Published in Arizona Family News--October 2007
If I told you there were some simple things you could do to dramatically lower your risk of cancer or heart attack and that, in the process, you’d actually have more fun now, would you want to know what they were? Likewise, given the devastation that infidelity causes in a marriage, presumably you would be glad to know how to prevent it. And if that prescription is enjoyable, so much the better. So, then, what can you do to prevent an affair?
As a married man for ten years, I am writing this from the perspective of a man to women, and I’ll warn you in advance that you may not like some of what I’m going to tell you. But if you take me seriously, I’ll explain to you things that every man knows to be true. Just keep in mind that all I’m really doing is explaining how men think and behave. If you doubt me, go ahead and have your husband read this so he can tell you whether I’m correct or not. He’ll probably look at you in disbelief that you don’t already know this stuff about him. And remember, my goal here is to equip you with useful information and help you know what to do, not to criticize you. If it sounds like criticism, I’m sorry. My goal is healthy marriages, and helping you know how to have one. Some men may also misunderstand what I’m writing as some sort of excuse for them or justification for them. It’s not. Nothing a wife does or fails to do justifies adultery. Ever. There are simply things she can do to make it easier for him to obey his vows and this absolute rule.
First, understand that men are naturally predisposed to be promiscuous. Whereas, for a woman, infidelity entails a total rejection of the man she married; men do not think about it this way. Men like to have several different cars. Men like to have several different hobbies. Men like variety. And men like to hunt. And the problem is that the trifecta of wanting variety, liking to hunt, and having a much higher level of simply biological sexual desire means that men are not naturally monogamous. Marriage is an unnatural condition for most (not all) men. That’s the bad news. But marriage is such a blessing to men that loving them means wanting them to enjoy it rather than to lose its benefits because they give in to their unsavory nature.
So it’s important to realize just how much of a struggle it is for most men, even those who are firmly Christian and believe in marriage and love their wives, to keep themselves from thinking about and doing things you don’t want them to do. This basic problem is compounded by living in a culture where men are encouraged to express this nature in ways hostile to marital fidelity rather than in ways which affirm it. Add to this the idea that most men have spent their post-puberty lives hunting women…with their eyes,…with their imaginations,…and with the stories they tell each other. This means that learning to stop hunting other women after marriage is far more difficult to accomplish than it is to merely say the words, “I do promise to forsake all others.”
Why do I point out all this very unpleasant stuff? Because the Bible teaches us to be wise about the difficulties we face, and knowing the reality is the first step in becoming equipped to solve it. Being naïve about men is the single best way to find yourself on the receiving end of a conversation about how “this won’t ever happen…again.” So, understand what you’re up against and that it’s not a peculiar defect of your husband. Almost all men are like this, so wishing you had found a man not like this is a vain hope. Wanting men to be otherwise is really the same as wanting them to be…well…women.
This, by the way, is why most modern advice on relationships is useless because it starts from the premise that the man is defectively made and must be fixed rather than from the premise that he is properly made and must be understood. God built men as they are, and God designed wives to provide what they need. Starting from this recognition will get you much farther than the modern approach which tries to fix men by turning them into women. Of course, it goes without saying that men were also built to meet women’s needs, and have an equal, if not greater, obligation to understand and satisfy these.
So, what can you do? Well, first, understand that when your husband married you, he believed he would be satisfied with you for the rest of his life, and he hoped you would be satisfied with him. Second, understand that, over time, most all marriages move from a stage of supreme optimism and joy to something less blissful. In this process, men easily forget how little fun it was to be single, especially when television, magazines, and movies try to convince them that it was wonderful. Third, realize that the main thing which allows a man to cheat on a wife he loves (and yes, most cheaters still love their wives) even though he believes in marriage and even fears God (remember David?) is that he does not feel his wife is meeting his needs. It’s that simple. And, by the way, it’s usually the same for women. The difference is that when women don’t get their needs met, they usually withhold meeting their husband’s needs in an effort to get his attention. Unfortunately, this doesn’t so much provoke him to be better as encourage him to seek benefits elsewhere.
The key to preventing a man from cheating is to make him feel like his most important relational needs are being met by you. So, what are they? Most men need just two things from their wives, and they really like a third thing. What they need is sexual gratification and admiration, and what they really like is food. Hence, I have the simplest recipe for any wife willing to do a little relational cooking. Feed your man food he likes. Give him your body as often as he wants. And praise him like he’s a rock star and you’re his groupie. You know…like you used to do before.
