Sunday, July 7, 2013

When does intimacy between friends cross the line?

This blog was initially posted on

In a previous blog post , I explained that the best way to avoid having an affair is to be wary of people who don't care about the happiness of your marriage. Many people worry that the only solution to this problem is to avoid anyone of the opposite sex—but that's simply not true! Think about it: If you were to follow this advice to the extreme, half the world would be off-limits to every married person!
Men and women interact all the time despite the reality that a sexual attraction could spark between them. Well-dressed women sit at the boardroom table with dapper men, stylish female sales representatives drop in on male doctors during lunch breaks and well-built male physical trainers gently place their female clients' body parts in the proper positions on the elliptical machine. Moreover, men and women interact in work cubicles, university lab benches, art, acting and yoga studios throughout the world.
Friend Or Foe To The Marriage?
Can people who are potentially sexually attracted to each other form friendships and still be true to their marriage? I believe they can. It is possible to be open to spending time with, work, study or create side-by-side with someone of the opposite sex (if heterosexual) or of the same sex (if gay or lesbian). But as the friendship evolves, it's the responsibility of the married individual to pay attention to the nature of the relationship. Feeling comfortable around someone is a blessing. But if you or they are starting to feel very close emotionally, it may be a big warning sign. 
When you are with someone who could tempt you to compromise your commitment to your spouse, ask yourself one question: Is this new person a friend of my marriage? If he or she is a great buddy of yours, but doesn't care to know about, or interact with, your spouse, then that could spell trouble for your marriage. I discuss this in detail in my new book, The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity. 

Drawing The Line Between Friendship And Something More
If you're not sure about what kind of friend this is, it may take some soul searching on your part. There are instances when it's not clear whether someone has crossed a boundary and become a threat to the marriage. In those cases, you must seek the opinion of the one person who matters most: your spouse.
If your friend is someone of the opposite sex (or of the same sex if you are so attracted), here are some guidelines to help figure out whether that person should be considered a true friend or someone who will put your marriage at risk:
1. Your partner must feel comfortable around this person. He or she doesn't have to necessarily have to feel spiritually bonded to your friend, but there should be a sense of comfort about your spending time with him or her.
2. Keep family bonds. Your new friend must be willing to form a connection with your spouse and your family. Not just as a way to spend more time with you, but out of genuine interest in being a part of your complete life.
3. Hide no secrets. You should neither give nor receive any secret communications. Any and all contact with your friend should be in full knowledge of your partner. If you find yourself meeting with your friend by accident somewhere, you should immediately zip a text back home telling your partner that you ran into each other.
4. Speak no evil. Under no circumstances should your friendship include discussions about your mate’s faults in anything but the most general terms. Explaining a husband's mismatched shirt and tie as, "Scott doesn’t have a good eye for color" is acceptable; commenting that the lawn isn't mowed because "Scott is too lazy to get around to it," is not.
5. Hear no evil. Likewise, your friend should not use your relationship to talk about faults in his or her partner.
6. No special understandings. Never be in a position to say to your friend, "I'm telling you this because my partner wouldn't understand," or otherwise hinting that your friend appreciates you in ways that your spouse does not.
7. No pillow talk. Under no circumstances should you be talking about any sexual issues with your friend. It's fine to discuss the news of your favorite Karashian's romantic exploits, but any discussion about your personal sexual preferences or experiences is strictly off limits. Avoid situations that can stir up physical intimacy, such as candlelight dinners, sitting in saunas without spouses around or entering a dance marathon together. You may not feel any romantic inclination toward your friend before doing these things, but the right situation can breed new interest.
8. Minimize rituals. You should not develop habits of exclusively having alone time with your friend. It's critical that your family periodically be included in get-togethers. Be very cautious about regular rituals that you and your friend have. It's okay to say, "We always watch the Bristol Fourth of July parade together," but not, "Every morning, we go on a power walk together," unless you have your partner's OK.
9. Stay sober. You should never engage in excessive drinking or any illegal drug use with this friend, as sharing "sins" together develops false intimacy, and substance abuse lowers inhibitions.
10. Pay attention to your emotions. If you begin to feel a romantic attraction to the other person, or if this person begins to express one to you, you must immediately break off all relationships with that person.
I'm glad we live in a society where men and women can share time, thoughts and even friendships. But married men and women must be vigilant for risks of potential infidelity, and do everything in their power to be sure that any individual friend is also a friend of the marriage.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Affairs: The Relationship Between Infidelity & Addiction

Part 1: In the first of a 3-part series (originally published at

There's a similarity between cheaters and those who have an addiction.

