The news media thrive on streaming information – and gossip – about the exploits of high visibility couples. The general public has been well informed about the infidelity of John Edwards, the visits to call girls by Eliot Spitzer, the on-going splits of Hollywood couples. Polls report that approximately one-third of marriages have experienced an affair by one of the partners. How then do the other two-thirds resist the temptation to stray? As Paul Newman, married over 50 years to Joanne Woodward before he died, explained it, “I have steak at home, why go out for hamburger?”
Recent research has identified some functions of the brain that make it easier to remain monogamous, particularly for women. When placed in a situation where an outside flirtation is possible, a subconscious alarm is set off and women react by not paying attention to the appealing threat. Instead, they express more commitment to their relationship. Men’s brains do not automatically protect their relationships in the same way but can be trained to do so by visualizing and planning how to avoid the enticement. Additional studies have shown that when strong love is at the forefront, it is harder for the brain to pay attention to, perceive and recall the appeal of an attractive outsider.
So, with physiology and love on your side, here are 8 tips to make it easier for you and your spouse to stay faithful.
1. Invest in your partnership. Make time for your relationship just as you would for any valuable asset. The efforts that you put into growing and developing it will be returned in multiples. Use each other for support as you are going through the myriad challenges of life.
2. Keep up the romance. Remind each other why you fell in love. Set aside time to be together and focus on each other. Be free with your affection and warmth. Tap into your sensuality and find new ways of exploring and expressing your sexual relationship together.
3. Enjoy each other. Be playful and have fun together. Laugh and bring humor into your daily life. Plan some adventures – discover new activities you both like to do. All of these bring more pleasure into your relationship and encourage real intimacy between you.
4. Give compliments freely. Sometimes it seems easier to criticize and complain than to praise and acknowledge positive behavior. Adjust your antennae to be more attentive to the actions you want to reinforce. When you are thinking something nice, say it out loud to your partner.
5. Keep your communication open and honest. Talk out misunderstandings before they become full-fledged arguments. Use the same conversational etiquette with your spouse that you would with anyone else you care about and respect. Practice active listening skills and sending I-messages.
6. Use cooperation and compromise. Be flexible in resolving your conflicts. Remind yourself to look at the issue from your partner’s perspective as well as from your own. Ask yourself if it is more important to be right and win the argument than to protect your relationship.
7. Deal with anger. Once you have expressed negative feelings, find a way to let go of the hostility. Resist holding on to resentment and avoid the emotional baggage of planning retribution. Learn to forgive your partner and to apologize for your own mistakes.
8. Build basic trust and loyalty. If you are devoted to one another and to your marriage, your behavior will reflect this deep commitment. Knowing that you are dedicated to the needs of each other gives you both the confidence to pursue your own goals out in the world.
When you take the responsibility to incorporate these 8 techniques into your relationship, you increase the odds of being there for one another through the years. And it’s nice to know that your brain function is hard wired to support you in these efforts to stay close to home.
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