Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Fidelity in Marriage?

Fidelity in Marriage?

Several Chatham County readers have contacted me in the last several months with questions about possible infidelity on the part of their spouse. Of course this is a very anxiety producing, complicated issue which by itself creates distress and dissension in a marriage. Friends and families usually provide advice of questionable value. Some readers have turned to their intuition to provide guidance. "I know in my gut that he is having an affair." Although the GI tract is very important, thecredibility record for this kind of data is also highly questionable.

Many readers turn to "Dr. Google" for help, finding a plethora of materials. One fascinating website has an inventory of 829 telltale signs organized into 21 Cheating Sign Categories. The category with the most signs is "Day to Day behavior." "A man who is cheating will display changes of some kind in his normal patterns of behavior." The next highest category with 76 telltale signs is "Physical Appearance." "Be alert for changes in his wardrobe, his grooming, his body, and his personal hygiene; If he embarks on a drastic self-induced makeover, it's probably not for you." What do I think of this site? Not much. These lists are designed to increase suspicion about ordinary changes in behavior which could be due to a multiplicity of reasons. If your spouse initiates self-improvement behavior, shouldn't you be proud rather than suspicious? You would want to understand the motivation for a change, which could be self-improvement, desire to please the spouse or even a concerned response to the doctor's admonitions about improving health and fitness.

Another website, Warning Signs of Cheating Spouses, lists 20 warning signs such as your spouse may be bored, display low self-esteem and confusion about the self, laziness around the house, non-communicative behavior, avoiding sexuality, becoming defensiveness about infidelity and so forth. When I looked at this list, my first thought was that the spouse sounds depressed. Many alternative explanations are available for such behavior changes.

Another fascinating website, "Is He the Cheating Kind," asks seven questions with supposedly authoritative answers. For example men who are very sexually active before marriage "are more apt to engage in sex outside that relationship. Don't expect a leopard to change his spots." Another word of advice is that, "if his friends are cheating, he'll soon be cheating too." The site further asserts that, "infidelity tends to run in families." The answers are sorted into categories such as "common garden-variety cheater" or "hard-core cheater." My response is: show me the research!

The most concerning information I found on Google was related to sites attracting people wanting to enter into affairs. One site headlined, "When Monogamy Becomes Monotony." No, I will not give you the citation.

The sad result of all this information is often to increase suspicion about innocent changes in relationships. Marriages are very difficult and changes are inevitable. Most changes have nothing to do with infidelity. Infidelity rarely occurs in the absence of a powerful attachment to a person other than the spouse. The attachment usually starts in innocent but close relationships such as coworker or neighbor and deepens with more frequent contact and sharing of confidences. The hallmark of infidelity is secretiveness and lying. When those factors come together, they do raise a concern about allegiance to the marriage. The question of infidelity is important enough to discuss with a trained therapist who has experience in helping people sort out their feelings and observations about this difficult question. When you, your friends or family members all start reacting with their guts, the results are often twisted and confusing. The cost of Dr. Google is zero, and the advice is also worth zero. Although I often advocate use of self-help materials, in this case most of the available advice is questionable. Your marriage should be worth enough to you to invest in trusted professional advice!