After decades studying human behavior, I had a revelation that has since colored my perception of infidelity: Almost everything that happens to an addict happens to someone who has an affair.

Think about drug and alcohol abuse for a moment: Not only does the syndrome result in abuse of substances, but it includes hiding behaviors from others, lying about activities, investing time and money seeking a chemical high, and changing just about every aspect of one’s life. Moreover, most of these individuals have wished to break away from their substances of abuse, but doing so has proved very difficult. Doesn’t that sound an awful lot like what happens when someone has an affair?

So, we’re talking about "sex addiction," right?


Sex addiction is a specific kind of addiction, the existence of which is highly contested by researchers in psychiatry. When sex addiction is addressed as a problem, experts refer to individuals (mostly men) who crave sex—specifically sexual release—as in orgasm.

Now, there’s nothing wrong for wanting sex. After all, it’s encoded in DNA for sex to be pleasurable. I’d venture to guess that there was a time during virtually every teenage boy’s life when sex constantly consumed his thoughts.

But sex addiction is different than enjoying sex or wanting to experience a sexual liaison.  For sex addicts, it’s an obsession. Things that remind them of sexual release will initiate a cascade of intense yearning, and drive them to seek sexual release in whatever way they can. Often these people have learned how to skillfully entice other men or women into having sexual relations with them, even though their desire for sex is not driven by feelings of emotional connection or love. Often, sex addicts will hire prostitutes or pay for "happy ending" massages. Sometimes, in the absence of contact with other people, the sex addict will turn to pornography and masturbation as a way to find relief from these urges. Like other addicts, this person will spend an inordinate amount of time preoccupied with the thing that gives them a high—sex—while hiding the obsession from others.

If you’ve gone to a therapist after an affair and you’ve been told that you or your partner are addicted to sex, look carefully at the paragraph above. Does that describe either one of you?  In most cases of infidelity, the issue is not about sex addiction. Enjoying sex is normal. Feeling that there are others who may give you more sex, or better sex, than your spouse is, regrettably, also very common. It doesn't prove you’re addicted to sex, though. Ask yourself the following questions to help understand whether your problem is a sex addiction or something else.

* Even before the affair, I was obsessed with sex to the point where my desire interfered with being able to accomplish important things.

* I have a deep yearning for sex as one of the only ways I can feel "normal" and sometimes it doesn’t even matter whom it is with.

* I use sex as a way to escape my typical problems either at work or at home.

* I spend hours every week on the internet looking at images of sex or sexually provocative images of people I don’t know.

* I spend several hours a month on the internet engaging in sexual-related chatting or IMing with individuals I don’t know.

* I usually have to masturbate or have sex at least twice daily in order to concentrate on normal work or relationship requirements.

* I frequently pay for or exchange favors for sex with people I don’t feel an emotional connection to. When I complete the act, I feel temporarily satisfied, but the feeling quickly goes away and I feel ashamed or guilty.

* Anonymous sex appeals to me, and I feel more comfortable with it than sex with someone I know.

If you have answered "Yes" to four or more of the questions, then you may suffer from sex addiction and you’ll probably need more individualized help for your problem than this article can provide for you.  (Sex Addicts Anonymous is an excellent resource for getting help.)  Most of the people I have treated, however, even those who use pornography or visit prostitutes, answer no to most of these questions. They do not have a sexual addiction.

I began this article by looking at affairs and drawing parallels to addictions. Then I described a specific type of addiction, sex addiction, and concluded that most affairs do not happen for that reason. Confused? At this point, you might ask, "if people having affairs like people who have addiction, but they don’t have a sex addiction, what kind of addiction is it?"

Infidelity is a flame addiction. In my next article, I’ll describe the phenomenon of flame addiction, and discuss what you can do to help conquer it.

Friday, April 26, 2013

What's the Value of Saving a Marriage?

