As Dr. Gottman explains in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, the assumption that affairs are the root cause of divorce is a myth. Problems in the marriage that send the couple on a trajectory to divorce also send one (or both) of them looking for intimate connection outside the relationship. In probably the most reliable survey ever done on divorce by Lynn Gigy, Ph.D. and Joan Kelly, Ph.D. from the Divorce Mediation Project in Corte Madera, California, 80% of divorced men and women said their marriage broke up because the gradually grew apart and lost sense of closeness, or because they did not feel loved or appreciated. Only 20-27% of couples said an extramarital affair was even partially to blame.

We now understand what primes couples for an affair. From its onset, the march toward infidelity weakens the relationship’s “walls” and “windows,” as described by the late psychologist Shirley Glass in her famous book Not Just Friends. Typically, partners in a long-term, committed relationship keep a window open between each other while erecting walls that protect their privacy from the outside world. Over an extended period of time, people give themselves permission to cross small boundaries, to talk about intimate subjects, fantasize about one another, and so on. This is called The Cheater’s Cascade.

It’s possible to recover from an affair, but not every relationship can or should be saved.

Certified Gottman Therapists Don and Carrie Cole will join #AskGottman this week to answer your questions about affairs.  Use the form provided below to submit your questions before 5:00 PM PST on Thursday, March 12, and the answers will be posted in an article on Friday, March 13. You can also submit questions by using the hashtag #AskGottman on Twitter.

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Michael Fulwiler

Michael Fulwiler is the Editor in Chief of The Gottman Relationship Blog and Director of Marketing for The Gottman Institute. A proud University of Washington graduate, Michael is an avid fan of love, live music, and Seattle sports teams.