We face it every day: temptation. Chocolate decadence this, french-fried that, bottles of ice-cold Corona, nestled neck-in-neck in a rustic metal bucket on a sandy beach. And, don’t forget the rugged and devil-may-care Marlboro Man. He’s cliché, we know the risks, smoking kills, nobody smokes anymore, except that they do and they’re huddled outside in a haze of intoxicating albeit repulsive plume. But, just one, after a glass of wine and a good meal, what’s the harm?
Or, and let’s get to the real point, it’s the temptation of all temptations: cheating. It may be sex in the copy room, a long term affair, the mile-high club, hotel keys passed surreptitiously at the bar, or simply a stolen kiss that leads to more.
Despite being in a committed relationship, married, you love your partner, but you had a fight, or you didn’t but you’re working on it and it’s getting routine or you haven’t really talked in weeks, let alone had sex at some point, you start chatting with someone at the office, or texting silly cat videos. And, it’s so effortless. Or, you’re on a business trip and you’re lonely and there are client dinners with drinking and flirting and late nights. It’s all so damn tempting.
Part of the issue is: you’re tired, you’re not thinking straight, you’re hungry, you’re buzzed, you’re lonely, you may or may not be missing something in your relationship. You are surrounded by temptation and no one is looking. What do you do?
You’re an adult, you’re not being chaperoned. But, you’re an adult, shouldn’t you be able to say no? How do you avoid it? How do you walk away from temptation, even if you are unhappy in your relationship, even if you’re bound for divorce? If you’re in a committed relationship and you’re monogamous, then it’s cheating. It’s as simple as that.
In 2011, Northwestern psychological researchers Loran Nordgren and Eileen Chou looked at brain chemistry (aka visceral state) and its impact on willpower when it comes to resisting temptation. We may be adults, but our brains don’t always respond as adults when under stress.
In terms of beating temptation, this study was a breakthrough. And it doesn’t just apply to relationships. The same study also looked at smokers to prove the temptation response is similar in other areas. To lead a happy life where you accomplish your goals, build good habits and stay married or not smoke/eat/buy too much, you have to keep yourself in a cool visceral state. A cool visceral state means avoiding situations that get you worked up just before being confronted by temptation.
For example, I’m a former smoker. Although it has been over two decades since I have smoked, I often want to after a glass or two of wine, even though I find the smell disgusting. I drink rarely, but when I do, I choose just one glass, and if I am around smokers, I remove myself from that particular outdoor designated smoking area. I go home, drink a glass of water and go to bed.
According to the study, the key is to know your triggers and to avoid them.
If you are tempted to cheat: don’t expose yourself to media with a strong sexual charge before spending time with attractive colleagues and avoid arguing with your partner before leaving on a business trip.
If you are tempted to spend recklessly: don’t wander through malls when you are feeling financially stressed and want a “pick me up.”
If you are overly hungry and feel the urge to binge eat: don’t get in the drive-thru lane at McDonald’s. Stash a protein bar in the car. Get yourself home.
And, if you are tempted to smoke after drinking: don’t hang around the outdoor smoking areas at bars and parties.
These are practical behavior modification techniques and routine changes you can make that will help you adjust your responses to tempting situations. Remove the temptation and it will be easier to resist.
While limiting access to temptation is important, I believe if you are hell bent on getting that thing, whether it be a cigarette, a shake and fries, or your new neighbor, these tips may not work, or they may only delay the event. And if the compulsion is that strong, there may be something else going on, and I would posit that you need more than behavioral modification.
Specifically, if you are obsessed with the urge to cheat, or are already engaged in cheating behavior, there are likely issues in your relationship unrelated to a cool visceral state. And you need to face them. And yes, I speak from experience.
If this is a new relationship, it’s likely an easy fix. You’re just not that into her, or him. Move on. Make the phone call, set up the coffee meet. Do not send a text. Be a grown up. Even if it was one or two dates, let the person hear your voice, if not see your face. If it’s a new relationship and your eyes and other body parts are already wandering, move on. It’s OK. How else do we know except by finding out?
