Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Are You Vulnerable to an Affair? Part III: Individual Vulnerability

Are You Vulnerable to an Affair? A Three Part Series

Part 1: Are You Vulnerable to an Affair?
Part 2: Marital Vulnerability
Part 3: Individual Vulnerability

Hope Rising 2019

If you're the betrayed spouse, I want to invite you to our previous Hope Rising conferences now available On Demand. We have an annual one-day conference in Austin, TX where speakers will speak into your specific situation of infidelity and help guide you through the recovery process. It's not as hopeless as you think.

Hope Rising 2018 On Demand
Hope Rising 2019 On Demand

Are some people more vulnerable to an affair than others? Having explored social factors and marital factors creating vulnerability, this week we'll look at individual factors that make one vulnerable.

I want to begin by stating these factors are never an excuse for infidelity, nor does the absence of these factors eliminate the possibility of being unfaithful. With couples that remain monogamous, both parties work at maintaining their commitments.

Remember, contrary to some lies out there, it's impossible to affair-proof a marriage, but it's absolutely possible and necessary to affair-proof yourself.

There's no way to predict with certainty whether a specific individual is going to be unfaithful.

Responding to the statements in the quiz below will help identify attitudes and personality characteristics that increase an individual's vulnerability to opportunities for extramarital involvement.

Excerpt from: Shirley P. Glass, PH.D. "NOT Just Friends."1

Personal Beliefs

Our beliefs about monogamy, honesty, commitment and infidelity can play a significant role in whether someone remains faithful or if they stray. There is a difference between someone who justifies what they've done and someone who makes excuses. When someone makes excuses it means they know they've done something wrong and need an excuse such as "I drank too much." Someone who justifies their actions may be revealing what their attitudes or beliefs have been concerning infidelity. If they believe marriage is supposed to meet their needs then they'll be faithful as long as the marriage is making them happy. But with that belief, if they are miserable in the marriage, then it won't be long until the allure of something else will drag them away.

Beliefs about monogamy and commitment can even be influenced by events in your marriage. Your spouse's infidelity will most likely change how you view things. It could make you more committed to be faithful because you'd never want to do that to someone, which would make you less vulnerable. It could also destroy what you once believed was special, making you more vulnerable and allowing you to justify being unfaithful.

Sexual permissiveness is another factor that influences our beliefs. Redbook did a study on women's sexuality in 1975, surveying more than 100,000 women. Forty-eight percent of women whose first sexual experience occurred at age 15 or younger were unfaithful. Only 16% of women who had their first sexual experience at age 21 or later had been unfaithful.2

While this study didn't include men, it is possible that sexual permissiveness prior to marriage downplays the impact of infidelity. This isn't to say if you were sexually permissive before marriage you will cheat, but it does indicate you may be more vulnerable and need to protect yourself from high risk situations and/or develop new beliefs about sexual intimacy to increase the value of sexual exclusiveness.

Individual Inhibitors to Infidelity

Humility inhibits opportunity for infidelity. Pride generally precedes the fall. If someone believes they would never be unfaithful, then it's much easier to justify putting yourself in high-risk situations where something could happen. If you value your commitment and believe you could potentially be vulnerable, you're less likely to place yourself in a high-risk situation.

I've never had someone have an affair because they are weak.

Affairs happen when someone places themselves in a situation that they believe they can handle.

A strong conscience also serves as an inhibitor but only as long as it kicks in before something happens. Feelings of guilt after the fact won't deter a thing, but feelings of guilt prior to a fall can help avoid a crisis.

Moral values serve as a stronger inhibitor than religious beliefs. Generally, people will violate the rules of right and wrong they've been taught at church before they will violate their own moral code. Devotion to one's mate also serves as a powerful inhibitor. Negative consequences on the other hand provide little motivation for faithfulness.

Personality Types and Traits

People with low self-esteem are more vulnerable than those with positive esteem. As Shirley Glass pointed out, spouses are more like magnifying mirrors and affair partners are more like vanity mirrors.3 Nothing helps boost someone's concept of self more than an affair. The affair partners typically affirm you and even build up your ego. The insecure person can be more susceptible due to that desire for affirmation.

