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Quick, answer this question with the first thing that comes to mind: If you were worried that your spouse might stray, what would you do to prevent it? Maybe your knee-jerk response is: "I'd lose 20 pounds and upgrade my wardrobe." Or, "I would shower my spouse with expensive gifts." Or, "I would be extra attentive to my spouse so she would realize how good she has it." If your answer resembled any of those above, bad news: you're on the wrong track. According to Los Angeles-based psychotherapist Morrie Shechtman, you've bought into a common misconception about what causes affairs in the first place.
"Most people assume that people have affairs with someone more attractive, sexier, or richer than their spouse," says Shechtman, coauthor along with his wife and business partner, Arleah, of Love in the Present Tense: How to Have a High Intimacy, Low Maintenance Marriage (Bull Publishing Company, 2004). "Despite the cliches -- the midlife crisis situation where the husband runs off with his much younger secretary, for instance -- that's not what infidelity is about. People who cheat generally choose someone busier and more goal-oriented than their current partner. Someone more interesting, in other words."
"You have to keep reminding him how lucky he is to have you," says Sherry Argov, author of Why Men Love Bitches: From Doormat to Dreamgirl: A Woman's Guide to Holding Her Own in a Relationship (Adams Media Corporation, 2002). "All the propaganda in the world tells us 'keep your man,' 'hold on to your man,' 'jump through hoops for your man,' but your attitude should be 'If you want to go, I'll help you pack'...Healthy mutual respect is the best immune system in a relationship."
"That's right," adds Shechtman. He says that the harsh truth is that when one spouse strays, it's probably because the other spouse has become, well...boring. So, focusing on your appearance or attempting to please your partner completely misses the point.
Shechtman offers the following warning signs that your marriage may be ripe for an affair:
Most of these warning signs are variations on a common theme: abandonment. If you don't care enough to become an interesting partner, if you don't challenge your spouse to be all he or she can be, if you fail to connect with your partner emotionally, you might as well be an uninterested roommate. Abandoning your spouse is the first step to checking out of the relationship.
So what can you do to affair-proof your marriage? The answer can be summed up in three little words, says Shechtman: Get a life.
"Have your own friends," says Dr. Schwartz. "Have a job and hobbies you really care about. Don't cancel everything on the spot just because your partner wants you for something -- show that you have boundaries, commitments, and don't just exist for him. Read, read, read! And then talk about books, articles, movies, and news together. Develop an adventurous relationship based on trips, projects, and hobbies."
"Set goals and work toward them," Shechtman urges. "Immerse yourself in a career or activity that interests you. Don't just hop from one random activity to another. Have a vision of what you want your life to be and do something every day in pursuit of that vision. Take some risks. And challenge your spouse to do the same. Even if it causes some temporary discomfort, remember that a healthy marriage isn't about comfort zones and status quos. If you settle for comfort, your marriage will die."
"This is not the '50s anymore," says Argov. "Men tend to view women who don't have goals and objectives as being deadbeat. When they're going to work everyday and pulling all the weight in the relationship, they really begin to resent it when you don't make a contribution."
"There's one other point I would make," Shechtman adds. "Create a rich, rewarding life for yourself and if your spouse did have an affair and ultimately leave you, you would be well-equipped to cope. Interesting people just have more resources, be they money, social connections, or potential new romantic partners. There are no guarantees in marriage. The only person you can count on to always be there is you. Being abandoned by a spouse is far preferable to abandoning yourself."
--Additional reporting by Chandni Jhunjhunwala