Amongst supposedly monogamous couples, 23% of men and 19% of women have cheated on their current partner, and while studies have long found that men are more likely to cheat than women, that gap has significantly narrowed over time; in fact, married women between the ages of 18 and 29 cheat at a slightly higher rate than men do.
Behind cold bits of data like this are the many real stories of infidelity and the heartache and destruction they create. If you’re not yet part of the cohort who’s experienced the fallout of cheating firsthand, you probably want to avoid joining its ranks. Well, my guest has a formula that explains what three factors add up to infidelity, and once you know it, you can reverse engineer things to prevent those factors from showing up in your relationship.
His name is Andrew G. Marshall and he’s a marriage therapist with over 30 years of counseling experience. Today on the show, Andrew first shares the breakdown in age and gender amongst the clients who come to see him in his practice and the two stages of life where he’s found infidelity to be the most common. Andrew shares his formula for what leads to infidelity, and as we unpack its elements, we discuss how quiet desperation is a major driver of cheating, why men who don’t have good male friends are more likely to have an affair, how to know if you’re forming an inappropriate friendship that could lead to infidelity, Andrew’s seven deadly sins of bad communication, and more. We also talk about the practices that healthy couples use to ward off infidelity, and the best question to ask yourself to start improving your relationship today.
Resources Related to the Episode
- AoM Article: The 10 Commandments of Clean Communication
- AoM Article: How to Communicate Your Needs in a Relationship
- AoM Article: Can Men and Women Just Be Friends?
- AoM Podcast #179: The Science of Cheating — How to Prevent and Deal With Infidelity
- AoM Podcast #550: How to Strengthen Your Marriage Against Divorce
- Sunday Firesides: Dependence to Independence
- Sunday Firesides: Give Them the Cream
Connect With Andrew G. Marshall
- Andrew’s website with links to his books and his podcast, The Meaningful Life
- Andrew on Twitter
- Andrew on Facebook
- Andrew on Substack
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Among supposedly monogamous couples, 23% of men and 19% of women have cheated on their current partner. And while studies have long found that men are more likely to cheat than women, that gap has significantly narrowed over time. In fact, married women between the ages of 18 and 29 cheat at a slightly higher rate than men do. Behind cold bits of data like this are the many real stories of infidelity, and the heartache and destruction they create. If you’re not yet part of the cohort who’s experienced the fallout of cheating firsthand, you probably want to avoid joining its ranks. Well, my guest has a formula that explains what three factors add up to infidelity. And once you know it, you can reverse engineer things to prevent those factors from showing up in your relationship. His name is Andrew G. Marshall. He’s a marriage therapist with over 30 years of counseling experience. Today on the show, Andrew first shares the breakdown in age and gender amongst the clients who come to see him in his practice and the two stages of life where he’s found infidelity to be the most common.
Andrew shares his formula for what leads to infidelity. And as we unpack its elements, we discuss how quiet desperation is a major driver of cheating, why men who don’t have good male friends are more likely to have an affair, how to know if you’re forming an inappropriate friendship that could lead to infidelity, Andrew’s seven deadly sins of bad communication, and more. We also talk about the practices that healthy couples use to ward off infidelity and the best question to ask yourself to start improving your relationship today. After the show’s over, check at our show notes at aom.is/infidelityformula.
Alright. Andrew G. Marshall, welcome to the show.
Andrew G. Marshall: It’s a great pleasure to be here.
Brett McKay: So you’re a marriage counselor and you’ve written several books on infidelity. I’m curious, based on your experience as a marriage counselor, how many of the couples that you work with come to you because they’re dealing with the fallout of an affair?