Therapists with pro-marriage bias can help couples ravaged by infidelity
In just about a month, my newest book, The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity, will be available for purchase. In advance of that event, I have found myself reflecting on how my biases affect the content of the book.
Consider a review of my book communicated to me by Barry McCarthy, one of the world’s most renowned sex and relationship experts. While he praises the book, Dr. McCarthy notes:  “Of the books in this value-ladened field, the Haltzman book is the most pro-marriage and takes a clear stance about avoiding affairs.” When I received an email with Dr. McCarthy’s comments, I was struck by the implication of the review: That my approach was, first, “value-ladened” (like the rest of my field), and that it was more “pro-marriage” than others. And beyond that, as if a rarity among books of this sort, I position myself as someone who opposes affairs.

The feedback led to some reflection on my part. Over the past ten years I have researched many aspects of marital relationships through my own clinical practice and my Internet based investigation.  Most researchers need to be held accountable to their own bias, and I am no different.

Looking at my own bias

Yes, I have bias. When research concludes that marriage is good for your health, or leads to greater levels of happiness or financial wealth, I am eager to embrace the results and share with my clients. If, on the other hand, a study suggests that people who are married are no better off then their single or divorced peers, I am quick to find fault with the study.  Am I convinced that marriage, on average, is good for you? Yes. Are there conditions? Of course. It is clear to me that living with an individual who engages in repeated affairs, or is addicted to substances, or engages in domestic violence may present a real threat to a spouse.  In cases like these, marriage is not a safe place, then there may be no option but to leave.

Some people feel strongly that the discovery of an affair between one partner and one affair mate should lead to the end of a marriage. I understand why they would feel that way. The emotional impact of affairs is huge. If you have been victim to an affair, then you know that no author can come close to finding the right words to reflect the vertigo-inducing loss of trust in your partner. I have heard my clients who have discovered an affair tell me, “everything I thought I knew was a lie.”  Can any expert ever realistically expect that two people go back to the marital bed together after such a betrayal?

Esther Perel, author of Erotic Intelligence writes in her blog: “In America, infidelity is described in terms of perpetrators and victims, damages and cost. We [Americans] are far more tolerant of divorce with all the dissolutions of the family structure than of transgression.” She has pointed out that many countries politicians and business leaders go unscathed when acts of infidelity are uncovered, but divorce can end a career.

Should therapists care about marriage?

Can, or should a doctor or therapist take a position in support of marriage? I believe they should.  When people come to me looking for help coming to grips with the devastation of an affair, they deserve to know all their options. I don’t have to remind them of the option of divorce, nor do I have to remind them of the option of “throw the bum out on his/her butt!”  Those are the first things that they probably thought of. But I can’t remain silent about other options as well, those of healing from an affair, improving communication, and keeping a family together.

When I think of the “pro-marriage” label I place myself in the shoes of clients who come to see me in my office. Years before scheduling an appointment with me, the upbeat couples had scheduled an appointment with a priest, rabbi, minister or justice of the peace because they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. I didn’t make the couple’s decision to marry each other; they did. They know, and I know, that an affair shakes a marriage to its core. However, as a practitioner, if I can help couples to see that there is a way to survive infidelity, I may ultimately take them closer to realizing their dreams of a lifetime together. It’s worth a try. It’s worth more than a try, it’s worth putting all my heart and soul into it. Because in this value laden field, I believe that marriages can be saved. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Boss Fires Worker Because She Is Too Attractive

Boss Fires Worker Because She Is Too Attractive 

(first published in April 10, 2013)

I recently caught wind of a story that fell off my radar screen during the Christmas holiday season last year: the Iowa State Supreme Court ruled that married dentist James Knight had the right to fire his dental assistant of 10 years, Melissa Nelson, because she was “irresistible.”

Ms. Nelson claimed she was shocked because she saw her boss as a father figure,  but the court documents indicate that for 18 months before she got fired, he had begun to make inappropriate comments at work, such as: “if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing.” One year later they began exchanging text messages, including a question about how frequently she had orgasms.

When Dr. Knight’s wife caught him texting her after hours, she insisted that he dismiss her from her job.  With his pastor by his side, the dentist called Ms. Nelson into the office and fired her. She sued for gender discrimination, but the court said that the dismissal was in Dr. Knight’s rights.

The judges ruled on the legal issues, and raised many hackles among labor lawyers, women’s rights advocates and journalists. But what about the marital issues; was Dr. Knight’s action right?

When an attractive other crosses your path

I believe it was.

