Honesty and Openness
PROTECTION: Avoid being the cause of your spouse's unhappiness.
2) TIME: Take time to give your spouse undivided attention.
3) HONESTY: Be totally open and honest with your spouse.
4) CARE: Meet your spouse's most important emotional needs.
Affair-Proof Your Marriage
The 700 Club
- He offered much needed insight into marriage with his
popular best seller His
Needs, Her Needs. Now psychologist and marriage counselor Dr.
Willard Harley Jr. gives wise advice on how to recover from marital infidelity
and how to prevent an affair before it starts.
TERRY MEEUWSEN: Well, infidelity is one of life's most painful experiences.
Can a marriage be restored after such a betrayal? It's a question that
I'm sure people ask all over this country every day because it's been
such an issue in marriages. Well, joining me now is psychologist and marriage
counselor, Dr. Willard Harley, who's also the co-author of "Surviving
an Affair." Welcome to The 700 Club. Great to have you with us.
Dr. WILLARD HARLEY Jr. : Thank you. I'm glad to be with you.
MEEUWSEN: We all go to the altar thinking we're going to make it without
ever experiencing something like this, and yet statistics show that a majority
of marriages go through an affair. Why?
Dr. HARLEY: That's part of the problem. I think that people start out assuming
it's not going to happen to them. And so they don't take the precautions.
You know, we get inoculated for various diseases that we're likely to get,
but we don't bother to get inoculated for an affair.
MEEUWSEN: Why do affairs happen?
Dr. HARLEY: Well, I think we're born with the instinct to have an affair,
quite frankly. I think that we're all wired to have it. People that are given
the opportunity and have not taken precautions to avoid it generally succumb
to the temptation.
MEEUWSEN: Are there different kinds of affairs?
Dr. HARLEY: Yeah. There are affairs that are one-night stands that don't
mean anything, that are just a tryst. But the affairs that I work with the
most are what I call affairs that have a deep emotional connection and people
feel that they're soul mates. I call them soul mate types of affairs because
that's the way everybody talks about them when they're having it.
MEEUWSEN: I was surprised in the book that so many people come to you.
When someone makes a connection like that with a soul mate, usually they
don't want to even hear about restoring a marriage. They want out and they
want a new life and they see this other person as their avenue to that, and
yet there seems to be something in people when they've made a commitment to
a partner for life, particularly where children are involved, that they want
to find out what they ought to do from here. How does someone survive an affair
when trust has been broken?
Dr. HARLEY: The person that I'm essentially writing to in this book is the
spouse who has been betrayed. Because the question that we get so much is:
'I just discovered that my spouse was having an affair. I had no idea it could
ever happen to us, and I have no idea what to do next.' I do try to reach
out to the person having the affair and, to some extent, I try to reach out
to the lover as well. But I've often made the point that when you're having
an affair, you lose half of your IQ, you know. And so it's very difficult
to reason with a person who is having an affair because they're on such an
emotional high and you're dealing with a person that's addicted. It's very
similar to dealing with somebody that has got a cocaine addiction or other
forms of addiction.
MEEUWSEN: If something's been missing from a relationship that has caused
someone to even consider, much less get involved in an affair, I'm sure there's
the fear on the part of the person who's made that decision that if I go back
into this relationship, my needs are never going to be met.
Dr. HARLEY: That's always kind of a leading point, that there is something
to that. There are reasons why people have affairs, but I often argue that
there are no excuses. There are things that motivate people to have an affair
and my argument has always been that you should settle those issues. An affair
is no way to solve the problem.
Dr. HARLEY: All it does is get you in deeper and you end up having a miserable
experience, to say nothing about the miserable experiences of all the people
MEEUWSEN: Speaking of people that you love, so often by the time someone
gets into an affair situation, they've been married long enough that they
have children. How are children affected in situations like this? Do they
usually know about the relationship?
Dr. HARLEY: Yeah. It's devastating. There are two things that children learn
from an affair. One is that it's all right to lie, because they see their
parent not only lying about the affair, but also encouraging them to lie for
them. And so they develop an ethic that says under certain conditions, it's
OK not to tell the truth. And it's OK not to tell the truth to the people
you love the most. The other thing they learn is that it's OK to be thoughtless.
It's OK to do something that's good for you and bad for the people that you
love the most. It sets them up for a lifetime of failure because they don't
learn two of life's most important principles: honesty and thoughtfulness.
They learn that the opposite is OK.
MEEUWSEN: It seems
to me, Doctor, too, like there are often so many abandonment issues that get
thrown into a child's life when one parent or the other just ups and leaves
because it's the thing for the moment. You mentioned early on that one of
the reasons that people find themselves in this situation is that they come
into marriage thinking that it can never happen to them. So what are some
preventive measures that people can take to sort of affair-proof their marriages,
if you will?
Dr. HARLEY: I think it's important to begin with the understanding that it
can happen to you. It can happen to anyone. As soon as you understand that
you are vulnerable for an affair, then the precautions that I recommend make
sense. I started out my own marriage with precautions. There is some infidelity
in my own family and I wanted to make sure it would never happen to me and
my wife, Joyce. And so we made a compact with each other to be radically honest
with each other about everything, that we would never lie to
each other. It's an incredibly important precaution to take. The second thing
is that she would always be my best friend. I would spend my leisure time
with her. She would end up being the person I would go with on trips. If either
of us were going to be gone for any period of time, the other would be there
as well. I would not have lunch with another woman. I would not go in a car
pool with another woman. I would not allow myself to be tempted to have an
affair with somebody else. And if I ever found somebody else attractive, the
first person to know about it would be my wife.