Andrew G. Marshall: Well, I’ve been doing this for 35 years and infidelity’s changed a lot. Basically, my clients used to fall into two categories. About 50% of them were coming because one partner had said, “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.” And then the other half came because of affairs. More recently, I’ve moved to Germany, and here in Berlin I’m getting a slightly different cross section of people. And I’m getting younger people, as well, ’cause it’s a much younger city than London, where I used to work. And often it’s about how to communicate better. So it’s almost like stages you go through. If you don’t actually resolve better communication, one person tends to fall out of love. And if you don’t solve the fact that one person has fallen out of love, generally the relationship becomes much, much more vulnerable to an affair.
Brett McKay: I’d like to flush that out more because I think you have this formula that you’ve developed about what leads to an affair. But before we get more into the specifics, what do you think is at the root of the prevalence of infidelity, in general?
Andrew G. Marshall: I think we take love for granted. We feel that when we fall in love it’s like sort of entering into a new building. And once you’re in that building, only if it burns down will you come out of it. But we sort of know very little about love. We don’t want to look at it too much because we’re frightened that we might spoil the magic. And with that special connection, the sacred connection almost, we think we’ve got all what we need. But we need to put the work in. We need skills. We need to know how to communicate effectively. And we need to know the things that kills love. And the first and most important one is that we put our work over everything else. This one’s a controversial one, but we put our children before our relationship. We think the children should come first, but no, the children sit in the success of the relationship. So you need to put the relationship first to really look after your children. And we sort of put our phones before our partners. How many times you’ve been in a restaurant and there’s a couple and they’re both sitting there looking at their phones.
So we don’t know the skills, and we sort of take love for granted. Oh, and on our phones, there’s a thousand and one ways of connecting with somebody else without our partner knowing. I mean, when I first started, if you wanted to have an affair, you used to have to phone people from phone boxes. You know, nobody had a personal telephone. If you wanted to write to them, you’d have to put a note through their door. Now, all the time you’re getting thousands of messages. It could be from your bank. It could be from your lover.
Brett McKay: Okay. So infidelity is very common because people just assume when they get married that that’s it. They’re done. They’ve done it. They’re set. Let’s talk about this. Like, are there differences between men and women when it comes to infidelity?
Andrew G. Marshall: Well, traditionally men are looking for sex and women are looking for love. And that’s a lot to do with how both men and women are actually socialized differently. But actually underneath it, we’re looking for the same thing. We want to feel alive. We want to feel connected to our partner.
Brett McKay: So there’s no difference. I mean, in your practice, was a male more likely to commit adultery, same as a woman?
Andrew G. Marshall: Well, when people try and ask, do more men cheat than women, you have to remember who are these people cheating with? The vast majority of men cheat with women.
So, and most of the time it’s another couple. So effectively there are two relationships in crisis. Yes, there are single women who will have a short term dalliance sometimes with a married man, but generally single women have actually realized that it’s a bit of a dead end. And so most of them are not that stupid. Generally people have affairs out of desperation. And generally you’ve got a desperate wife and a desperate husband. They just belong to different people.
Brett McKay: I thought that one of these in your books you highlight case studies from your practice. And, of course, you changed the names and everything. But I was surprised the number of affairs that happened between couple friends, right? So it’s like the husband had an affair with the best friend of his wife who’s also married.
Andrew G. Marshall:Yes, that’s incredibly common. And I think that what’s the difference between men and women that is actually really interesting is that women, when they’re feeling that their relationship is in a very dark place, generally are more likely to say, “I’ve had enough.” And we know from statistics, it’s far more women who initiate divorce than men. But men, because they are more likely to outsource their emotions to a woman, are likely to line up another woman before they leave. So if a man is going to end a relationship, unfortunately more times than not, there’s either a woman who actually he’s having an affair with or what sometimes people call overlap of relationships. So he has effectively left the relationship. He just hasn’t told his wife. So they tend to line somebody up, whereas women generally tend to say, “I’ve had enough. I’m going to have some time to reassess. See what I want before starting on another relationship.” So often when a woman ends a relationship, it’s sort of much tidier than the way the man ends it. And that generally makes for a better relationship the next time around.
Brett McKay: Well, let’s talk about this. Is there an age when people are more likely to have an affair?