Ideally the moment two people exchange rings on the altar, they would never again look at another person with lust or desire.  The problem is that the world is full of attractive people. And like it or not, the more time these people spend together, at work, at the gym, or in the classroom, they more attractive they become to each other.

There are many reasons why two persons not married to each other (or, as in the case of Ms. Nelson, one person) will find the other attractive. First, there’s no baggage: no kids to argue about; no mother-in-law to push your buttons. Second, there is bountiful possibility:  before a hook-up begins, the imagination runs amok with  wild romantic and sexual fantasies. Third, newness of any sort is exciting, and marriage is anything but new.

So what should a married man or woman do if he or she has a gnawing desire to get into the pants of a co-worker, gym partner or classmate. Yeah, sure, that person should do everything in his or her power to “man up” and resist the thought.  But if the resistance is too difficult, what next?

What next?

If someone is so attractive to you that you fear for your ability to stay faithful to your marriage, the first thing to do is to tell the spouse about the attraction before an affair begins. It won’t be an easy discussion, but the act of honest sharing will bond a wedded couple together against any possible affair mate.

Then what? Well, like it or not, that spouse must do everything in his or her power to avoid contact with the person of attraction. If he or she cannot control his or her impulse, then what choice does that married man or woman have? In the case of Dr. Knight, he had already crossed the line too many times; his infatuation was quickly moving in the direction of a disaster for the marriage and his co-worker.

In cases of potential workplace affairs, severing the connection involves making arrangements for a new position, a new shift, or a transfer to a new location. For non-work attractions, it might mean going to a different gym or registering for a different class.

In Dr. Knight’s case, it wouldn’t have made sense to closed down his practice and move; it still would have left Ms. Nelson out of work.
His decision wasn’t fair to his assistant; I get that. But it might have been the only thing that he could do to protect his relationship.  He did what he needed to do.

Now that it’s just him and his missus, I’d venture a guess that he’s got a lot of work to do on his marriage!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Mistress Day-February 13

I’ve been writing about marriage for quite some time now, and just about every year, about this time, I’m prompted to write some inspiring words about love and marriage, not just because it’s Valentine’s Day, but because second week of February is also national marriage week.

But this year I’m going to write about the evil twin sister of Valentine’s Day called “Mistress Day.”

People who are in romantic relationships want to celebrate their connection each other. While each pair may celebrate its unique day in the form of an anniversary, in Western culture only one day is devoted to in-love couples: Valentine’s Day.

But what if you don’t happen to be coupled with the person you’re involved with, and, worse, you are married to someone else. For those people, the day before Valentine’s Day, February 13, has become an unofficially recognized day for sharing time together. According to merchants, restaurant owners and innkeepers, there is a pre-valentine’s day bump in dating behavior by married individuals who wish to keep their extramarital relationship secret. This has unofficially earned the name “Mistress Day,” because, more often than not, it’s the married man arranging the date.

I suppose it makes sense for people who wish to formalize their bond with each other to seek some way to celebrate love. It’s certainly understandable why they would need to do it on a day other than February 14, that day, after all, is reserved for more socially sanctioned couples. It’s hard not to look at this day and pass judgment, as some have done with the nickname, “Valenswine’s Day.”

But I’ve studied infidelity long enough to know that people who engage in affairs are not happy with having to sneak around; they don’t love themselves for what they are doing; and many find themselves not knowing how to make sense out of the split allegiances. Many report that they still have strong love feeling for their spouses. While some individuals who cheat do so without regard to the feelings of their mate, many tell me the affair is something that they wish had never happened; these people want to find a way to meet their commitment to share a lifetime together with their spouse.

Infidelity can rip apart a marriage. If you’re in an affair, you need to choose between ending the marriage or finding a way to heal the marriage. The first step in rebuilding is breaking free of your affair mate. It may be harder than you ever imagined, because attraction to someone you’re cheating with can be like an addiction. However, by cutting off communications with that person, and putting energy back into your marriage, you can start to get more clearheaded about what you really want. What would happen if you showered your married mate with the attention and time you gave your affair mate? What would happen if you could begin to do exciting things together again, and really talk? Sure, there will be rough spots, because you’ve had lots of tough times, but the closeness you will gain with your mate will trump anything you can get in a extramarital fling.

