In December 1975, Paul Simon released a song that he had written after the divorce of his first wife, Peggy Harper. It was simple in composition with only a drum riff playing in the background, but strong vocals and a catchy chorus helped it to quickly become a gold record (denoting one million in sales). Sung as the retelling of a conversation between a married man and his mistress, the listener can imagine the couple lying in bed, discussing what the man is going to do. The man is uneasy, torn between two women. But the mistress, hiding around the dark corners of seduction and subtlety, insists he can be happy again if he will only take her advice, for there must be “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.”
Paul Simon may be right. (There may, indeed, be fifty ways to leave your lover.) But there are also many ways to prevent an affair. So, since there’s “no need to discuss much” let’s get on with it. Here are 50 ways to keep your lover:
#1 – Don’t just focus on behavior management when making wise choices.
Focus on what precedes behavior: your thinking. If you do not guard your mind, you cannot control your actions.
#2 – Have your radar on ALL THE TIME.
Relationships begin as a small, phosphorescent blip on a screen and gradually grow into deep, intimate connections. It may begin with a shared personal interest, friendly sarcastic banter, spending increased amounts of time together, sharing personal information (“Oh! Let me show you this video of my kid.), giving advice to someone who is hurting (they’re just a friend!), or sharing a sense of humor/fun, but eventually when these things are repeatedly engaged in, bonding occurs. And bonding can lead to reciprocity in openness, building connection, and eventually choosing to allow the other person mental space in your mind. (e.g., “Oh, I should text them that. They would think that was funny.”) At this point, a boundary has been crossed and big flashing red lights should be going off in your mind. If not, you’re in more trouble than you realize. You may even be in an emotional affair with the other person. To prevent even the appearance of evil, though, you need to always be aware of the seemingly unimportant decisions that you are making with this other person so that you may protect the marriage that you vowed to protect til death do you part.
#3 – Set boundaries with this other person for the sake of your marriage.
This is not a “you might need to” or a “maybe you should try.” This is a must. Begin with the way you are thinking about them. Especially if you find yourself comparing this other person to your spouse or are intentionally not sharing conversations or experiences with your spouse that you had with this other person. (If you are afraid your spouse may become upset if they knew this information, consider that they may have a good reason!) If you don’t protect your mind, you will be powerless to protect your feelings or manage your actions.
#4 – Establish some nonverbal boundaries
For example, don’t lean in when talking to them. Stand up. Be professional. Look them in the eye. Let there be an invisible arm’s length barrier between you and them.
#5 – Don’t confuse “deserve” for “desire.”
Many people will tell themselves that they deserve better than what they have at home. This dissatisfaction will turn into actively seeking the comfort or understanding of another person, usually a convenient, intelligent, and attractive person. And in the connection that breeds from “they understand me” comes the birth of an illegitimate desire for them. But it is not lasting love that they have discovered. Rather, it is an exercise in ego fulfillment, a movement from “I deserve better” to “I am seeking better” to “I have found better” to “I desire better” to “I have acquired better.” Look at it closely, though, all of these steps are about only one person: You. None of them are about the other person. You have confused deserve for desire.
#6 – Never engage in “what if” scenarios. Especially with an old flame.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people actually believe that as long as they don’t act out on their fantasies, they haven’t done anything wrong. The problem with this line of thinking is that few people realize that entertaining the “what ifs” creates an attitude of dissatisfaction with their spouse. Additionally, it permits another person to enter that sacred mental space you should reserve only for your spouse. It does not matter if you are connecting with someone over Facebook, a website, a video game, or even a brief lunch, if it causes you to begin flirting with that person or to feel undeniably pulled towards them, then you have already crossed a line. Too many times an ex is the perfect manure to fertilize such wild ramblings of the mind. Why? Because you have already conditioned yourself to receive emotional support from them and to think about what the future could be like with them. You are already primed for connection with that person. What you’re forgetting is 1) why you broke up and 2) the blessing you have at home. Don’t let your mind continually wander into these fantasies. Guard it. Protect your thoughts. And ensure that the only person about whom you fantasize is your spouse.
#7 – Praise in public. Censor in private.
In other words, only talk about things you want your spouse to change with your spouse. Talking poorly about your spouse in public sends out signals that you are dissatisfied at home and have moved out of the”happily married” category and into the “meh married” one.
#8 – Realize that feelings are not always present in even the happiest of marriages.
Every marriage goes through seasons…and the reality is that sometimes you are in winter. If this is your situation, work through it with your spouse, not with another member of the opposite sex.
#9 – Never pretend with your spouse.
Be real with them all the time – with how you feel, what you want, what you think, what you did today, goals/dreams for the future, etc. This will build your friendship with each other and create a practice of continual vulnerability.
#10 – Don’t blame God.
