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Dealing with Temptation in Marriage

A few years ago, I was sitting in a conference room waiting for the presenter to come and speak to our department. He was a local politician who wanted to pitch our group about helping him do more for the community. For me, it was just another marketing meeting, an ordinary workday. I wasn’t expecting anything special, but that was before Mr. Politician walked in.

He was devastatingly handsome.

My heart skipped a beat at first sight. He was exactly my type. Tall, lean, graying at the temples, masculine jaw line, and sensual lips. When he began to speak, my sexual adrenaline shot to the roof, carried by his deep rich masculine voice.

Things just got worse from there.

He used his charismatic charm and articulate manner to win us over completely. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one falling under his spell, but in that moment, I couldn’t tell you who else was in the room. It felt like it was just the two of us.

My interest must have been obvious.

I knew that he knew. And that made it even more intriguing. It was as if we had a special channel we were communicating on — Hot FM 101 — because the sexual communication was definitely being sent and received. Looking back, I still can’t remember a word he said. I’m sure I laughed at the appropriate times and tried to look busy taking notes. But later, when I looked down at my note pad, it was filled with pictures of birds, flowers, and happy clouds moving across the sky.

At the end of the presentation…

He went around shaking hands with everyone in the room. I remember being nervous at his approach. I remember how firm and strong his grasp was. I remember he did the double-cover handshake, placing his left hand over mine, as our hands connected. I remember we made small talk for a moment, and then I moved on allowing others to meet him.

For the next few minutes, I went into an emotional tug-of-war. A part of me didn’t want to leave the room. I was desperately trying to think of an excuse to hang around. Another part of my mind was urging me to run. Eventually, I had to confront myself with a direct question: “If I hang around, what am I hoping to gain?”

Here are my brutally honest answers:

  • I was hoping to have my sense of attraction confirmed.
  • I was hoping to explore these feelings further.
  • I was hoping to find out that I was special/attractive/desirable.
  • I was hoping to hold on to these feelings.

Then another question occurred to me. If I accomplished all those things, what would they prove? What would they mean?

The answer? It would prove I still have it — whatever “it” is. Maybe it would validate me to know that I was able to attract the attention of a powerful man because that would mean I was a powerful woman… sexually… and in other ways.

Once I got honest with myself…

The fantasy started to fall apart — replaced by a deeper sense of unease. Why didn’t I already know that? Why did I still need proof? That thought humbled me a bit (even made me a little disappointed in myself). It turned out I hadn’t progressed as far as I thought I had. Troubled by my thoughts, I gathered up my things and left the conference room without a backward glance.

The experience stayed in my mind, though.

That night over dinner, I told my husband about it. As usual, he listened with an open mind, and at first, he didn’t say a word. Later, he asked me a really oddball question: “While you were considering hanging back, did you ever consider me?”

Honestly? The answer was… no. And I told my husband so. The truth is, I was too absorbed in the urgency of the feelings to consider anyone else. Then, my husband asked another really intriguing question: “If it wasn’t the thought of me or our marriage that stopped you from hanging around, then what was it?” I thought about it for a while, and I told him, “I think what stopped me was recognizing my own motives, and I hated the idea that I was waiting around to gain sexual validation from a stranger; it made me feel weak. And under no circumstances do I ever want to feel weak.”

The story didn’t end there.

I wish I could tell you that the intense attraction disappeared after that day, but it didn’t. For the next few days, I was like a teenager with a crush, rewinding the few minutes of meeting Mr. Politician over and over again and indulging in “what if” fantasies.

I remembered reading a book about the secret world of pick-up artists in which the author said that seduction didn’t happen in the moment… it happens in the mind… long after the moment has passed. In other words, it’s not what others do to you… but what you do yourself, and what you tell yourself that’s your downfall.

Knowing seduction is a mind game helped me stay alert. Rather than lazily indulging in the fantasies, I began to put a stop to them. At first, it was like killing cockroaches: the minute I killed one, another one showed up. But I prevailed. And eventually, after about three weeks, the intense feelings began to fade.

And just when I thought it was all clear…

Guess who shows up? That’s right, Mr. Temptation himself.

Don't trade glitter for gold

Remember that Mel Brooks movie where the king said, “I got it! I got it!” only to fall flat on his back and groan, “I don’t get it”? That was me. In that moment, all that emotional control and rational thinking flew out the window, and instantly, I was swamped in giddiness and adrenalin. One part of me (the primitive part) was thrilled to see him. Another part (the good Catholic girl part) instantly felt guilty for being thrilled to see him.

We exchanged greetings and shook hands. This time, I felt a tremor of nervousness in his handshake. My ego roared like a mountain lion in my ears… “He’s not immune! He wants you! Move in for the kill!”