So, if you’re tempted to take your mistress out this February 13, take your wife out instead! Every day should be devoted to the same thing that February 14 is: maintaining a commitment to improve your marriage and foster a deeper love with the person you pledged to be with for life.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sex and the Military Commander

Once you’ve become a general in the U.S. Military, it’s pretty hard to lose your job. You really have to mess up. And when the leaders in today’s armed forces are fired it’s not because of poor military strategy, adverse battle outcomes or poor morale. No, according to an AP article entitled “Sex is major reason military commanders are fired,” the number one reason that generals are booted off the force is—well, the answer is in the headline, isn’t it? The types of problematic sexual behavior include “Sodomy, adultery, pornography, and more.”

The article goes on to pose all kinds of theories about why this is so problematic now, and whether it reflects some great shift in the morals of our military leaders, or perhaps our country overall. Moreover, it quotes a number of military experts who all ponder the question of how, and why, this has happened over the last decade. They all want an answer to the question of how to stop this growing trend.

I have a question of my own. Do the reporters, military experts and officials of the armed forces really think this is a growing trend? I sure don’t. Okay, I’ll grant you that getting booted from military command for adultery may be new, but I believe that military commanders have been engaging in adultery since the first epaulet was ever pinned on a shoulder. The collapse of morals is not some new phenomenon that army psychologists must battle with; the only difference between then and now is that 1) now the generals are getting caught and 2) the military has taken action against them instead of ignoring it.

As the CIA scandal involving General Petraeus and his biographer demonstrates, the Internet is one of the reasons why keeping affairs private is so darned difficult. These days, most affairs leave an electronic trail that can be traced back to the first days the parties met, and ensnare military leaders in nets they cannot extricate themselves from. After that, what choice does the central command have but to boot them?

So, what response does the military have? According to the article, “ethics training,” is a big part of the solution. Maybe. But do you really believe that the military commanders don’t know the difference between right and wrong? I think a better part of the answer ought to be in marriage education. These guys (and most, if not all, of them are guys) have high-pressure jobs, are often away from home, and may be in a phase of their marriages when sex isn’t (how do I put this…) as forthcoming as it had been when they were dating. Teaching both the commanders and their spouses how to keep excitement alive in marriage, how to foster good connections and maintain a passionate bond—even when they are apart—will probably do as much for cutting down on affairs as a lecture about good versus bad.

Infidelity is a bad act that sometimes is engaged in by a good person. Helping individuals to learn how to enact appropriate boundaries in non-marital relationships, and helping couples learn how to work together to support each other in monogamy, is a good investment for any marriage, and for our country.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Good outweighs bad: infidelity outcomes

On my Facebook post from February 20, 2012, I wrote:

"Ultimately, I believe that people survive infidelity because they recognize that the unfaithful person is more complicated than the act he or she committed. I often hear the person who carried out an affair described as 'a good human being,' 'a great father/mother,' or 'very attentive spouse.' The one moniker that no longer applies, however, is 'faithful.' But short of that, there might be a long list of good qualities."

I got a response that got me thinking. Gail wrote: "It's WAY more complicated than that... And even acknowledging the good attributes of the person who has been unfaithful does not necessarily mean they should be trusted again."

That made me realize that when I share a thought midstream (as Facebook forces you to do) that it can be easily misinterpreted.

Here's a more complete (but not entirely complete) thought that got triggered by many journalists that interview me in the wake of some of the more noteworthy affairs among men in power and in the public eye: Why do their women stay with them. I remind the reporters that even though there are many such public examples there are many private examples also of people who choose to stay in the marriage even after their mate has cheated. This is true of many men and women.

So it begs the question, why stay? I think there are many things that keep someone with a partner who has cheated. It depends, in part, on the nature of the unfaithful act(s). Many of my clients have dealt with partners who have cheated on them with one person, and who reentered the marriage asking for forgiveness and commit themselves to staying away from the infidelity trap in the future. Other people, though, have been victimized over and over again by a partner who cheats, or a partner who has had continuous affairs over years. In these cases, the cheating partner's behavior may outweigh the factors that weigh in favor of the other spouse staying.

Not everyone does stay. And it takes a long time to build trust even if you do decide to try to work on the marriage. Sometimes it's just not possible to get that trust back. But when a person does continue in a marital relationship after an affair, it's usually a combination of factors: fear, shame, obligation, love for a partner, or the lack of other options. And, when all things are weighed against the affair itself, when someone decides to try to work things out, ultimately…[see the quote that begins this blog]