How many times have you heard people say something like, “My spouse is such a (fill in negative quality). God wouldn’t expect me to stay with a person like that, would He? God wants me to be happy, right?” God may want you to be happy, but He wants you to be happy in the right way. If you are being tempted by another person to go outside your marriage, God is never a good excuse to sin.
#11 – Examine your jealousy.
If you are the jealous type, realize that your jealousy may be a reflection of your intentions, not your spouse’s. In other words, give them the benefit of the doubt. Just because you may do something given a certain set of circumstances, doesn’t mean that they will.
#12 – Begin developing a common history with each other again.
Couples need a “mythology” (or origin story) that they can frequently revisit. Never neglect the telling of this story to each other or your kids. It not only reminds you of your love but also reinforces what you have.
#13 – Preemptively strike the “why’s” that will inevitably come after an affair.
Reinforce to yourself and to your spouse on a daily basis in various ways the answer to this question: What is the one thing you want for your spouse? The one thing? Whatever that one thing is should define how you interact with him/her on every level of intimacy. But be careful here. Don’t use this as an opportunity to criticize, such as “The one thing I want is that they stop being such a @#$%.” Besides, that’s something you want for yourself. What do you want for them? You may do a lot of nice things, but without a core motivator, your actions will always fall flat. In the words of Simon Sinek, “People don’t buywhat you do; they buy why you do it.” This principle is as true for business as it is for relationships. If you do this consistently, you will find that you will never squirm under the spotlight of “why.” You will have a happy and fulfilled relationship instead.
#14 – Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare.
Things do not always fix quickly in a marriage. In these situations, be the tortoise. The Bible tells us that “love is patient.” Practice that virtue in such a way that you allow your partner to develop into the person they need to be. This is not a passive thing, at least not all the time. It can also be quite active. For instance, it may take a long time to learn how to change your thinking, but that entire process from learning to insight to application will take an active patience that not only plants the seed but also waters, fertilizes, and reaps the harvest.
#15 – Embrace pain.
Rick Reynolds, the founder of the Affair Recovery Center in Austin, TX, says, “Hiding pain is not the same as walking through the pain. If our pain isn’t addressed, it is transformed into shame and we’ll spend the rest of our lives in denial, afraid that others will discover the truth. We mistakenly believe that hiding the reality of our situation will somehow save us from the pain, yet it only serves to enslave us to that very same pain. Hidden pain is then transformed into shame. Our shame then negatively impacts all those we love and serves as the fuel to perpetuate our cycle.”
#16 – Embrace vulnerability.
There can be no intimacy without vulnerability. You may think that you are avoiding weakness when you refuse to open up to your spouse about your thoughts, feelings, or needs. You may think that your partner won’t respect you if you turn into a puddle of tears, but the truth is that there is a 1:1 ratio between vulnerability and intimacy. You can only be as intimate (or close) to your spouse as you are willing to be vulnerable. Keeping a low vulnerability profile in your marriage only emphasizes your fear of exposing your true self to your spouse and it only guarantees disconnection between you and your husband/wife.
#17 – Stop the secrets.
This goes along with #15. When you choose to hide pieces of yourself, you choose to keep your spouse ignorant of part of your life story. You convince yourself that it is not necessary to share that piece of information because you are terrified to discover the truth that lies beneath. When you decide to face and respond to ALL of yourself, you suddenly realize that secrets got you into this mess with your spouse. Secrets won’t get you out.
#18 – Recommit to the idea of being “all in.”
Push your chips to the middle of the table and choose to love your spouse daily. Anyone can love someone who loves them back. But choosing to love means doing the hard thing and making the conscious decision to love when they are not loving to you. Respect them when they are not respecting you. For when you are “all in” you hold nothing back and commit 100% to the idea of “us”…forever.
#19 – Be creative.
For years I have told couples that creativity is the essence of romance. Why? Because, when I was in college, I had a poetry professor provide me with the best definition of creativity that I have ever heard: Creativity is just looking at old things in a new way. When you apply this to your relationship, you find infinite expressions of love you can share with your partner. Marriage is to be a lifetime of shared experiences with each other. Creativity is the fuel for these experiences. Don’t believe me? Then let me ask you, what memory do you recall most vividly and treasure most passionately, the vacation you took with your kids to Disney World or the last episode of Law and Order you watched with your spouse? Take time to make the parts in your marriage that have become commonplace creative again.
#20 – Reintroduce flirting.
Let the spicy repartee fly between the two of you. Enjoy the witticisms, the sarcasm, the art of innuendo. Allow yourself to dance on the thin edge of sexual. Subtly suggest that there are mysteries and revelations for your spouse to still discover in bed with you. Be fun. Be playful. If you’ve got game, use it.
