You walk down the street in a neighbouring suburb and you see your spouse hand-in-hand with someone else. So the story about the business trip to Durban wasn't true after all. You feel devastated – and foolish.
Can you ever completely affair-proof your marriage? Can you say with 100 percent certainty that neither you nor your spouse would ever have an affair?
"If you really think there is no chance of this, you may be deluding yourself," says Ilse Terblanche, Cape Town psychologist. "No marriage is ever completely affair-proof. People get married for different reasons, they can move apart, they can lose sexual interest in one another, they can feel weighed down by domestic drudgery – the list is endless."
"Sometimes it really isn't something that one of the partners has done or not done – it is quite possible that if someone is a serial philanderer, their behaviour might not have all that much to do with the spouse at all."
"And then it is also not a good idea to watch every move your spouse makes jealously. People do need a bit of private space. In fact, obsessive watchfulness could actually make your spouse feel uncomfortable enough to consider leaving of their own accord – whether there is someone else on the scene or not."
"People have to decide to make a commitment to each other and then they should be prepared to make an effort in order to make things work."
But there are certainly things that could put marriages at risk. But that doesn't mean to say that everyone will go ahead and get involved with someone else if given the chance.
Forced marriages. Often, when people get married very young, or they get married because of a pregnancy, the marriage can be quite vulnerable. The spouses' personalities, values and interests may not yet be fully formed, and five years down the line they may feel that their partner is not suitable for them. People change a lot between the ages of 19 and 25. Just take a look at how your circle of friends can change during this time. And it may be at this point that someone interesting comes along.
Working away from home. A short stint in another city certainly doesn't mean your marriage is over. But if you are spending six out of every seven months in another city, alarm bells should be ringing. And let's face it, phone calls and e-mails are just not the same as fact-to-face contact. It is inevitable that both spouses will have to socialise on their own – it is unreasonable to expect you spouse never to see anyone or go anywhere. And it is only human to have more than a passing interest in the sexy new guy in Marketing or the interesting new neighbour in the block of flats.
All work and no play. If you are doing hours and hours of overtime, it could be killing your marriage. If it's only for a week or two, it shouldn't be a problem, but if it stretches into months, your marriage could be heading for skid row. Spouses need to spend lots of time together – quality time is just as important as falling asleep in front of the TV together. If work is taking over your life, you have to ask yourself what it is that you are running away from. And no, except for short periods of time, it is not usually about the money. Better time management could also often result in less time spent working.
Domestic drudgery. Keeping a household going seems to be a never-ending task. Dishes, laundry, dusting, tidying, minding the kids, cooking – does it ever end? If one person is doing too much of it, it could spell problems for the marriage. These tasks need to be shared and done together. Who wouldn't rather go to the movies than do the ironing? Or pick up the kids' toys? If tasks are not shared, one person could quickly start feeling used, unappreciated, overworked and resentful. The scene is set for someone else, who does make your spouse feel appreciated, to make an entry. Or, if you are both working fulltime, consider getting in an extra pair of hands – even if it is once a week.
No together time. If you never have time to have fun (and sex) together, trouble is looming. For a relationship to grow, you need to do more than wash the dishes together or change nappies. You need to do things like go away for weekends (sometimes without the children), go to the movies, see friends together and sit down and have adult conversations. If these things are not happening, your relationship could be in static mode and the next time you see your spouse, he or she might be enjoying themselves – with someone else.
Lack of approval. Withholding approval is a very destructive thing to do in a marriage. Some people feel it puts them in a position of power, and makes the partner grovel and take the blame easily. This is not a long-term workable solution to problems. Neither is constant nagging. The worst display of this kind of behaviour is if the partner is constantly cut down and made to look stupid in front of others. It makes people feel supremely uncomfortable and could make your friends stop visiting you. If a spouse constantly feels as if they have to work harder and harder to gain that elusive approval, there comes a point where most people give up. And this often comes in the form of a new partner who is kind and accepts them as they are.
Opportunity for straying. This is a big one. Are you creating an opportunity for your spouse to get involved with someone else, by never being available when they need or want to see you? Did you refuse to go to the last three staff functions to which your spouse invited you? Are you quite happy if your spouse spends evening after evening doing things without you (This does not include the odd night out with the boys or girls)? You could be creating an opportunity for someone else to make a move on your partner. After all, you're not around anyway, so why not? Cultivate some joint interests and some joint friends. Make the effort.
No communication about sex. Talking about sex is difficult at the best of times. When you feel that there are problems that you would like to discuss, it makes things even more difficult. But communicating about sex and sexual needs is essential if you want to have a healthy marriage. It is also important to communicate new ideas, or thoughts about your changing sexual needs. There's no getting around this one. If you don't find a way to do it, your marriage could find its way onto the endangered list.
No shared interests. If you have no shared interests, cultivate some. Find something to talk about, other than the house and the children. You need to do something together on a regular basis outside the home – whether it is playing bridge, going to the gym, taking part in a pub quiz, a book club, joining an athletics club. Anything. As long as you are doing it together. If you share no interests, it doesn't take a genius to work out how easy it would be for a third person, who did share interests with your spouse, to wheedle their way into your marriage.
No 50/50 contribution. If one partner is slaving away to keep everything going, and the other one is glued to the TV on a more or less permanent basis, trouble is in the air. Contributions to the marriage need not be in kind – if one of the spouses brings in 75% of the money and the other does 75% of the housework, it does cancel out. But if one person does the lion's share of everything, it is only a matter of time before he or she starts feeling unappreciated. An ideal scenario for a third person to make an entrance on centre stage.
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated May 2010)