Andrew G. Marshall: I think that… And ending up seeing a marriage counselor tend to be two particular phases. It’s when you have, lets see, very small children and when your children are teenagers. And why are those the two particularly dangerous times? When you’ve got a woman after she’s given birth, all of her hormones goes into bonding with the child. It generally takes about 18 months for that to return to normal. And what is the age difference most people have between their children? About two years. So almost as soon as their hormones are back together, in a normal kind of way, then they’ve got the second child. And during this time, women are available for sex, but they’re not going to feel spontaneously horny. They’ve actually got to be wooed and persuaded to make love.
At this point, a lot of men feel that their wives are not interested in them anymore. It’s not that they’re not interested, they just don’t know how to recruit them. So two children under five is an incredibly difficult time for people’s sex lives, and that can lead to an affair. And the next time is when the children are teenagers. Because it sort of reminds the parents, unconsciously, of the fact that they’re getting old. They’re feeling less vibrant. They’re heading towards midlife and the changes that come there. And instead of actually dealing with those, instead of answering the difficult questions like, “Who am I? What do I want to do with the rest of my life?” They answer an easy question. And an easy question is, “Do I fancy the woman sitting next to me at work?” And they tend to have affairs at that point, as well.
Brett McKay: So the teenage years, you’re going to be probably late 40s, early 50s, likely?
Andrew G. Marshall: Yeah. That’s the sweet spot for an affair. Or a sweet spot for a really serious affair.
Brett McKay: Okay. So there’s two points in your life saying where you’re most susceptible to an affair. Right after the kids are born. And then, when they become teenagers. Let’s talk about this, in your work and with dealing with people who are dealing with affairs. You’ve developed this formula for what caused an affair. What is that formula?
Andrew G. Marshall: It’s problem plus poor communication plus temptation equals an affair. And the problem is often an individual problem. Sometimes it might be something that you’re very aware of like you’ve had a knock in your confidence from losing a job. It could be something that actually you’re unconscious of. And is actually beginning to sort of build up, unknown to you. So for example, your father left when you were eight or nine years old. And when your own children get to that age it unconsciously brings back all of those kinds of issues of abandonment and pain. And rather than actually being aware of those feelings coming up and actually thinking about doing something about them, that unconsciously you are going to do exactly what your father did. So the problems can be personal and they can be conscious and unconscious. Could also be relationship problems. It could be that there are unresolved issues in the couple, they can’t talk about money, for example. I mean, that it can be a shared problem, but often it’s an individual problem. Or in fact, actually, both people have problems that aren’t actually being dealt with, and they’re turning up in nasty fights between the two of them.
If you have a problem and you and your partner can talk about it, then it’s going to be resolved. If for example, the problem is you have a dull or non-existent sex life, if you had good communication you could actually say, “You know what, honey. I’m a little unhappy about our sex life. How are you feeling about it? Would you like it to be better?” And then you could sort of possibly do something about it. But if you can’t communicate, all of this problems go underground. And then you’ve just got to have a little bit of temptation coming along and you’ve got an affair.
Brett McKay: In your practice, what have been the most common problems at the root of most affairs?
Andrew G. Marshall: Well, I think you’re going to like this answer because I know you’re a Thoreau fan. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” And the mass of women lead lives of quiet desperation. And what is often called resignation is confirmed desperation. So you know, what is this quiet desperation? We sort of don’t… We feel that we’re not being seen. We feel that we’re not attractive. We sometimes actually feel that we’re not truly alive. We might be angry or we feel controlled. You know, these are the sort of surface kind of things, but somehow deep inside us, there’s a feeling of deadness. And instead of actually thinking, why am I feeling dead? And the answers might be spiritual, it might be professional, it might be all sorts of things. But we look for a connection, and the sort of… Our culture says the answer is love. You know, listen to all the popular songs. Love will build a bridge. Love is the answer. Love will save the day. You know, it’s easy. You find love and all problems magically melt away. So we’ve got quiet desperation, a feeling of deadness, wanting connection. And our society is pushing love as the answer.
