If I had a nickel for everytime a spouse sat on my couch and told me "I never saw this coming...I thought we were happy!" I think I'd be rich by now.
As a marriage counselor, I get it. People think that just because they're in a happy marriage it means that their marriage is not at risk for infidelity. But the truth is, that's far from the truth.
There are lots of reasons spouses cheat - most have nothing to do with the marriage
It's a common misconception that spouses cheat because they're unhappy in their marriage. In fact, most of the time when couples sit on my couch, the person who had the affair says that they still love their spouse.
They say that they love their kids, too and even enjoy their life for the most part. Most of the time the person who cheated will say that they were actually pretty happy.
Why would a spouse cheat if they're happy?
In counseling, most spouses who cheat get to the point where they identify some sort of displeasure with themselves as the reason they cheated.
For example, they feel overly compelled to achieve at work. Or they feel inadequate as a parent. Or they have demons in their closet from several years ago that have never been resolved.
Instead of embracing these insecurities and trying to fix them, they try to hide it. They paint on a smile as though everything is fine even though underneath things are far from it. And that's what causes the affair.
Instead of being able to talk out loud about their insecurities, wants, regrets, etc. they continue on living a life that makes them only superficially happy. But they have deeper desires that are going unfulfilled.
It's the need to fulfill those deeper desires and their inability to talk out loud about them that makes them try to get them fulfilled in secrecy (e.g. by having an affair).
Happy marriages do not safeguard against infidelity
It makes sense, then, why couples sit on my couch telling me they never saw an affair coming. Because the tighter a couple holds on to a facade of happiness without embracing and talking openly about the times that aren't, it runs the risk of secrecy.
So instead of believing that you and your partner are happy, have more heart-to-heart talks with each other. Listen to each other wholeheartedly and without judgment. Really try to listen to each other and embrace each others' inadequacies. Sure, these conversations may not be pretty and they may be about some unusual things you never thought you'd need to talk about. But having them means you're getting problems out on the table and addressing them instead of keeping secrets.
Just because affairs are more about an individuals' own insecurities or feelings of inadequacy, doesn't mean you can't make your marriage less vulnerable to an affair.
If your partner feels like they've had to hide things from you, there's often something you're doing to send them that message. This keeps them from feeling comfortable talking to you.
Take a look inside yourself and find out what your most uncomfortable topics could be: sex, fantasies, old girl/boyfriends, in-laws, and parenting are some of the most common ones. If you're uncomfortable talking about them, the chances are that your spouse is also uncomfortable talking about them with you.
This sets up a potential for secrecy and makes your relationship vulnerable to an affair. So talk openly with your partner. The more you and your partner talk openly about your shortcoming and inadequacies with each other, the more secure your marriage will be.
Try not to have topics that you just won't talk about with your spouse, instead, try to push yourself to talk about them. It's probably not as scary as you might think.
Instead of just creating a facade of happiness, you'll be addressing and overcoming the challenges in your marriage that will make it truly happy.
Aaron Anderson is a therapist and Director of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He is a writer, speaker and relationship expert. Checkout his blog for expert information on how to improve your relationship.