I know your pain because I’ve heard about it so many times in my sex therapy office. You love your partner. You never in a million years thought you’d be tempted to cheat. Monogamy just seemed natural and right, something you happily chose for yourself.
And now, you can’t stop thinking about… your colleague/your wife’s best friend/your neighbor/your ex. You feel guilty, but at the same time, titillated. Worried, but oh so excited. What if you two are soul mates? You’ve held off making a move, but the flirting seems to be increasing in spite of your best intentions. You fantasize about them when you masturbate, and sometimes even during sex with your partner.
You call me, distraught. Scared. Confused. You ask my help in solving what feels like an impossible situation.
Managing temptation is humanity’s struggle—whether we are tempted by chocolate, yet another cat, one more pair of shoes, or people. Ancient religious doctrine addresses the challenge of temptation, as do programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Weight Watchers. Expecting to sail through life relatively unchallenged by temptation is simply unrealistic.
So first off, know you are in good company. Most everyone you interact with today is challenged by some temptation. How well they manage it depends on many variables, including how emotionally and physically tired they are, their mood state, their level of connection and social support, and their genetics, among many other variables.
But let’s talk about you, and sex, and how you can best proceed to increase the odds of your making good choices for yourself and your primary relationship.
Keep in mind that the construct of the monogamous long-term partnership is a terrific concept but it’s not a biological mandate. That means it’s not necessarily inherent to human nature, nor is it supported by our evolutionary biology. As a result, many if not most people find themselves challenged to some degree by the monogamy ideal. That’s not an excuse for bad behavior, and it doesn’t mean that you are destined to be unfaithful. It just means that this could be considered a challenge you must tackle periodically in your lifetime.
Put yourself in your partner’s situation.
How would you feel if you discovered your partner had been unfaithful? It’s a complex situation that could make you feel both less confident in your relationship and less confident in life. You may be less trusting of others, feel shame for being betrayed, etc. Feeling these nuances can help you empathize with your partner and make temptation less enticing for you.
2. Play out how your partner would react if you cheated and they found out.
Literally, imagine that conversation—word for word. What would your partner say and do, and how would you respond? What would you be thinking in those moments?
3. Ruin the fantasy.
Infidelity is much more enticing if you allow yourself to focus on the fantasy of the connection rather than the harsh reality that will likely soon follow. That reality includes the guilt you will carry; the inevitable pain for all involved when someone either ends the affair and/or your partner finds out; and the fallout with family and people close to you who wouldn’t support or understand your choices. Reminding yourself about the almost inevitable pain ahead may be enough to realistically refocus yourself.
4. Talk to someone you trust about it.
Just the act of hearing yourself speak can help you find strength and clarity. A trusted, wise other can shock you into reality and tell you what you need to hear. An honest conversation will help break your denial and hopefully offer you support in this painful time.
5. Force yourself to refocus on your current relationship.
Fantasies about another prevent you from channeling energy and effort into the emotional and sexual state of your current romance. Take an honest look at what you need in your relationship that you aren’t getting, as well as what you aren’t giving your partner. We can all cultivate our skills in giving and receiving love better. Use this experience as a wake-up call so that you can reset your romance on a better path. All long-term relationships can benefit from a re-focus and re-set every once in a while.
6. Reschedule your life so you aren’t interacting with the person you fantasize about.
There’s no surer way to avoid temptation than to not be in the presence of it.
Being human isn’t easy, and temptation is a part of life. Developing your skills at managing temptation is empowering—it feels good to be able to trust yourself and feel in control of your behavior. Long-term relationships offer us some of our most profound experiences of love as well as some of our most profound life challenges. Garner your strength today so you can look back on this moment with pride.