Brett McKay: And how do you figure… How does a couple figure that out? Let’s say they’re… Someone’s recognizing I’m on the path to… I’m looking, I’m feeling this quiet desperation and I wanna maybe spice things up. Or maybe they’re in the throes of it and they’re trying to figure out what happened. How do you figure that out, especially when the source of the problem could be hidden or buried?
Andrew G. Marshall: I think you need to look at what have been the most difficult parts of your life. Go back. What sort of relationship did your parents have? What sort of relationships did you have with your parents? What was your very first ever memory? Because sometimes those actually holds the key to what’s going to be issues for us further on. If your first memory is actually of being abandoned, that might actually give you some clues about what’s going on. I think you have to think possibly about getting therapy, talking to somebody. Talk to your friends as well about what they discovered about their marriages. I think this is the big problem that men have. We’re not socialized to ask for help. We don’t actually talk to our friends about anything beyond football and sending jokes. And we might talk about politics, a little bit. But you don’t actually talk openly and honestly about your relationship. Women talk about these things all the time. They learn from each other. The number of women who contact me for help versus the number of men that contact me for help, it’s like 80% of people who speak to me are women only 20% are men. So get more friends.
I think that’s always my advice to men, get more friends. Start talking to your friends in a different kind of way. I had a male client who was going through a sort of midlife crisis. And he was going back to, I think it was his 20th, 25th anniversary of college breaking up. And I said, “At this reunion, will you tell your friends from college days that you’re actually having… You’ve got a therapist and you’re looking into, why have I got a life of quiet desperation?” And he said, “Hmm. That’s an interesting idea. Maybe I will.” And do you know what happened?
Brett McKay: What happened?
Andrew G. Marshall: Well, every last one of his friends, bar one, were also in therapy, as well. The one person who wasn’t in therapy, they all agreed, should have been in therapy. But it takes one person to say it and then suddenly everybody’s saying it.
Brett McKay: Yeah. This idea about male friendship. I thought that was interesting. You made this… You’ve noted in your practice, you’ve made an observation that men who don’t have a solid group of male friends are more likely to have an affair than men who have good male friendships. And that’s just because they’ve got someone to talk to?
Andrew G. Marshall: Yeah, because if you start talking to somebody about emotions, you get closer to them. If it’s your male buddy, that is absolutely wonderful. If it’s the woman sitting next to you at work, that can be incredibly dangerous. Because, I’ve said this before, and I think it’s worth saying again, “Men outsource their emotional welfare to women.” When they’re young, it’s their mother, then it’s their girlfriend, then it’s their wife. Now, what do you do if you’ve got problems with your wife?
Brett McKay: Right. And then you find an office wife. It’s basically a coworker and you… No. First it’s just sort of like you keep it professional. But then you’re like, well, you come in and you’re looking like dejected and she’s like, “What’s going on?” It’s like, “Well…,” and then you start unloading the problems and that’s when things can go awry.
Andrew G. Marshall: Yep. Or she’s unloading her problems and you can become the knight in shining armor and rescue her from it. And then you immediately feel brilliant so that you are the savior. It’s the same dynamic. It’s just the opposite way around.
Brett McKay: Well, and similar to this idea of… And the importance of having male friendships so you can talk to your… If you’re having marital problems, you can talk to them instead of confiding into a woman who could be potentially an affair partner. You have this idea about inappropriate friendships. And this has become… This is something that’s harder in this day and age. And if you ask this question 150 years ago, most people, they had a homo-social relationships, right? Just men were friends with men, women were friends… There’s like two separate domains. But now, men and women can be friends, but sometimes…
Andrew G. Marshall: Which is wonderful.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Which is great. But sometimes those friendship can become inappropriate. How do you define an inappropriate friendship?