A man with a happy stomach is very easy to get along with. Surely you’ve noticed. A man who has been pleased sexually is equally easy to get along with. Again, surely you’ve noticed. And then there’s that third component: admiration. This is the part most women simply don’t understand about men: their need for admiration is even stronger than their need for sex. Think about it for a moment. A man can buy a pornographic magazine for five dollars, and it will “provide” for him numerous times. But the same man will spend two hundred dollars at a strip club in one single night. Why? Because the stripper will listen to him, admire him, and treat him like he’s special. Strippers do not sell sex, they sell the fantasy of being admired by a beautiful woman; admired by her body as well as by her words. And he will gladly pay lots extra for that one vital difference.
Women whose husbands cheat with some cute young thing at the office deceive themselves by saying it is primarily because she is attractive. It’s not. It’s because she gives him admiration and encouragement. She validates him and praises him, and if he has not felt that same sense of honor from his wife, it is truly like showing a man in the desert the way to a river…the wrong river. By the way, this is why nagging a husband to do better is such a counterproductive choice. Yes, you believe in him and what he is capable of becoming, but that’s not what he hears. He hears you saying that he is not adequate and that he is not worthwhile, things which would be devastating if he said them to you, right? In short, you’ve taken away his river. You would never consider depriving your children of water to get them to listen to you, and here’s the truth: Men need admiration like children need water. They die very quickly without it.
So how do you keep a man from thinking about other women? Lower the incentive to cheat, and raise the cost of cheating. Fortunately, you can do both at one time by meeting his most important needs in such a generous way that you give him something monumentally worthwhile to lose by acting on any such thoughts. Make yourself the source of such bodily pleasure (food and sex) and such ego satisfaction that he never wants more from anyone else. And then, even if he does occasionally think about reverting to his promiscuous hunter nature, he can easily remind himself of just what he would be risking in the process. In short, make the gamble unthinkable. Make him feel so adored by you that he literally can’t stand the idea of letting you down or losing what you provide him. Be like the job he loves and cherishes rather than the one he wishes he could quit.
And, by the way, I think you’ll also find that he will become so eager to please you in return that these gifts you give him will avoid not just the cancer of unfaithfulness, but will also create the sort of marriage you both hoped you would have when you chose each other. Will this suggestion always work and save all marriages? No. But is it the single best thing you can do to save your own? Yes.
So there it is. The hard truth that most men won’t tell you and that most women refuse to accept. Men are simple. They need admiration, sex, and food. And the way sex and food are provided serves as a tangible form of admiration in addition to bringing him pleasure. Remember, asking him to forsake all others is perfectly decent, so long as in exchange you become the one who gives him the things he needs to receive. It was that exchange he both had in mind and strongly desired when he said, “I do.”
At this point, allow me to repeat some things I said much earlier, just to be sure there are no misunderstandings. First, nothing a wife does or fails to do can ever justify a man cheating on her. There are no exceptions to this rule. There are times when we talk about a justified homicide or a justified theft. There is simply no such thing as justified adultery. His vow before God and men to his wife is permanent and inflexible. Next, a wife can do all the things I mentioned and still have a husband cheat or suffer a bad marriage. There are many, perhaps more, duties husbands have as well. And nothing a wife can do will ever eliminate free will, immaturity, selfishness, or just plain stupidity completely. However, the regrets and anguish that always accompany being cheated on will be greatly diminished if you can honestly look back and know that you did everything you could have done to satisfy him. Third, I know that children make everything more difficult, and being stressed or tired rarely puts a wife in the mood to give these things, especially if she feels like her own needs aren’t being met. What you have to decide is whether you are willing to do more than you must in order to have a better marriage or whether you’re willing to accept the risks that come from doing only what you feel like doing. One of the great lies is that marriage is supposed to be easy and not take a lot of work. Parenting requires us to often do what we don’t feel like doing, and so does marriage.
Finally, I truly understand that much of what I’ve written runs the risk of shocking you or making you feel angry or condemned. That is not my goal. I want to see marriages thrive both because marriage matters but also because I want to see you enjoy having the marriage you hoped you would have when you made your vows. But precisely because I was concerned about this, I had several female and male friends read this first. Many of their suggestions were incorporated in this final draft, but the one most common thing they said was, “This is really helpful, and, even though I found myself wanting to disagree, I really couldn’t.” But seriously, don’t take it from me. Let your husband read this, and ask him whether he agrees. Because ultimately none of my advice nor the general truth of these ideas matters at all. What matters is your particular marriage. And I only hope that these ideas will be an eye-opener and a blessing to you in making your marriage outstanding. In the end, if all this does is get the two of you talking, then I’m satisfied with that outcome. That’ll help prevent disaster, too.