#21 – Find the flaws …
… in the person that tempts to draw your attention away from your spouse. No one is perfect. But when a person is initially attracted to someone they often see them through rose-colored glasses. Therefore, without getting to know them too well, find the things about them that you find unattractive. Use these to remind yourself that your joy comes in your husband/wife, and not outside your home.
#22 – Always elevate your spouse to a position of supremacy within your mind.
How you talk to yourself about your spouse shapes how you feel about them. It’s impossible to feel loving when all you hear during the day is how awful they are. Therefore, elevate them. Continually remind yourself why you are so blessed to have your spouse all to yourself. Enumerate the reasons if you have to. Create a sacred place of value in your mind for only your husband/wife.
#23 – Pursue time with each other.
Everyone desires to be desired. Let them know that there is nothing more important or more magical to you than the time you spend with them. Sift through your time for those nuggets that allow you to be together and invite your spouse into quality time moments you can share. This should reinforce the idea that you only want to be with them.
#24 – Never stop dating.
Even if you’ve been married for 30 or 40 years, continue to go out. This doesn’t always mean you have to spend a lot of money. A “date” could be a trip to the local Half Price Books or a walk around the lake or a card game at home. The idea is you need to have continual pre-planned events that you do with your spouse. Preferably once a week.
#25 – Get comfortable with PDA (public displays of affection).
This doesn’t mean you have to be so overt that you make other people uncomfortable. But be okay with things like holding hands in the mall. Or kissing each other in front of your kids. Valuing your spouse like this in public can send the message to them, to others, and most importantly, to yourself that you are proud to have them as your own.
#26 – Comparisons be damned!
If you find yourself comparing another person to your spouse, remind yourself of qualities about your spouse that you like, especially things that the other person doesn’t have. Remind yourself of why you fell in love with your spouse. Lift your spouse up in your mind so that they occupy the #1 spot.
#27 – Narrow the mental space allowed for that other person
Continually reinforce the idea that there are limits to what you can and cannot do with them.
#28 – Never, ever, EVER sexually fantasize about them.
Make your fantasies be about your spouse and your spouse only. If something is boring or lacking in your sex life, talk to your spouse about this. Experiment. Add some spice. But never invite another person into that sacred space reserved only for your spouse, either literally or mentally.
#29 – Stop talking to the other person, if necessary.
Stay in your office more, focusing on your work. And if communication is necessary, let it be only about work. Don’t answer their phone calls or texts outside of work (it can usually wait until morning). In fact, erase their cell phone number from your phone.
#30 -Harpoon the emojis.
Being cute with another person never helps you protect the mental space that is supposed to be only for your spouse.
#31 – Exchange responsibilities for relationship.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the day to day logistics we forget to continually build our relationship with our spouse. You have to understand this: having a solid relationship is much more important than having a job, taking the kids to soccer practice, or paying the bills on time. After all, people retire, kids eventually move out, and bills get paid off. But your marriage lasts through it all. If you fail to understand this, you will wind up with a husband or wife who feels they neither need you nor want you any longer because you have spent too many years living parallel lives.
#32 – If you feel like you have no common ground with your husband/wife, create it!
In other words, seek out their interests and begin to make those interests your own. I will never forget the time I realized that my wife had begun to read my sports magazine so that she could have discussions with me about my favorite team. Although I knew she had no interest in baseball, it showed she had an interest in me.
#33 – Make church a priority.
When people fail to pursue their relationship with God and with each other as He has outlined in scripture, they lose the compass that provides direction for their life. Plus, church can provide a community of like-minded people who can hold you accountable to stay on the straight and narrow path.
#34 – Similarly, pray with each other.
Nothing bonds two people quite as effectively as when you cooperatively lay aside your verbal weapons of mass destruction and humbly ask God to transform your marriage into a shining example of His glory. Interceding on behalf of your spouse can also let your partner know that their concerns are your concerns and that you are for your spouse, not against them. Plus, sometimes there are things that only supernatural intervention can accomplish. Disregarding the daily habit of beseeching God to intervene on your spouse’s behalf could be neglecting a spiritual act of intimacy.
#35 – Develop strategies about how to move towards your spouse.
Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman says we have one 3 options with our spouse: move away from them, move against them, or move towards them. Your goal, then, even in conflict, should be to continually find ways to move towards your spouse. This is a never-ending project that helps you prioritize your spouse throughout a lifetime and in multiple ways.
#36 – Notice who your friends are.
Hang out with godly people. Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise will become wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”
#37 – Shore up your own self-esteem and self-worth so that you are not as vulnerable to temptation.
If you don’t know how to begin with this, begin in two areas: 1) self-interests and 2) self-care. This does not mean you should become selfish but making sure your needs are met can be an exercise in empowerment, which can help you realize you don’t need another human being to meet all your needs.