Andrew G. Marshall: Well, an inappropriate friendship is one that you can’t actually have in the full daylight. If you’re off and you’re going to watch rugby together, that’s very English. Example, if you’re going off to watch sport together, that’s perfectly acceptable. And if anybody else wanted to come along, that would be fine. The minute you actually have to start lying about where you’ve been, you’ve been to lunch together for the 15th time at work with another woman, the minutes that nobody can actually look in on this event, the minute you are actually crossing over between, ” I saw X today and we had lunch together and we talked about Y,” if you can’t have that conversation, you are actually lying to yourself. Most people who end up having affairs are lying to themselves about actually how serious it’s getting. They sort of tell themselves things like, “Oh, we’re just friends.” But they actually know that it’s more than that. Once you’re actually lying about what you’re doing, you are in a danger zone. You are having an inappropriate friendship. If you can’t invite them home to the family barbecue, they’re inappropriate friends.
Brett McKay: We’re going to take a quick break for a word from our sponsors. And now back to the show. Okay. So there’s always a problem at the start of an affair. And usually it’s this quiet desperation. People just don’t feel alive. They don’t feel appreciated. They don’t feel loved. And because they can’t communicate with their spouse, they’ll go to someone else. And for men, that’s usually another woman because they don’t have good male friendships or they don’t feel like they can talk about their problems with their buds. But let’s talk about this communication aspect between a couple. What is the communication problem? Is it like they’re just not talking at all or is it they just kind of snip at each other? What is stopping people typically from talking about these problems?
Andrew G. Marshall: Okay. I’ve got seven deadly sins of bad communication. So count up how many of these you do, Brett. “I’m right and you’re wrong.” I mean, I can’t tell you how many hours couples can argue this one about. And I’ve just reached the point where I was saying, we’re just having another game of I’m right and you’re wrong. You’re never ever going to win this. So let’s stop. Number two, trying to control your partner. It’s not trying to get them to do this or that, but it’s the sort of, “I’ll be okay if you do X, Y, Z. So if you give me more sex, I’ll be okay, or if you don’t keep on and on and about that problem, I’ll be okay.” You’re trying to get your partner to behave in a particular way. The next one, and this is one that is less likely to happen but from men than from women, this is called unbridled self-expression. So what do I mean by that? I had a female client who said to me, “But I should be able to tell my husband how I feel.” And of course, she should be able to, but not at any time in the same way that it’s like men saying, “Well, we’re married I have the right to have sexual intercourse.”
Women think they have the right to unload their feelings, but you have to ask for sex. You have to check that your partner is in the right mood. You have to woo them to get them into the right mood. And with unbridled self-expression, you’re just dumping your feelings. You’re not saying, “Can we talk? Is this a good time?” It’s just bleh. Obviously, we’ve got the opposite one, which is the one that men tend to do a lot, which is called shutting down. And this might be leaving the room. It might be mentally switching off. It might be stonewalling, but you are shutting down the communication. This is a really horrible one, but people retaliate. You did this and therefore I’m going to do that. One I see a lot is judging and then you analyze your partner and tell them what they’re doing wrong. And I promise you telling your partner what they’re doing wrong is not going to get them to say, “Oh yes, you’re right.” They tend to get defensive and then you go on the attack and you can see we’re back into I’m right and you’re wrong.
And the final one of the seven deadly sins is making assumptions. My wife doesn’t want to have sex with me because she doesn’t love me anymore. Well, it might be that you’re asking for it in all the wrong way that’s turning her off. It’s not that she doesn’t want to, it’s just you’re making it incredibly difficult for her to say yes, but that’s an assumption. I’m always getting my clients to… I say, “Stop making assumptions. Turn that into a question.” And I’ll much rather it was an open curious question like, “Why don’t we make love anymore?” But if it has to be, “Do you still fancy me?” That’s much better than the problem is you don’t fancy me.