Boredom can also make one vulnerable. If life feels dull and commonplace, you can be vulnerable to someone who lights up your world. But boredom isn't created by life's circumstances; boredom results from our lack of motivation. To this day I can still remember my grandmother's response to my telling her I was bored: "Only boring people get bored." I've learned there's much truth in that saying.

Adrenaline junkies also tend to be vulnerable. If you're someone who craves excitement, then you'll be at risk. The pursuit of excitement can lead to infidelity as you pursue the next rush. Emotional numbness can act in much the same way. Like the adrenaline junkie, this person needs a high level of passion to feel something. The steady love of a long-term relationship doesn't posses the same level of passion created in a new romantic relationship. That desire to "feel alive" can create vulnerability.

Addictive personalities are also more vulnerable. Living on life's terms is not something addicts do well. Instead they live for the next high. Falling in love is one of the most powerful highs of all. A desire to escape leaves the addict vulnerable as they search for their next high.

Personal Baggage

Past childhood sexual abuse can also create vulnerability. Abuse can leave a person feeling dirty and unworthy. If they enter the marriage with negative attitudes about sex or about themselves, their motivations in responding to their mate will likely be driven by a desire to do the right thing. The absence of natural desire leaves them operating out of will power, which eventually runs out. They can begin to feel resentful about their mate and become vulnerable to an affair.

If infidelity runs in your family, for example if one of your parents was unfaithful, you may be more vulnerable. The example set by parents seems to somehow be passed on to their children. As Richard Rohr says, "Pain that's not transformed will be transmitted,"4 and that childhood trauma leaves you vulnerable.

Intimacy impairment can also make someone more vulnerable. Intimacy is a willingness to be authentic both emotionally and physically. People who struggle with intimacy and attachment cringe when their mate moves toward them either emotionally or sexually. Some would rather take a beating than have to talk and be authentic. Others are repulsed at the thought of being sexual. For this person the ease of intimacy created in a new romantic relationship is much more appealing than the destabilizing intimacy of marriage.

In extramarital relationships vulnerability is almost always validated, but two-thirds of the time intimacy in marriage creates short-term instability. Romantic uncommitted relationships are validating because both people want what they don't have and they look for the most positive perspective on what the other shared to help justify their pursuit of that person. In marriage we are tied together by the marital knot and the desire of the pursuit no longer exists. Now we only see our differences and wonder why they can't get it and see it as we do. The ensuing dissatisfaction can make one vulnerable to someone they believe is more like them.

There are certainly more individual factors such as narcissism, life transitions, or the death of a parent, but at least this should give you the general idea.

None of the above listed items destine someone to be unfaithful, but they do increase vulnerability. Future safety in a marriage requires that both husband and wife be aware of their vulnerabilities and do what's necessary to decrease their risk. Denial of our personal vulnerability doesn't help monogamy.

Having a monogamous marriage requires both parties taking personal responsibility for doing whatever it takes to remain safe enough for their mate and the marriage.

For those who've already experienced infidelity in their marriage, a great place to start is our EMS Online course. It will help you walk through the pain as a couple while also helping you rediscover both your mate and, possibly, your marriage. I find that almost no one wants to return to the same old broken marriage.

Regardless of whether you use Affair Recovery as a resource, if you scored high on the vulnerability scale, please take it seriously. Don't allow yourself to place both your family and yourself at risk.

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  1. Glass, Shirley P. and Jean Coppock Staeheli. NOT "Just Friends": Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity. New York: Free Press, 2003. iBook.
  2. Levin, Robert & Amy. The Redbook Report: A Study of Female Sexuality. New York: Redbook Publishing Co, 1975. iBook.
  3. Glass, Shirley and Hara Estroff Marano. "Shattered Vows." Psychology Today. 01 July 1998: Webpage.
  4. Rohr, Richard. Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2008. Print.




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To late to get help?

