Making marriage work - Building trust, strengthening relationships

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Al -- Affairs, marital distrust and partner fall-outs are not limited to TV dramas, but are an alarming reality that has increased during the past three years at Maxwell, according to Airmen and Family Readiness Center consultant Marie Hixon.

"I have seen an increase in infidelity over the last three years. I've seen it the whole time I've been here, but there seems to have been more of it recently," she said.

The A&FRC found an increase in marriage partners involved in both physical and emotional infidelity.

Physical infidelity, the most common among discontented marriages, is often precluded by emotional infidelity.

"When you share the intimate details of what you're thinking or feeling with someone other than your marriage partner, that's emotional infidelity," said Hixon. "You're sharing your dreams, you're sharing your fears, the things they used to share with their marriage partner when they first began their relationship."

When a marriage is not meeting the partner's needs for emotional expression or physical satisfaction, partners will seek someone else outside their marriage to listen and meet their needs. Often times this is someone they work with or spend a lot of time with on a daily basis.

To prevent infidelity, Hixon advises married couples to remember that they are best friends and the qualities that drew them to the relationship in the first place, and continue to pursue a nurturing and sacrificial relationship.

"Pursue the love life," said Hixon. "Men are mostly physical and visual. The sex life and physical touch seem to be the most important to men and words of affirmation. Encourage him, respect him, treat him the best that you can like he's your best friend. For women, listen to them. Don't belittle what they think or feel, because someone is out there ready to comfort them and pull them further from their mate."

Social media has been a large contributing factor to the trend of infidelity, she said, as marriage partners reconnect with high school relationships through such sites as Facebook or Twitter.
Many who have discovered their partner's infidelity will meet with Hixon one-on-one either after a group, relationship session or by office walk-ins. Usually, those meeting with her have dealt with the shock of their partner's infidelity for 24-48 hours and realize they must talk with someone.

"First, I'll listen," said Hixon. "I think first what they want to do is get it off their chest and for me to listen. At that point, they're not necessarily looking for advice. They just need to vent."

Hixon recommends journaling as a way to express how the partner feels as a way to handle the hurt.

"Journaling is a great way to get the hurt out, because they can see it in writing in front of them," Hixon explains. "It's tangible to go back and know what words to use when they confront their mate."

Often, those confronted with partner infidelity see themselves as the failure if their spouse decides to step out of the marriage. They lose their self-confidence and identity, and question what they could have done to prevent their spouse from leaving.

"That's the hardest part, trying to convince people that their partner made a decision and it may not have had anything to do with what they have done, but rather the partner's choices," Hixon said. "They couldn't have been a better mother or a better father or husband or wife. That wouldn't have changed it."

In cases of infidelity, the partner who has cheated will either decide to pursue the other relationship or want to heal their marriage.

The best hope a relationship has for healing are those who practice a faith of forgiveness, according to Hixon.

"A lot of times when a couple has a faith that teaches about forgiveness and they exercise that faith, they are both willing to work together and the other person is truly remorseful, that marriage can continue," she said. "Usually, if they don't have a faith, it seems much harder to face reconciliation."

If both partners want healing, the partner who has cheated must stop all communication with the person outside the marriage, as innocent as the communication may seem. Those who have cheated must also realize their marriage partner will naturally be more suspicious of their actions now that their trust has been broken. Trust issues may last for the rest of their lives, said Hixon.

Classes at the Airman and Family Readiness Center provide couples with tools for strengthening their marriages in order to prevent infidelity. Call 953-2353 for information.