I don’t know about other women, but there’s definitely a lioness somewhere in me, and in that moment, she came alive with a predatory urge to hunt, to conquer, to pursue. The idea that I could have him spiked my bloodstream like a drug.

And then, something interesting happened.

I thought of my husband!

His kind face and laughing eyes flashed in my mind. I remembered how he had listened to me talk about this very attraction just a few weeks ago, and how he asked me whether I had thought of him and how I had had to answer no. That image was like a bucket of cold water on hot coals, instantly cooling the furnace of my emotions. But when it comes to dealing with sexual temptation, I realized it’s not enough to cool them. I had to go one step further and neutralize them.

So I said to Mr. Temptation, “I talked to my group about some of your ideas, and we all agree; we’re not the right match to help you right now. I’m sorry we can’t offer you more help, but I do wish you all the best.” And there it was. That look of surprise and uncertainty as I firmly closed the emotional (and business) door in his face. I walked away knowing that if I glanced back, temptation could win.

Later that evening…

When I told my husband what happened, guess what he did? He laughed at me! “You are so intense about this,” he said. “As a man, I experience sexual attraction all the time. All I have to do is walk through the airport, the supermarket, the dry cleaners, Starbucks — it’s not that big a deal.” The key, he told me, is to NOT MAKE A STORY ABOUT IT… not say this girl or that girl means something or is more special than my woman, because they’re not. I just remind myself that to trade one moment of newness for a lifetime of intimacy would be like trading a pound of gold for an ounce of glitter — not a smart trade, and under no circumstances do I want to make a stupid trade.”

I cracked up at that. In typical guy psychology, everything is direct and to the point.

Later, I thought about it, and I wondered if maybe my husband was right. Maybe I made too big a deal about a perfectly natural attraction. And yet, I can’t help but feel that I may have dodged a bullet because to date, that experience remains my biggest temptation test, and I think I passed with flying colors.

No life experience is ever wasted.

For the past 12 years, I’ve been helping men, women, and couples from more than 65 countries learn how to overcome (and in some cases, reverse) the devastating effects brought on by extramarital affairs. But infidelity recovery is only half of the work I do. The other half is infidelity prevention. And in my opinion, that second part is far more important.

Why do I consider infidelity proofing so important?

Here’s why: If you’re in a monogamous relationship, it’s not a matter of IF you will have to deal with temptation; it’s a matter of when and how often. This is why I’m convinced that learning how to deal with temptation and how to neutralize those sexual emotions that are bound to flare up should be a required course for all monogamous couples.

Alas, it rarely happens.

Partly because many couples are in denial about the fact that human beings are NOT hardwired for monogamy, and that means monogamy is not a one-time choice; it’s a choice you must make everyday.

Mother nature

Here’s the beautiful truth:

Living in monogamy takes conscious effort. The human sex instincts are free. Mother Nature isn’t moral; she isn’t religious, and she didn’t invent marriage — we did. It requires intelligence to go against Mother Nature. The good news is that we’re intelligent enough to do it. The bad news is that we run into trouble when we underestimate the power of Mother Nature.

Here’s the deal:

Mother Nature’s goal is procreation, so she’s made it very difficult for us to resist. This is why so much of our sexual attraction and the mating instincts are outside our conscious control.

Don’t underestimate Mother Nature. She’s cold and calculating. She’s designed you so that when you see a potential mate, the sex instinct hijacks your brain, and spikes your bloodstream with chemicals that leave you acting stupid and feeling giddy. But at no time will she stop to ask: is this a good time for you? Is this mate appropriate?

Am I saying that we’re helpless in the face of sexual attraction? No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying we need to be aware of it. I’m saying we make mistakes when we underestimate it.

Am I saying that monogamy is wrong (bad)? No, that’s not what I’m saying. Personally, I believe that monogamy is a highly intelligent choice. It offers us some tremendous advantages. In fact, I believe the ability to override primitive drives is one of the privileges of being human. For example, smallpox is natural, but the vaccine isn’t. Walking is natural, but flying an airplane isn’t. So if you think about it, human beings are the ONLY animals with the ability to improve upon the ways of Nature.

Here’s what I am saying…

It’s a naive mistake to assume that love and monogamy are attached like Siamese twins. For example, a man can be very much in love with his woman at home and still have his sexual emotions triggered by a woman wearing a red dress on at work. A woman can be head over heels for her husband and still experience a rush of sexual excitement when a George Clooney look-alike asks her to dance at an out-of-town convention.

What does this all mean? It means that when dealing with temptation, awareness is your greatest asset.

This is where the rubber meets the road… because in my opinion, lack of awareness is the single biggest obstacle you face when dealing with temptation. Here’s why: since sexual emotions can be triggered without your consent, if you’re not aware of what’s happening, the chances increase that you could become swept away by them. And since I know that’s not what you want, here are some key insights to help you stay aware of what’s happening.

Let’s go over them now…