Married 12 years. My hubby has had long term affair that's on off for 11 of those 12 years. Plus a couple emotional affairs in the mix too. He has been confront with hard evidence 6 years ago. And admits to it. Still admits to it every time caught up to this date. Says he doesn't wAnt divorce etc. Say he will go to counseling but we don't make time for it. Is it too late to do your online program? ( since it's been so many years of all this)

EMS Online

It is definitely not too late to take EMS Online. We have couples who participant in the course who just found out about the affair as well as those in your same situation. It is never too late to get help for yourself and as a couple. If you’d like more information, please call our main number 888-527-2367 and we will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

Is there any help for me

I've been married less than 2 years. Husband has already had an affair with a coworker . It may still be going on I don't know. I'm getting obsessed with investigation and I absolutely am finding it hard to forgive much less forget. He refuses to go to counseling and calms up and won't even talk or do anything to rebuild trust. I made a commitment and don't want to break my vows because of religious beliefs. I wish my heart would harden.
Can you help me?

Is there any help for me

I would highly recommend that you take the Harboring Hope class we offer for the betrayed spouse. It will help you find hope again, discover what you need to heal and realize you're not alone. Please feel free to call us at 888-527-2367 and we will be more than happy to talk to you.

Excellent Series

Thank you for this most helpful series on infidelity vulnerability. You taught so much truth. If we could all know these truths before instead of after! One thing I would ask, if I could. I would appreciate the speakers addressing the affair as an infatuation instead of being in love. It feels like a dagger at my heart when it's referred to as love. It's nothing of the sort. Please call it for what it is..... addiction, limerance, infatuation, selfish indulgence. But, please don't call it love. Thank you.

Intimacy Impairment


I hope you can further explain the reference to the "destabilizing" intimacy of marriage when compared to intimacy in a new relationship being more appealing. I'm confused as to why intimacy with one's spouse would be defined as "destabilizing", but the unfaithful spouse would feel more open to being intimate in every way with a different person, even if they don't know that other person very well. I'm perplexed as to why there wouldn't there be more fear of rejection with the new person - is this because the unfaithful spouse has taken on a different persona with the A.P. than with their spouse? Also, how does the excitement of the new relationship remove their fears of intimacy? This is very confusing to me and I hope that you can help me understand this better, since it hurts so much to experience as a betrayed spouse.

Thank you!

Intimacy Impairment

I asked my husband this question & he explained that for him it was exciting with someone else because, not only did the other person think he was wonderful & therefore validate him, it (the emotional affair) wasn't 'real' & he could take it as far as he wanted - he felt in control - in other words he could walk away when ever he wanted but still have the relative 'safety' of the marriage (by that he meant a roof over his head, meals, a place to sleep, home comforts as it were, albeit 'mundane' comforts) as the marriage itself (ie, our relarionship) wasn't 'safe' for him, or comfortable because it was 'too real' - marriage meant dealing with reality - a mortgage, bills, being a father, being a husband. He had (still does to some extent) huge problems in relating to women because of growing up with a narcissistic mother & the beliefs she forced upon him, such as women will never understand him, women will only break his heart, women are more trouble than they're worth, she herself is the only woman he needs in his life. I came along & thought marriage would solve everything - our marriage was a cementing if our relationship so she could no longer influence him & would have to step back, but she hated my guts because i took her 'little boy' away from her so she tried even harder. Marriage for my husband was an escape route from her but, not only did he resent me for being the one to 'rescue' him (he felt weak for not being able to do this for himself), but now he was shackled to another woman - not a replacement but an addition which threw him into an even bigger dilemma - who does he please without incurring the other's wrath? He then proceeded to have many 'dalliances' (what i now know to be emotional affairs) with many women he came into contact with over the years at work which has had a very corrosive effect in our almost 40yr marriage. The fact is, these 'dalliances' were the very thing he felt he missed out on when he was growing up in his teens & 20s because his mother either forbid them or actively sabbotaged them. They were alao his escape route from reality. Throw the fact that he has a speech impediment into the mix & you will probably understand, as i do, where he was coming from. Although we understand eachother a lot more, he doesnt really comprehend fully the pain I'm still left with because it wasn't worked through - he wants to move on (now he's retired) & can't understand why i can't do the same. I'm sorry i've rambled a little, but i wanted to explain some of the background to the answer i gave to your question which i can, if course, only answer from my & my husband's perspective but i hope it has been of some help.

What type of affair was it?

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