We are continuing our three-part series on Marital Affairs with Part 2: Relational Vulnerabilities. Relational vulnerabilities are the patterns within a marriage that could increase susceptibility for an affair.
Before we dive in, I again want to preface with the understanding that bad marriages or tough circumstances don’t cause affairs. Affairs are a choice made by individuals; however, research does show that there are vulnerabilities or factors that can increase the likelihood of an affair within a marriage.
One of the more common unhealthy patterns in a marriage is the Child Centered marriage. We all know that having children changes the dynamics within a marriage, both positive and negative.
Think about the larger family system and then subsystems within that system—much like the structure of HPD, i.e. HPD as the organization which is then broken down into smaller sub-units like divisions, squads and stations.
The same thing happens in relationships. Sub-systems naturally develop. A Child-Centered marriage is one in which the marital subsystem gets lost or forgotten and all the energy is diverted into the parental subsystem and the children.
Another marital pattern closely related to the child centered marriage is one of crisis within that parental subsystem. For example, parents may view discipline of the children very differently or have a difference of opinion over an issue which both parties view with extreme importance. They can’t reach a level of agreement.
If contempt enters the system and the other person is devalued because we can’t understand how they could possibly feel a certain way or view a situation in a certain manner, it can cause a lack of respect and crisis within the subsystem. If a couple can’t pull together to handle a difficult situation…vulnerability can arise.
Then there is the Unskilled Marriage in which two individuals marry and their skills at relating, affirming, and growing with each other are severely lacking. They simply aren’t skilled in the arts needed to keep the relationship thriving and secure.
How about the Inflexible Marriage? This is a marriage in which the couple does not navigate times of change or transition well. Or things like division of labor are adhered to in an inflexible, unhealthy manner. There’s just no margin or adjustment.
Unstable marriages increase risk as well. A marriage full of partners contradicting each other’s opinions results in a lack of support and loyalty.
Constant correction and a lack of tolerance for difference in opinions, ways of doing things etc. destabilizes the marriage and can lead to searching for validation and stability.
Couples often assume sex is at the heart of an affair and while a sexual relationship is typically what we think about regarding infidelity, sex is often not at the heart of why someone steps out.
However, a marriage in which couple’s view Sex as a Battleground can increase affair vulnerability. Feeling uncared for or misunderstood in this arena is a red flag for getting some help.
In addition, sex and intimacy are often seen as synonymous. This is inaccurate. Marriages that avoid intimacy can still be sexual.
Intimacy is the willingness to be open and authentic with your spouse about who you are, what you are doing and a willingness to explore these things with each other. Intimacy often brings short term conflict and instability which is why we avoid it.
For example, if a husband shares with his wife that he visited a pornography site, the initial response may be one of conflict and instability, but long-term benefits of trust, authenticity and security are born out of that intimacy.
Without intimacy in a marriage, the relationship feels shallow and it may feel as if you are living with a roommate rather than your partner.
Lastly, I’m going to combine the Imbalanced Marriage and the Broken Marriage. Marital imbalance can be the result of one partner being underinvested or overinvested in the marriage.
This can occur when one partner over-functions and invest more time and energy into the marriage and running of the family. The underinvested partner is often absent, doing what they want with little regard for impact on the family and the relationship appears to hold little value to them.
Imbalanced marriages may also take on a more parent-child type pattern in which one partner perceives and/or treats the other like a child.
A Broken Marriage is one in which misunderstandings, failure, negative experiences etc. break down the bond between spouses. We wound our mates with our words or actions. It is not the wounds however that create the vulnerability but the inability to reconnect and repair the bond after the damage.
If you recognize some of these patterns within your relationship with your partner or spouse…decide to talk to them about it today. You can protect your marriage from these vulnerabilities by being honest about the weaknesses within the relationship and taking action. Burying your head in the sand or denying the problems…doesn’t work.
Seek out a professional if needed to help you all navigate the path to a healthier pattern. Several of us at Psychological Services have great training and skill in marital therapy. Give us a call at 832-394-1440 today