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.

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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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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!

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