Brett McKay: And where do these poor communication habits come from? Is this from childhood? Like this is where you grew up, communicating like this and you just bring it to your relationship, your marriage?
Andrew G. Marshall: Well, I think we’ve got several problems. First and foremost, most of our parents were not particularly good at communicating. I came from a family where nothing was ever spoken about. What a surprise I became a marital therapist. Other people have parents that argue like cat and dog or even worse, they argued like cat and dog and then one of them left. So there was actually, they never saw good communication. We’re not taught how to do it at school either. So how are we going to get it? Is it going to be beamed down from space to us?
Brett McKay: No. Yeah. Well, you have to… It’s hard. You have to learn how to do it. And it’s like any other skill.
Andrew G. Marshall: I mean, it is really hard. Somebody tells you that they’re upset and we live in a culture that says, if your partner tells you they’re upset, it’s your job to put it right. But no, you’re not responsible for rescuing your partner. What you are responsible for, and if you can just do this, your life will be transformed is you’ve just got to listen to them. It’s as simple as that. You can reflect back. So you’re saying you’re unhappy because the children are impossible, for example. Tell me more. Tell me more are the three most loving words in the English language, because it’s very easy to say I love you, but when your partner is unhappy and you’re saying, tell me more about it, that’s a really difficult thing to do. Ask them curious questions. “Why do you think our children are so difficult at the moment? What is it? What’s going on, do you think?” You don’t have to come up with a solution, but unfortunately, and I think men are particularly prone to do this, if their wives tell them about a problem, they immediately feel responsible.
And they either try and cut the problem down to size and minimize it, and I promise you that will not be very popular, or they will just throw their hands up and think, “Oh, I can’t do anything,” and they’ll shut down. But all you have to do is listen.
Brett McKay: Well, yeah, I think that’s what… As you said, a lot of people, the problems that can lead to an affair, they’re multifaceted, but at the root of it, it’s probably like people just want to feel appreciated and noticed and they’re not getting that in their marriage and so they go somewhere else. They think they’re gonna get it there. And I think I was surprised the number of instances where, yeah, a man left because he felt like he wasn’t getting the sex he wanted in the marriage. But what he talked about was like, “Well, I just feel like I get so much attention from the other woman.” People just want to feel appreciated and noticed.
Andrew G. Marshall: Yeah, and one of the incredibly sad things is often how much attention is going to the children and how little attention people give to their partner. They become co-parents rather than lovers. And that is a recipe for disaster.
Brett McKay: Okay, so there’s a problem. People can’t talk about the problem and that the problem just festers and then along comes the temptation. What are the typical temptations that you’ve seen in your practice?
Andrew G. Marshall: Well, we’ve covered quite a few of them. Somebody tells you you’re wonderful and if at home you’re either being ignored or you’re being told that you are messy and inconsiderate and everything else like that sort of, all the odd desire just sparks up. If you feel that your life is a complete and utter mess, the hardest thing to solve is your own problem. Somebody else’s problems, a piece of cake. So there’s somebody who’s crying at work and the easiest thing to do is to listen to them and feel empowered. And that is incredibly tempting. The alcohol is another temptation, have alcohol and your judgment goes out of the window. Another thing that’s been thrown into the mix over the last 35 years is the amount of street drugs, social drugs that are used, cocaine and various other things. A lot of my clients have problems because they’re going out, they’re drinking a huge amount, they’re taking cocaine as well. They’re coming home at 4 o’clock in the morning, they forget my golden rule. “Nothing good happens after 3 o’clock in the morning. Go home.” Temptation is all around when you get into that situation.
Brett McKay: And how have smartphones changed the game?
Andrew G. Marshall: Oh, [chuckle] well, number one, you’ve got 1001 dating apps. There are millions of women waiting to meet you. They sometimes don’t even wait for you to contact them. There’s women from Russia contacting you to tell you how wonderful you are. That smartphones, on one level, they’ve revolutionized the help and support after infidelity. It’s much easier to get hold of, support and information that, we are powering up in the marital therapy world. But the cheating world is being super powered as well.
