate and continue to exist. The danger in not acknowledging that attraction will inevitably arise is that we are not prepared to protect our relationships from it.   

Ashley Madison, a dating websites for cheating spouses tantalizes, “Life is short. Have an affair.” It boasts over 54 million members worldwide, with the vast majority residing in the US—an absolutely mind-blowing number of people seeking infidelity.

However, studies show that just over 50% of people reporting marital affairs said they were unfaithful with someone well known, such as a close friend. About 30% engaged in affairs with someone somewhat well known, such as a neighbor, co-worker, or long-term acquaintance.  So—are you catching this?

That’s 80% of affairs that occur with someone in your inner life circle. People who are close. This leaves only 20% of affairs with casual acquaintances.[i]

Also, affairs in the workplace are particularly common, as people often mistake the excitement over a work project with an attraction to their colleague. Late nights huddled over the desk can easily lead to more. There is more truth than fiction to the suburban tale of running off with the secretary (the reality however, is that most don’t actually stay with the secretary).

Affairs are becoming so rampant in society that many are accepting of open marriages, where extramarital affairs are allowed in the marriage as long as the other partner is aware. This polyamorous lifestyle occurs everywhere from Hollywood to the sex clubs in Paris to the quiet streets of suburbia. In a way, it is predicting that affairs are probably going to happen, that they are “natural,” so you might as well go with the flow.

While everyone of course has the right to choose their own lifestyle, from my work I’ve seen this leading to tremendous heartbreak. People catch feelings. And nothing is more poisonous to the soul than the envy that is sure to ensue.  Research shows that 80% of people in open marriages experience jealousy, a much higher percentage of jealousy reported than people in monogamous marriages.[i] I would question this ideology and say that while attraction is natural, affairs are quite destructive.

Yes, marriages can heal from affairs, but they cause deep and bitter wounds, often leaving scars that are impossible to erase. But is it impossible to prevent affairs? Not at all.

The weapons to avoiding affairs are actually far easier than the steps to heal them.

These prevention tools should be covered in pre-marital counseling, not just in the heat of lust or on the tear-stained pillows of the therapist couch after the fact. They are actually quite simple, but require a shift in perspective.

My 4 Weapons to Stop Affairs Before they Start are:

1. Acknowledge that attraction will inevitably happen.

2. If you start feeling emotionally or physically attracted to another person, recognize this and start creating distance. This may mean working on a different project at work or disengaging from an activity you enjoy, which may seem extreme. But protecting a long-term relationship/marriage requires sacrifice and intention.

3. Check in with yourself and see if there are any internal wounds that need to be healed. Sometimes the need to stray outside of a relationship can come from unresolved issues or unmet desires within ourselves. A therapist can be very helpful in this introspective process.

4.  Turn towards your own relationship and see if anything feels lacking. What could you and your partner do to strengthen the relationship? Communicate your concerns (tactfully) to your partner and make a plan on steps to change, again, contacting a therapist if needed.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite stories about attraction.
A curious man once asked an elderly pastor in his 80s, “Pastor, when did other women stop being a temptation for you?” The pastor thoughtfully furrowed his brow, and answered, “I’ll let you know when that happens.”

[i] University of Colorado. (2018, April 4) Extramarital Sex Partners Likely to be Close Friends, and Men are More Apt to Cheat.
Retrieved February 29, 2020 from the World Wide Web:

[ii] Rubin A. M., & Adams J. R. (1986). Outcomes of Sexually Open Marriages. Journal of Sex Research. 22, 311–319.

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