Infidelity can end a relationship. Not only because you have to deal with the reasons why it happened but, on top of that, if you’re the one who was cheated on, you need to try and forgive your partner and move forward. And not all relationships are strong enough to handle cheating. “You are much better off knowing the warning signs of cheating before anything begins,” relationship expert Mara Opperman tells Bustle. “It can not only save you from heavy heartache in the future, but can also give you an opportunity for open communication with your partner to discuss your concerns.”
And it’s really important, because cheating is more common than you might think. One in five people cheat or have cheated, according to a YouGov poll. For those of us who have dated five or more people, it’s not too hard to do the math. But there are ways to protect your relationship from cheating, whether it’s talking to your partner when you feel tempted or discussing what monogamy means to you as a couple.
It’s not easy, obviously — in large part because you probably don’t want to believe that it would ever happen in your relationship the first place. But cheating does happen. Not sure where to start? Here are seven ways to protect your relationship against cheating, according to experts.
1. Talk About Your Fears
Feeling jealous or worried about your partner cheating? That’s OK, you can talk it out. “We all experience jealousy at some point; the key to keeping things healthy is being able to identify the feeling and not allow it to control behavior,” marriage and family therapist and relationship expert Esther Boykin, tells Bustle. If you don’t talk about it, there’s a chance your fears will manifest in other ways that will drive your partner away.
2. Don’t Think Your Relationship Is Above It
It may be hard to admit, but recognize that cheating can happen to you — because it’s not something that only happens when one person in the relationship is evil. It’s much more complicated.
“I think the most common misunderstanding is that only ‘bad’ people cheat,” Erica Turner, MS, Resident in Marriage and Family Therapy and Director of Marketing at Group Therapy Associates, tells Bustle. “Sure, there are definitely people who are chronically unfaithful and may have little respect for their partner or themselves. But most of the people we see in couples therapy essentially ‘slid into’ cheating — they felt like something was missing or going wrong in their primary relationship, and instead of dealing with that, they allowed a friendship or interaction with another person to become inappropriate. This doesn’t usually happen all at once, but over time, it builds until they have a physical and/or emotional intimacy with an outside person that threatens their primary relationship.”
3. Decide What Counts
You might assume you and your partner are on the same page, but different people have different opinions on what ‘counts’ as cheating. “Some people believe that cheating only counts if there’s physical intimacy — touching, kissing, or sex, for example,” Erica Turner, MS, Resident in Marriage and Family Therapy and Director of Marketing at Group Therapy Associates, tells Bustle. “Others believe that cheating is not only physical, but also emotional intimacy — telling another person things you don’t tell your partner, or allowing feelings for someone else to grow and develop.”
Even if it seems obvious, it’s important to talk about monogamy and what counts as cheating so you both know where you both stand. This will help keep you out of grey areas.
4. Talk About It If Either Of You Are Tempted
What do you do if one of you is thinking about cheating? It may sound odd, but it’s best to tell your partner what you’ve been feeling and what you can do. “It is perfectly normal to have straying eyes and thoughts after you have been in a long-term relationship for some time,” Shane Birkel, LMFT, tells Bustle. “Part of the reason this happens is that couples get swept up in their day to day lives and forget to make their relationship a priority. In the beginning there is a lot more excitement, novelty, and a sense that life is changing for the better. After being with a partner for a long time it is typical to feel bored, stuck, and to desire something more exciting.”
5. Keep Each Other Close
No, not in the physical sense. Well, not just that. You need to keep your emotional connection strong and keep the intimacy alive. “…maintaining a close emotional and physical connection is definitely a way to feed your relationship,” relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW tells Bustle. “The more intimacy that exists between two people, the more satisfying the relationship. If a couple finds that they are too disconnected — emotionally and physically — they will start to feel like something is missing and one of them may start looking else where. It’s nice to try and treat your significant other as well as you treat your friends. Often we take our partners for granted and are short, or dismissive with them. A person who feels hurt, blown off, or unseen is more likely to respond to the attentions of an outside party.”
So if you keep yourself present with your partner, they’re less likely to look elsewhere.
6. Never Make Each Other Feel Small
Make sure you’re communicating effectively, especially when it comes to your needs. One of the most erosive things you can do in a relationship is belittle each other. “Don’t use sarcasm or criticism to communicate your unhappiness.” licensed clinical psychotherapist Dr. LeslieBeth Wish tells Bustle, because that can slowly eat away at your closeness. Even if you don’t realize it, you might be pushing them away just in the way you communicate. “We often don’t know everything that goes on in our partner’s mind,” she says.
7. Hold Each Other Accountable
Holding each other accountable over small indiscretions helps keep each other from drifting into larger ones. “Agree to speak up when you are unhappy about your partner’s handling of an issue,” Wish says. “Avoiding issues may seem a good way to keep the peace, but, instead, it allows doubt and hurt to fester. Especially speak up when you feel that you and your partner are drifting apart.” This has two benefits— you keep resentment from building up and leading to cheating and you make sure that you’re both aware of how your actions affect the other person.
It’s good to try to protect your relationship, but if you do get cheated on, don’t think it’s because you failed to protect your relationship. That’s not how it works. “I’m not sure it’s really possible to protect your relationship from infidelity,” Harstein says. “I think people mostly cheat because it’s in their nature rather than because their partner has done something ‘wrong’.” All you can do is keep your relationship as strong as it can be. But if it does happen, it’s never your fault.