Brett McKay: Like what is the role… I guess one thing that’s happened in the past 10 years is like these OnlyFans, where it’s like you can sign up and follow these people because they talk to you, but then they do provocative things. Has that been an issue you’ve seen in your clients?
Andrew G. Marshall: I haven’t had people with Just Fans, but there… I get a lot of people who’ve been to massage parlors and their partners have found out and there’s what’s called a happy ending. And the prostitution that’s very big as well. It’s gone from being 35 years ago, if somebody came to me and they were seeing prostitutes, I would be quite surprised. Now, I just take a deep breath. So I would say that generally infidelity is getting more toxic.
Brett McKay: Well, and another interesting thing you pointed about the smartphones is that it makes having an affair easier, right? Because there’s… You can get access to temptations, it’s all around you 24/7, but then it also makes it easier to discover the affair because you leave behind an electronic paper trail.
Andrew G. Marshall: Yeah. And your wife at the moment might be not at all tech savvy, but I promise you that the FBI has got nothing on a wife who thinks their partner has had an affair. She will find every last message. She will read every last message. When she’s in a dark place, she will reread those. Those words that you casually said, “You’re the most wonderful person in the world” because you thought, well this might help me facilitate a bit of nooky that is going to be brought back as evidence in the cold, hard light of day. I promise you, you will be discovered. Your credit card is leaving messages, your phone, they know where you are every step of the way. Everything will be found out. It is impossible to have an affair without being found out. I have people who discovered 20 years later through various means, and it’s just as devastating if it happened 20 years ago than if it happened 20 minutes ago. You will be found out.
Brett McKay: Okay. So when it comes to an affair, this formula again, it’s problem plus poor communication plus temptation equals fair. So that can, like… What I like about that formula, it gives you different ways you can tackle the issue or to prevent an affair in the first place. One, if there’s a problem, you gotta learn how to talk about it, and focus on improving your communication skills.
Andrew G. Marshall: And I think this is really important for men. You’ve actually got to recognize and own up to it. We live in a world where we are lone wolves. We’ve got to solve it ourselves. And you don’t, you can ask for help. If you are feeling that quiet desperation, look inside and try and find out what it’s about. And if you’re not used to looking inside, get some training on how to look inside, you will find a thousand and… And if therapy isn’t for you, there’ll be 1001 podcasts that will actually get you thinking about your relationship. And as you hear other people talking about their stuff, it will certainly make you begin to think about, “Hmm, yes, that sounds familiar, and will give you a path to start going down.”
Brett McKay: And then the other part of the temptation part, if you are going through a rough patch in your relationship, like be aware of that, and maybe reduce temptations in your life, would that be something to do?
Andrew G. Marshall: Yes. I mean, look at your alcohol consumption for example. If you are in a dark place, don’t go down to slippery places because you will slide straight into a brick wall.
Brett McKay: I’m curious, so we’ve been talking about when marriages go wrong. Let’s talk about best practices in healthy marriages. What are the… What do you see in your experience that help keep the temptation of infidelity at bay? Like what do healthy marriages look like?
Andrew G. Marshall: Well, if you’re in a healthy marriage, rather than saying, my problems are you need to do this, that and the other, the sort of you, you, you, you can almost imagine me pointing my finger. You ask this question and this is the most beautiful question you’re probably gonna hear today. What can I do differently? Because ultimately the only person we can change is ourself. So what could I do differently is a really interesting question because generally if I ask people in unhealthy marriages what they could do differently, they sort of are shocked and they shut up. If I ask them, what could your partner do differently? I have to shut them up because they’re going to go on for the next 40 minutes. We’ve got a huge list of what our partner could do differently, a very small one of what we could do differently.
