Risk Factors for an Affair

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: In your opinion, what are some risk factors that might lead to an extramarital affair?

I think it’s possible that there are different risk factors for different generations. In 2006, the Barna Research Group found that among those referred to as the “Buster Generation”—those in their 20’s and 30’s—there has been a significant erosion of values concerning morality and infidelity that has been held by previous generations. They found that attitudes and values once held by fringe groups in society were now becoming mainstream among them. The vice president of the Barna Group expressed concern: “We expect to see this mindset of sexual entitlement translate into increased appetites for pornography, unfiltered acceptance of sexual themes and content in media, and continued dissolution of marriages due to infidelity.”

The website www.startmarriageright.com provides us with five potential risk factors for an extramarital affair with which I would concur. I have elaborated on each point with my own thoughts.

1. Lack of clear boundaries with the opposite sex. This has become more and more common in recent years. There was a time that no married man would have considered traveling across country with another woman without his wife present. Today, many consider that acceptable, as long as it’s business. But proximity with another person increases intimacy and the risk of infidelity. Going to lunch together, or spending extra time alone, with someone of the opposite sex increases the risk.

Be careful of closed-door meetings with someone of the opposite sex, and when it is necessary to work alone with someone of the opposite sex behind closed doors, leave the door unlocked, so anyone could walk in. Discuss these boundaries with your spouse and live by them.

Through the years we have heard of so many well-known political and religious figures that have succumbed to the temptation of an affair.

A good example of one who made a decision early on in his ministry to avoid even the accusation of impropriety is the Dr. Billy Graham. While in Modesto, California, he established with his wife and all his and his team what has become known as the Modesto Manifesto. He made a decision that he would never be alone in room with another woman unless his wife or others were present. He kept it and you have never heard of any accusations against him.

2. Involvement with pornography. The viewing of pornography is a form of infidelity, and by becoming involved in it causes sex to lose its sanctity. A study by the University of Central Florida found higher rates of infidelity among those who viewed pornography versus those who did not.

3. Lack of accountability. Not being accountable to anyone, or believing you do not need to answer to anyone increase the risk of infidelity. This lack of accountability is synonymous with entitlement. George Kellum and those who put the Broken Windows Theory into practice found that if you clean up graffiti immediately, you eliminate major crime.

In other words, if you confront small infractions, you will eliminate bigger problems. An individual who sets clear boundaries for him/herself and becomes accountable to another, and refuses to violate even potential minor laws/rule decreases the risk of an affair.

4. Poor lifestyle choices. Drugs and alcohol numb the senses and impair judgment, increasing the risk of an affair. Another behavior that is risky and will likely increase the potential for an affair is involvement in chat rooms. Many who begin chatting end up having computer sex. Whereas men have been shown to be more likely to become involved in physical sex, women appear to have a greater tendency to become involved in chatting and computer sex. Anything that takes energy away from building and maintaining your marriage relationship is a form of an affair.

5. A weak or superficial religious commitment. When I completed my dissertation over twenty years ago, I wanted to know what parenting characteristics were present in families of adolescents who chose to abstain from sexual intercourse prior to graduation. The peer-reviewed literature on the subject at that time indicated that there was no relationship between someone claiming to be spiritual and sexual behaviors.

However, if you asked the number of times per week the individual attended church, you found a statistically significant relationship. The more someone attended church, the less likely that person was to have experienced sexual intercourse as a teenager. Church attendance appears to be a way to measure the depth of spirituality commitment, or relationship with God. So the deeper one’s commitment to the Lord, measured by church attendance, the less likely that person will be to have an affair.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]

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