MEEUWSEN: If someone is in a situation--I imagine there are people who are
watching right now who are in situations where this attraction has already
happened, but they realize that the price tag is incredibly high. How does
someone rebuild a marriage?
Dr. HARLEY: Well, the first thing they have to do is get away from the attractive
person, and that's the first step.
MEEUWSEN: Are most people willing to do that?
Dr. HARLEY: No, but that's the first step. I have to talk people into doing
things that just are totally irrational to them. They don't understand that
leaving this person that they're attracted to is the first step toward marital
recovery. If they're having an affair, they can never see or talk to the lover
again the rest of their lives. And that's the first step in recovery, is never
seeing or talking to another lover. It may mean you have to quit your job.
Many of the people I've counseled, many pastors I've counseled, have had to
leave the state to get away from lovers that they have. And you have to totally
separate. Again, think of it as an addiction. How do you get over being addicted
to alcohol? You get away from the substance that you're addicted to. And the
same thing is true in marriage.
The second thing is you have to go through withdrawal because once you leave
the addictive situation, you will go through a period of deep depression,
and one of the things that people have told me--the betrayed spouse says,
one of the hardest parts of all of this is to get through the withdrawal,
because here they have their husband or wife back but the husband or wife
is miserable. And they blame it all on them, see? And then once you're through
withdrawal, it ends. If they don't see or talk to the spouse, it ends. They're
through withdrawal; then the recovery can actually begin. But there's a sense
in which people try to recover with the lover still there. That never works,
just like you can't get over being an alcoholic if you're drinking all the
MEEUWSEN: Well, I would imagine the other partner in a marriage would have
to be very quiet and patient during those times to let the person walk through
these processes to get to the point...
Dr. HARLEY: They usually need a lot of support and they need to understand
what the end of this process is going to look like, a lot of encouragement.
MEEUWSEN: Really? Talk about the most important needs that men and women
have in relationships.
Dr. HARLEY: Well, the needs that people have, quite frankly, can be broken
down into 10 of them. I've written the book, "His Needs, Her Needs," that
you've probably seen. And it describes the 10 most important needs of men
and women. I usually tell people, don't pay attention to whether it's a male
need or a female need; think about your own needs and try to figure out what
it is you need the most in your marriage. Which of these 10 that we talk about
are extremely important to you that you expect your spouse to do for you?
MEEUWSEN: Every need isn't going to belong to each person. I mean everybody
Dr. HARLEY: Usually I feel that if you meet your spouse's top two emotional
needs, chances are, you will avoid an affair. But to make it guaranteed, I
MEEUWSEN: Of the 10 that you list, are there some that are consistently the
top two or three of men and the top two or three of women? What would they
Dr. HARLEY: Generally for men, sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship
and attractive spouse are the top three. For women generally affection, conversation,
honesty and openness are the top three for them. But there are many women
that will pick one of the male needs as one of their top needs. So my argument
is you have to understand your need well enough to communicate it to your
spouse and then give your spouse information so he knows how to meet it for
you. But a very important reason why people have affairs is that their emotional
needs are not being met. But as I mentioned before, it's not an excuse.
MEEUWSEN: When somebody has broken trust or been the victim of broken trust,
how do you trust again? I mean, because it seems to me you've got a double
whammy here. You've had the wind knocked out of you that your partner would
violate the commitment you've made to each other by being with someone else
sexually, and then that they hid it, usually, for a season of time. So how
do you get to the place where you can ever believe and wholly allow yourself
to fall back into the relationship?
Dr. HARLEY: It's one of life's great mysteries. When I first started working
with people that were suffering with infidelity, my own instinct was I could
never forgive my own wife if she was unfaithful. And I think she'd kill me
if I was. And so I had no idea that this sort of thing could be saved, you
know. And then not only did I discover that it could be saved, but the trust
would return. The point is that if you follow the advice that I give and I
have four rules for recovery: you've got to meet each other's needs; you've
got to protect each other from our own self-centeredness; you've got to give
each other time for undivided attention; and you've got to be radically honest
with each other. What this does is it overlays all of the destructive things
that you've done. And people wake up one day feeling trust for their spouse
because what they're doing is thoughtful and honest. They're doing something
that proves that they can. After an experience like this, you can actually
trust the other person much better than you could have ever trusted them before
the experience because you're taking precautions to be trustworthy.
MEEUWSEN: People can get a hold of you through your website. Would you give
that to folks?
All you need to do is remember the name marriage builders--Marriagebuilders.com.
It's one of the most popular marriage sites on the Internet. It
helps couples figure out how to solve their problems. And it's
MEEUWSEN: Wonderful. Marriagebuilders.com. Well, this book is called "Surviving
an Affair." And if this is something you've been through in
your household, your family, it's a book that you'll be blessed
by. Written by our guest, Dr. Willard Harley and Dr. Jennifer
Harley Chalmers. Thank you so much for being with us.
Dr. HARLEY: Thank you.
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