And then this is probably the core of good communication and I have a saying, and if most of my clients end up being drilled on this one, so I’ll give this one to you for free. I can ask, you can say no and we can communicate. And the problem is a lot of people were never trained to actually ask. They will hint or they will hope. You know, if I do lots of nice things to you, you will somehow guess what it is I want. But to say, “Can we have an early night tonight and it’s just going to be you and I and we’re gonna have a bath and we’re going to relax and we’re gonna have time together.” That can be really hard to ask for because we’re terrified of getting a no. So can you ask, can you say no? And this is quite surprising. A lot of people find it really difficult to say no to their partner.
If they want something, you sort of feel you’ve got to give it to them. And it’s lovely to say yes to your partner, but if you’re saying yes and it’s actually costing you every time. I had a couple where the wife wanted to go to her sister’s every Christmas Eve and the husband wanted to stay home and just have a Christmas eve together, particularly as they would be seeing his sister-in-law and all her family the next day on Christmas day as well when they’ll be coming to their house. And every year it hurt him a little bit more, but he couldn’t actually say no. Guess when this all came out, after he’d had the affair. So can you say no and can you negotiate? Couples don’t know how to negotiate often. They’re actually trying to fight all the time for who is right and who is wrong. Can you negotiate? Can you do a trade, can you find a compromise?
Once again, these are skills we don’t know, but if you’re in a well-functioning marriage, you can ask, your partner can say no, and then you can negotiate. So back to my first request of can we have a night where we’re gonna have a nice early night and a bath and spend time together, you can say, actually no, I’m really tired, but let’s put it in the diary and do it tomorrow. And we’ve got a good piece of communication.
Brett McKay: So it sounds like just learning how to be an adult, basically. Like treat, engage with each other as an adult. ‘Cause I think oftentimes people kind of are in kid mode when they sort of wanting to ask what they want, they just kind of expect people to know what they want. Sort of like a parent knew what you needed, right?
Andrew G. Marshall: Yeah. One of the things that people have discovered post COVID and they’ve actually seen their partner in Zoom meetings, they’ve actually seen, they’re really nice to people at work. They’re just horrible. They bring their worst person back home. Because somebody loves us, they’ve gotta put up with all of our bad behavior and our poor communication and we are tired and we don’t put so much effort into it. So yeah, you’ve gotta show up with your best part of you. Of course, not all the time, but if your partner gets the worst of you, it’s not going to make for a good marriage in the long term.
Brett McKay: Well Andrew, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about your work?
Andrew G. Marshall: Right, I have a podcast which is called The Meaningful Life with Andrew G. Marshall, which is all about trying to understand what makes life meaningful. And for a lot of people, that’s relationships. And so, we cover relationships a huge amount, but we also cover work and friendship and all sorts of other things. But often the skills for one area are transferable to another area. I have a website, which is www.andrewgmarshall.com, where you’ll find details of my books. And on this one we’ve got, ‘Why Did I Cheat?’ This is for people who’ve been unfaithful. ‘How Can I Ever Trust You Again,’ this is if your partner has cheated. If you’ve got a really serious long term problem, ‘I Can’t Get Over My Partner’s Affair.’ There’s another book that you’ll find interesting, ‘I love you, But I’m Not In Love With You.’ I’m also on Twitter and Facebook. And do you know Substack?
Brett McKay: Yes.
Andrew G. Marshall: I have a Substack account that one’s called The Meaningful Life. And join that and you get a fortnightly newsletter.
Brett McKay: Alright. Well, Andrew G. Marshall, thanks for this time. It’s been a pleasure.
Andrew G. Marshall: It has been a pleasure for me as well, Brett.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Andrew G. Marshall. He’s a marriage therapist who’s written several books about marriage and relationships and infidelity, including the book. ‘Why Did I Cheat?’ They’re all available on amazon.com. You can find more information about his work at his website, andrewgmarshall.com. Also, check out his podcast, The Meaningful Life with Andrew G. Marshall. And check out our show notes at aom.is/infidelityformula, where you’ll find links to resources when you delve deeper into this topic.
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