#38 – Remove the pedestal.
Phillippians 4:19 says, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” Whenever you place the expectation on a human being to meet allof your needs, you are putting them in the place of God. Surrender yourself to the work and will of God, and you will find that relationships with others, especially your spouse, is the icing, not the cake itself.
#39 – Don’t lose hope.
Your feelings can come back for your spouse and they will…but only if you are willing to work hard at fixing the problems with your spouse.
#40 – Call a counselor
Commit to working on your marriage UNTIL YOU HAVE ACCOMPLISHED YOUR GOAL. No other definition of commitment will suffice. Remember, it took you years to get to this stage, it won’t be cured in just a few sessions one time a week.
#41 – Stop the blame game.
Someone once told me that blame is just an attempt to shift responsibility away from yourself onto someone else. Stop hiding behind the flaws and failings of your spouse. Their imperfections may explain some of your choices but they do not excuse them.
#42 – Take responsibility for your contribution to the marital problems.
Even if your spouse is 95% at fault for your dissatisfaction in the marriage, you will make more progress if you look at your 5% and dig deep to keep your old, nasty habits from continuing in the marriage.
#43 – Take a fearless inventory of all the people you will harm if you choose to have an affair.
Most of the time people don’t consider the consequences of the actions, they just focus on the adrenaline, the mystery, the excitement! They fail to imagine the impact one choice will have on their children, friends, family, church, work, or anyone who looks to you as an example. If you don’t protect yourself from yourself, at least protect the other people in your life.
#44 – Don’t just list who you will hurt. Make a list of HOW you will hurt these people.
Put these reasons onto paper. You need to see the reasons in black and white in order for you to understand the severity of your choice to cheat. Come up with as many as you possibly can. Begin with a minimum of at least 30 and work from there.
#45 – Find a mystery greater than your affair partner to give your life purpose.
Part of the allure of an affair is the excitement of the unknown. I think this is because we are created for mystery. It is an innate desire to reach for the unknown and embrace what is beyond. We are designed for mystery, for discovery, for joy! This gives our life purpose and meaning. This is part of the underlying draw to have an affair. The problem is that affairs provide a finite answer to an infinite desire. If we want a mystery to explore and a purpose to pursue that never exhausts itself we must choose a mystery whose revelations never cease, namely God. Only then will we find how hollow and shadowy the promises of an affair actually are.
#46 – Wives – stroke your husband’s ego.
Nothing ignites desire in a man more than knowing that he is respected and admired for what he does and who he is. Find specific things you can list about him (minimum of 3) to let him you still honor and value him.
#47 – Husbands – stroke your wife’s heart.
Pursue her intellect, heart, and spirit BEFORE you pursue her body. Let her know thatwho she is is more desirable to you than what she can do for you. Take an active interest in knowing all of her and let her know that you love her above all other people and interests in your world.
#48 – Eliminate “the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
Dr. John Gottman coined this term for the 4 negative communication styles in marriages: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Removing these types of communication will help you speak more like an ally than as an enemy.
#49 – Turn your arguments into discussions.
Arguments tear people apart. Discussion brings them closer together. To move from arguments to discussion practice the following guidelines: 1) stop calling it a “fight.” Your spouse is not your adversary. Calling it a fight establishes a mental picture of a winner and a loser. This will set you apart at the very beginning. 2) begin with understanding them instead of trying to force them to understand you. 3) actively seek for the sound logic in your spouse’s perspective and validate as many as possible. When a person feels like they’re being told they’re crazy or stupid for thinking or feeling the way that they do, they get defensive, closed-off, and angry. But when they feel like you hear them and see some of what they are saying as valid, they calm down and open up to your side of things. (This includes taking responsibility for any contribution you have made to the problem at hand) 4) Fix the issue, not the individual. In other words, objectify it so you stop attacking your partner or defending yourself. 5) Find solutions that work for both of you as much as possible.
#50 – Ask the right question
Stop asking why your marriage isn’t working and begin asking how you can make it work.
Make a New Plan, Stan
After reading through all of these tips, you may think to yourself, “That’s impossible! No one can all of these things every day.”
And you’d be right.
But that’s not a reason to give up or to stop actively protecting your marriage.
The goal is to use each of these tips to nurture the love you have for your spouse and to protect it from outside influences. These are not crisis management tools. These are daily prevention tools that you can use to help your marriage grow. Without them, you may eventually discover that you and your partner are living bored, parallel lives.
So take another look at the tips above. Print them out. Review them every day, if you need to. Make them a part of who you are and how you do things in your marriage.
Then, after multiple decades together, your spouse will be able to smile and say, “I have never ever wanted to be with anyone, but you.”
It’s time to actively practice 50 ways to keep your lover.