If you saw long-term potential in this person and you are still ready to cut and run, you may want to look at why you’re bailing so fast. It may be nothing; it may be this is not the person for you. Or, breathe, and see what happens. Fear? Moving too fast? It’s your call. But make one. And don’t make it a booty call to someone else. Clean up what you’re in first before starting something else.
If you are married, in a long-term partnership, or in any other way in a committed relationship and are thinking of cheating, or have been cheating, something is wrong, and you know it. This is a betrayal, assuming you and your partner agreed on monogamy.
You may be unhappy, you may want a divorce, there are countless reasons why your relationship may not be working. Cheating is not a fix, in fact, it is making things more broken. You may even guarantee that the real issues will never be addressed. A betrayal can be so hurtful, it may not only end things, but even any discussion as to why. Is that what you want?
If thoughts of cheating, or acts of cheating, permeate your being, get help, speak to someone, a therapist, family member, trusted friend, or, if it’s safe, even your partner. Don’t throw away a marriage because you may be confused, feel unfulfilled, or angry. If you feel those things, that’s fine, but talk about that, don’t act out. It’s the adult thing to do.
If your kids wanted to eat a giant ice cream cone before bed, you’d say, “No, now’s not the time, we can have ice cream tomorrow. It’s time to sleep.” If you really want to end things, you can have your next relationship later, after you settle this one.
And, finally, for preventative measures, those of you who are happy, or at least plugging away, be sure to include maintenance in your relationship because it won’t stay healthy and strong by force of will. Life is nothing if not filled with hiccups.
You must think of your relationship as work. Now don’t moan and groan, and roll your eyes. It is work. Sometimes it’s hard work, and sometimes it’s fun work (romps in the ocean, family time, hiking, the Sunday crossword, sex toys, traveling the word together, whatever your pleasure). You will get out of it what you put in, and if you let things slide, then it will slide. So, think about that. You may be in a happy, healthy, loving relationship right now with no temptation and no inclination to cheat. Even then, your relationship is a dynamic organism and it needs constant care.
What works for you and your partner will differ than what works for others, but here are a few ways you can introduce weekly exercise into your relationship routine. Now go have fun, love each other, and be honest about what you want and how you feel.
Renew and set goals. If you’re married, re-read your wedding vows, if not, maybe love letters, or emails, or texts. Going back to square one will remind you of all the positives in your relationship. Then, set a goal you can work on together like once a week, a romantic candlelight dinner.
Sext. While this flirty tip may not work for everyone, keep in mind there are levels of sexting. There are career-ending photos to flirtatious verbal “I love you and can’t wait to see you tonights.” Double check the number before you send, and make sure your partner is on board.
Invest in yourself. Confidence is attractive. Invest in yourself so that you feel good, professionally, emotionally, physically, socially and spiritually. See friends, work on your career, your mental, and physical health. You’ll both benefit.
Develop repair attempts. You will disagree, there’s no avoiding it. John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, says successfully married couples enact repair attempts to manage tough situations. Repair attempts are statements or actions, silly or otherwise, that prevent negativity from escalating. You may stop during a fight and pretend you’re a referee and ask for a “time out.” You may start talking in a silly accent. Whatever works for you and your partner to break the tension and laugh; you’re not enemies.
Suggest a sex challenge. If frequency or sex drive is an issue, you’ll need to tailor this. Maybe set a Special Sex Date every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or Afternoon Delight on the weekend, or something else that works for you and your partner. Have fun with it.
Set up weekly check-ins. Touch base once a week. It doesn’t have to be a long session, just check in to see how your partner is feeling, if there is anything he or she wants to bring up, and you do the same. If you have a need that isn’t getting met, you can let it be known. By the same token, if you are deliriously happy, let your partner know. Celebrate. This way, it’s all out in the open.
You and your partner may or may not end up together at the end of it all, or you may be happy and honest and together. But you don’t have to end up angry and broken. You can know that you made the best decision while causing the least amount of hurt to someone you once loved, to your family and your children, and you can move on, with peace and know you did your honest best.