These days, stories of cheating are dime-a-dozen. And it's not only Oscar winners and athletes whose lives are being ripped apart by infidelity. You hear the same heartbroken refrain: "I didn't see it coming." Is it any wonder that even those of us in happy marriages are scared? Related: 5 Rules Happy Couples Break
Marriage and sex therapist Dr. Jane Greer says that our fears are not unfounded. "I'm seeing more and more couples - good, nice couples - who are struggling to put the pieces together after an affair," she says. During 20 years of counseling, Greer has identified signs that a relationship may be slipping toward infidelity, what she terms "the Cheating Zone...that place where one partner isn't getting what they want from their relationship," which helps that person to justify getting it elsewhere. Make no mistake: Cheating is never the fault of the person who is cheated on. Still, most cheaters are made, not born. "They're acting out of deprivation and neediness," Greer says. Related: Why I Cheated: True Stories
So how do you stop an affair from happening? Better yet, how do you make sure neither of you is even tempted? You look out for Greer's red flags. "You can address the underlying problems before someone cheats," she says. Following her advice won't just head off infidelity - it'll keep your marriage happy, connected, and, yes, hot. Related: 7 Steps to Happily Ever After
Warning sign: Your relationship is last on your to-do list
Was there anything more intriguing than your spouse when you two first met? In those early days, you wanted to know everything about him. Chances are your days of blowing off girls' night or a work deadline for an extra hour with your man are long over, and that's fine. A full adult life entails balancing multiple relationships and responsibilities. Still, if you're more likely to spend your downtime on Facebook than with your hubby - or if he's more interested in reading the business section than hearing news of your day - you need to reprioritize.
IF YOU'RE TOO LOW ON HIS LIST: Tell your husband you feel neglected. "He may not be conscious that his actions make you feel ignored," Greer says. "Offer him suggestions of how he can actively demonstrate more appreciation for you." Agree to set aside time every night to check in and share your thoughts. "Often the biggest fix he can make is dropping everything to just listen to what you're saying," Greer says.
IF HE'S TOO LOW ON YOUR LIST: Figure out the ways you're cutting your partner out, and fix your behavior. "It could even be a small tweak, like turning off your cell phone when you're at dinner," Greer says. In some cases, you might need to make a bigger change to save your marriage, like relocating to cut down your commute time or bowing out of your family's annual beach vacation in favor of a just-you-and-the-kids adventure.
When Madeleine's* husband told her how unhappy he was, the California photographer decided to pull back on her work. She had been traveling nonstop - and in her absence, her husband attended parties and work functions with a female coworker. Luckily, he communicated his feelings before anything happened with his coworker: "He told me, 'I don't want a substitute wife; I want you. I need you to stop traveling so much.' It was a reminder that I couldn't take our relationship for granted," she says. Related: The Truth About Why Men Cheat
Warning sign: You don't really argue anymore
You can't always see eye-to-eye, and every intimate relationship will have its moments of conflict - it can even lead to the hottest sex. So when one of you just goes limp, agreeing on what to eat for dinner, how to spend your weekends, which couch to buy, it could be a surprising sign of trouble. "The partner who has stopped arguing has thrown his hands up and is starting to check out," Greer says. "And it's easier to justify getting your needs met elsewhere if you feel like your perspective is not being acknowledged and that nothing in the relationship is going to change." In order to get your marriage back on track, you need to jump-start the dialogue in your household, even if it means revisiting tiresome or painful discussions.
IF HE'S COMPLETELY GIVEN UP: Has your husband reached that 'Whatever you say, dear' phase? When that happens, you need to acknowledge that you haven't been listening to his point of view. At first, Celeste* was thrilled that her husband had stopped putting up a fight when she wanted to spend every Sunday with her mother. "He used to present me with a list of alternative plans, but we always ended up at my mom's." But when the couple started seeing a therapist, Celeste learned that his newfound agreeability was just a cover for the resentment he felt. Greer's advice for Celeste: Tell your guy you want to find a compromise you can both live with. For example, suggest they spend every other Sunday with her mother and let him choose their activities on alternating weekends. "Don't avoid the flare-ups," Greer says. "You're not always going to be able to find a tidy solution to your disagreements, but you can always demonstrate a willingness to make the relationship work for both of you." Related: Can You End a Fight (and Get to the Make-Up Sex) Without Even Talking About It?
