Founder and Chair of marriagehelper.com Talks Rescuing Your Marriage

Gold wedding bands on top of textured glitter

MP spoke with Dr. Joe Beam, Founder and Chair of Marriagehelper.com. Beam is an internationally known and respected sexologist and authority on love, marriage, and sex. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Sydney and is the founder and chair of Marriage Helper based in Tennessee, just south of Nashville. Saving marriages is not an occupation for Dr. Beam. It’s a mission – a mission that has consumed his heart for decades. He has designed and developed courses, workshops, and seminars to help troubled marriages. He has been seen on national media and spoken to countless couples through live seminars, dedicated radio programs, and books. Today he dedicates most of his time to researching and developing new ways to help couples in crisis.

Cheating is a hot topic. However, there’s often a misunderstanding about what is and is not considered cheating. So how do you define cheating?

Cheating occurs when one person violates the trust of his/her spouse by becoming emotionally or sexually involved with someone else.

Is watching porn considered cheating? 

Essentially, the husband or wife is the ultimate decision-maker regarding whether their spouse is cheating on them. If a spouse feels that the other’s use of porn damages their relationship, then that spouse will feel that the mate is cheating. Even though no actual physical contact is made with the people on the screen, the spouse may feel that a sexual connection (or possibly an emotional connection through fantasy) happens on a level that violates the purity of their marriage.

Is having an emotional affair considered cheating?

Cheating has to do with either a sexual interaction with someone else or an emotional interaction with someone else, or both. Sternberg has published great research about love between a husband and wife having three strong components. 

  1.  Intimacy – openness, trust, vulnerability.
  2. Passion – a craving for oneness.
  3. Commitment – a decision to do what it takes to keep the relationship alive. 

An emotional connection (other than normal friendship or family relationships) with another person than the spouse violates all three of those components.

On average, how many people are cheated on? 

Research on this varies based on many factors. We will soon do research of our own about cheating in American society. In our workshops for marriages in crisis, 67% of the couples who attend have had their marriage affected by infidelity. Either his, hers, or both.

What are the top five reasons that result in someone cheating on their significant other?

  1. Slowly developing a relationship with another person starts as a friendship and evolves into an affair. Our work with thousands of couples indicates that even people in good marriages can experience this.
  2. Feeling disrespected, disliked, or unloved by one’s spouse. Then, finally, a person comes along who seems to offer what the person feels she or he needs emotionally. If responded to, that eventually becomes sexual.
  3. The influence of culture in general or friends, in particular, encourages one to seek whatever makes him or her feel good at the moment. This more likely leads to short-lived affairs.
  4. Seeking a sexual thrill that one feels they cannot or will never get from their spouse. Porn implanting those ideas or desires can drive this.
  5. Seeking tremendous emotional highs that occur in new relationships. After the couple becomes used to each other (roughly two years), the person who “needs” this kind of high will start making themselves available for a new relationship.

How can someone tell if their significant other is cheating on them? 

There are signs, but they must be carefully evaluated. Too many will conclude that an affair exists when it doesn’t if they don’t use judgment. The kinds of things that typically occur when a spouse is cheating may occur when the spouse isn’t cheating at all, but some other influence (stress, worry, grief, etc.) may be at play.

The signs? (Again, using great judgment) These are not in order, by the way.

  1. Unaccounted for time or money spent. 
  2. Emotional changes in the spouse – they either become more distant or seek more closeness (yes, some demonstrate more closeness because their emotions are heightened.)
  3. Unusual demands for privacy. The person that didn’t mind you using their phone when it was handy becomes very upset if you touch the phone—that kind of thing across the board – email, regular mail, computer, car, etc.
  4. Shifty or angry responses to questions such as where were you, etc.
  5. Blaming the spouse for all kinds of things, in essence indicating that they think the spouse has a problem emotionally or mentally. That occurs especially in response to questions. The cheater will double things back on the asker in ways that make them question their sanity.
  6. Either a distancing themselves from their previously held beliefs and values OR a sudden increase in judging everyone by moral at high levels. (It can be either guilt or deception motivating this.)
  7. Changing previous habits. Now they can lose weight that they couldn’t before or go to the gym when that had never been an interest. They change the way they dress, their hair, take more pride in their appearance.
  8. Moodiness, sudden changes in plans, often daydreaming, and not being involved in what’s going on around them.
  9. Being caught in little lies that are covered with bigger lies makes you wonder if anything they tell you is true.
  10. Either tremendously decreased sexual activity with the spouse OR increased sexual activity with their spouse. (It can go either way. When it increases, it’s typically either because of guilt – trying to even things out – or because they fantasize about the lover when having sex with the spouse.)

I repeat that these kinds of signs can indicate other emotional discord and may not be indicative of an affair. They can also be a sign of other “bad” actions on their part, such as gambling away their money, etc. So be very careful about assuming an affair.

If at least some of the signs above are occurring, there is some type of problem. The most likely way to get to the truth is to be calm, not react negatively when the other person tries their lies or ploys, and asking for the respect to be told the truth. Do NOT try hiring private detectives, hiding GPS in their car, etc., unless you are looking for information to use in a divorce. Most of the time, if you sneak to get evidence and then confront them with it, they will attack you for violating their privacy rather than taking responsibility for their actions.

Once a cheater, always a cheater—right? 

We have worked with hundreds of thousands of married people since 1994, either in person, in seminars with people we’ve trained, or online. Thousands of those have attended our intensive workshops for marriages in crisis. We have repeatedly witnessed that once a couple gets past an affair (or any major crisis for that matter), their marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. NOT because of the affair but because of what they learned from that terrible experience. Some of those were not only single affairs but multiple affairs. Therefore, we know that people can be faithful and have a good marriage after an affair.

How can someone catch their significant other in the act of cheating?

As stated above, we do not recommend this at all. Our experience with couples is overwhelming that if you sneak around or hire someone to help you catch the spouse, the result is that they move further away from you, and the marriage likely ends. Therefore, if you want to divorce, hire a private detective, hide the GPS in their car, sneak into their email, and so forth. However, if you want to rescue your spouse and save the marriage, the approach is not to catch but help the other person become truthful.

What should someone do once they’ve confirmed their significant other is cheating?

Of course, they can see a lawyer and start a divorce proceeding if that’s what they want. We recommend that they ask themselves this question about their spouse “Is this a good person doing a bad thing or a bad person doing a bad thing?” If they believe their spouse is a good person, then that spouse is worth rescuing. However, that will take work. The first step is to get your spouse to tell you the truth by being calm, confident, and understanding. (Yes, that is hard to do.) Then seek the help you need for the two of you. If you seek a counselor, make sure that he or she is pro-marriage and will work to help you figure out how to put things back together rather than tear you two apart.