10 Rules for Avoiding Emotional Infidelity

Keeping members of the opposite sex out of your intimate way is crucial to the success of marriage. In today’s world, it takes focus and planning. Consider the following ten rules of avoiding potentially damaging relationships with members of the opposite sex.

Rule 1: Keep It All Business at the Office

What’s integral to your job and what’s not? You certainly want cordial relationships with all your colleagues. However, being cordial means inquiring of a colleague how her sick mom is doing and how her daughter’s birthday party was. It doesn’t mean chatting for a half hour and laughing about his recent trip to Egypt. Keep conversations that aren’t strictly related to business short and sweet. A person rarely talks to you for any length of time unless you hold up your end of the conversation.

Rule 2: Avoid Meetings with Members of the Opposite Sex Outside of the Workplace

If you have to work together through lunch or dinner, order food into the office rather than go out. Restaurants are far more intimate than your office, and you are much more likely to discuss issues outside of business when you’re on the outside. When you do finish a project, avoid the celebratory coffee, drinks, or dinner. Celebrate with your husband or wife at home instead. Share with your partner how much energy this project took. Let your mate into your life more rather than cutting him or her out by bonding a little more with your colleague. You don’t owe your colleague dinner or the reward of friendship because you worked together. If someone at the office cracks open the champagne for the group, by all means, join in the toast, but don’t linger. Congratulate everyone on a job well done, but make it clear where your attention and allegiance lie by explaining that you have a date with your spouse.

When you do have to meet outside the office, make the meeting in a public place that isn’t conducive to intimacy. Avoid long car rides, as the close physical proximity and inability to leave one another begs for idle chatter and potential intimacy.

Rule 3: Meet in Groups

When meeting with members of the opposite sex, try to avoid meeting alone. The addition of even one extra person greatly minimizes any potential for intimacy. Even if it means asking a coworker to tag along for no other reason but to make sure the meeting stays focused on business, it’s worthwhile. Group meetings also send the message to others that we’re here for a particular goal and then we’re through. People hold back from intimacy in a group both because they’re naturally more cautious about sharing and because they’re not sure if what they have to say will interest the whole group.

Rule 4: Find Polite Ways of Ending Personal Conversations

Learn to bow out gracefully from conversations that you feel are too intimate for comfort. If you feel someone is sharing personal information that is likely to draw you into a more intimate relationship, end the conversation politely. For example, say something like, “This sounds very serious, and I just don’t know what to say. I surely don’t feel comfortable giving advice on such an important issue. If I were you, I’d talk to someone who really knows me well, or even consider talking to a clergy person or counselor to air out my thoughts.” In this way you’ve referred the person to others who could be more of help and made sure you won’t become the shoulder to lean on.

Rule 5: Avoid Consistency in the Relationship

You’d think from these rules that I’ve never carried on more than a forty-five-second conversation with a female since my marriage. Yet I’ve had plenty of conversations with personal content. I just don’t have them consistently. To tell a colleague about the great time you had on your vacation or to listen to her go on about hers for a while is fine, as long as it ends there and as long as such conversations unrelated to business are inconsistent. What you want to avoid are regular, ongoing personal conversations in which you’re developing themes, favorite topics, or a continuing dialogue. Relationships need time and consistency to build. Having an occasional laugh is safe, as long as it stays rare.

Rule 6: Don’t Share Your Personal Feelings

When you do find yourself engaged in conversation with a member of the opposite sex, share little of your personal experience or feelings. This curtails the other person’s ability to relate to you. This doesn’t mean you can’t be polite or helpful. If your colleague shares with you that he’s learning to scuba dive, you could ask him how it’s going and if he’s enjoying it without sharing that it’s been your personal dream to do the same for years. If you feel the need to share that feeling, tell your spouse that night instead about how you were talking to someone who’s begun lessons and that you’re frustrated that you haven’t found the time to do it.

Rule 7: Be Unflinchingly Honest with Yourself

Sometimes people convince themselves that it can even help their marriage to express some sexual energy through “innocent” flirtatious conversations: “Hey, I’m not going to do anything, so where’s the harm?” However, ask yourself how uncomfortable you’d be if your spouse found a similar method of “improving” your marriage. Be aware of whether you are ever feeling the slightest twinge of intimacy or attraction, whether sexually or emotionally. Consider honestly why you’re looking forward to the next time you meet up again with that person. Be truthful if you have a little bounce in your step as you walk away from a conversation with him or her, or you suddenly have a little more energy after it. Think your flirtation is so innocent? Test yourself: Would you tell your spouse? If you tell yourself that your interaction with a certain person of the opposite sex is fine, ask yourself if your spouse would agree.

Rule 8: Avoid Cordial Kisses and Hugs, or Dancing with Members of the Opposite Sex

This may sound extreme, but with even one kiss comes a certain intimacy. Even a cordial hello kiss can be quite a sensual experience. Most often, a simple handshake will do. In the psychoanalytic community, there are clear guidelines that prohibit physical contact, even with same-sex patients. This is not only because of the fear that a sympathetic hug might lead somewhere sexually but because a simple hug immediately changes the relationship and can confuse the perception of both parties. If you ever need a polite excuse for avoiding a kiss or dance, explain that you have a cold and fear it’s contagious. You can always clasp the shaker’s hand with both hands to indicate extra warmth without introducing intimate touch. I realize that it’s become common to hug and kiss even business associates. I join with Miss Manners in disapproving of this unnecessary intimacy.

Rule 9: Don’t Drink Around the Opposite Sex

When we drink alcohol, we lose our inhibitions and clarity. I’m not talking just about the kind of dead drunk that’ll get you into bed when you don’t want to, or aren’t thinking straight (although I’m skeptical how much decision making we lose from drinking--after all, I’ve never heard a heterosexual husband say, “Really, honey, I don’t remember anything except waking up the next morning to find him in my bed”). Even a single glass of wine or shot of scotch is enough to relax you and lead to a more personal conversation that may be damaging to your marriage at a later time. It’s these conversations that leave a door open for later intimacy. If you’re at a party and really want to join in the festivities, plant yourself next to your spouse.

Rule 10: Show Your Commitment to Your Spouse Daily

Do something thoughtful for your spouse every single day. This could be a lovely note, a phone call, or a more elaborate effort to plan a getaway. Doing something for your spouse reminds you throughout the day how special this person is to you. Focus on the kind things your spouse has done for you, and remember that relationships take effort and time to grow. Have lots of photos of your spouse, kids, and pets around the office as a visual reminder to you and others of your priorities. Even when I’m staying in a hotel for one night, I place two or three photos of my wife and family around the hotel room. I don’t need the photos to avoid an affair. But I do need to be cloaked in love, and photos can help me focus on how much love I have in my life even when my family is far away.

What do you think? Are all of these rules as important as Neuman says? Share your opinion now!

Excerpted from Emotional Infidelity by M. Gary Neuman Copyright 2001 by M. Gary Neuman. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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