IF YOU'VE COMPLETELY GIVEN UP: You should never completely resign yourself to the idea that nothing will change. "By shutting down... you are as much to blame as he is for the relationship imploding," Greer says. "Tell your partner you want to talk to a counselor to help you two figure out how your needs can be met in your marriage. Frame it positively. Say, 'I don't want to grow further apart.'" Related: The Number One Way to End Fights Fast
Warning sign: You two aren't having sex
There are plenty of reasons you might not be getting it on, including mismatched libidos, conflicting work schedules, and extended family drama. In fact, most long-term relationships suffer from periods of diminished sexual passion. "Having sex once a month isn't necessarily a problem," Greer says, "unless one of you is feeling resentful." If you are flat-out turned off by the idea of sleeping with your husband - or if you sense he feels that way - you need to find out why. Sex is a vital part of a healthy relationship, and it's important to devote time and energy to intimacy. (These sex tips will get you in the mood.)
Pamela, a mom in Pennsylvania, knew that her sex drive wasn't as strong as her husband's, but she didn't know what to do about it. "For a long time, he was always the initiator, but then about a year ago he became less aggressive," she says. Pamela learned her husband was having an affair with a woman he met at work, and now the couple is struggling to save their 20-year marriage. "In our sessions with a therapist, he said that he felt like I didn't value him. He wanted to feel that way again and was looking to regain the part of our relationship that had been lost." Related: How to Know if He's Cheating
IF YOU'RE NOT HOT FOR HIM: The fact that you're rarely interested in sex could be a sign that you're too caught up with your responsibilities as mom/boss/daughter to feel sexual and desirable. "It's hard to be passionate with your partner if you're not passionate yourself," Greer says. Carve out time for activities that make you feel good about yourself, like going for a run or listening to live music with friends. "Coming home full of positive energy could help reawaken your sex life," Greer says. Related: How to Get Your Sexy Back
IF HE'S NOT HOT FOR YOU: First step: Initiate sex - don't wait for your husband to reach for you. Everyone wants to feel wanted, and often that alone can be enough to spark the flames of your marriage. If making the first move goes over well, schedule a weekly sex date. "You once had the luxury of having sex whenever you were overwhelmed by passion, but that's not how it works once kids and other responsibilities enter the picture," Greer says. "Designating time for sex sends the message that you desire each other and carves out a space where other responsibilities disappear for a while." Reestablishing a regular sex life goes a long way toward making both of you feel fulfilled in the here and now. Related: Where Did Our Sex Lie Go?
Warning sign: You've stopped indulging each other's fantasies
In Greer's experience, an individual who feels like his or her partner is unwilling to please sexually feels fundamentally deprived and rejected. "That can lead to justifying seeking satisfaction elsewhere," she says. About four years into the relationship with her ex-fiancé, Rachel* started to feel like he just wasn't into her bedroom fantasies. "Whenever I asked him to be more aggressive, to hold me more firmly or even spank me a little, he said no and told me I was twisted and needed help," she says. "After a couple of years, I told him that making me feel bad about my desires - which, by the way, are perfectly normal - tempted me to find a lover who would fulfill them. That's when we knew it was the end." The trick, says Greer, is not waiting years to address this sexual gripe. Related: Are You Guilty of These Sex Mistakes?
IF YOU'RE FEELING REJECTED: Talk to your husband. Tell him that unless your fantasy is truly repugnant to him, you'd like for him to try it once. "Being willing to do something purely for your partner's pleasure is what matters here," Greer says. "As long as he shows he's willing to please you, he should be allowed to say, 'I don't like that' without you taking it as a personal rejection." Related: 40 Tips from Our 40 Steamiest Sex Articles
IF HE'S FEELING REJECTED: Hey, maybe wearing four-inch heels to bed feels bizarre to you, but it's a small sacrifice to make if your husband perceives it as a loving gesture that communicates your desire to make him happy. "You don't have to do things that way every time - or even ever again," Greer says. Use his fantasy as a launching pad and come up with racy scenarios that work for both of you. And if he thinks you look extra-hot in stilettos and little else, take him at his word and try strutting your stuff. Related: 8 Kinds of Sex Every Couple Should Try
*Names have been changed.
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