Recently, the news has been filled by reports of sexual-boundary violations committed by politicians and other celebrities. Having just participated in a continuing education seminar on maintaining professional boundaries How To Set Healthy Boundaries — A Compassionate Guide for Women | by Julia Horvath | Better Humans, it is clear that a major factor in preventing problems is monitoring and attending to personal self-care.
Upon reflection, the same wisdom which applies to business and professional settings is also for marriages. Sexual boundaries are more likely to be crossed when a partner is not fully aware of or attending to his/her self-care needs. Couples who become more aware of and address their intimacy needs can better protect their marital boundaries and remain faithful.
While I have written many articles about fidelity and repairing the damage caused to marriage by infidelity, FAITHFUL IS NOT ENOUGH | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com) , I now want to look at: 1) What self-care is and how poor self-care increases the risk of infidelity and other boundary violations. and 2) Provide some essential tips for good self-care.
To begin, let’s be clear about what self-care is. Perhaps the best way to understand the idea of self-care is to think of it as the required maintenance which is necessary for a person’s well-being and keeps him/her in top physical and emotional shape. We understand that, when we buy a car or some piece of equipment, it requires regular oil changes or other forms of care. Unfortunately, many folks take better care of their lawn mowers than they do themselves.
Specifically, emotional self-care, in addition to adequate sleep, nutrition and exercise, requires dealing with stress effectively, having meaningful social connections and intimacy. Self-Care for Survivors — Day One (dayoneny.org)
When applied to the issue of infidelity, it is important to understand that affairs are more likely to occur if a person is over-stressed and/or is having relational conflicts, including sexual issues, which are not being addressed. Affairs and sexual adventures are essentially attempts to calm the anxiety and distress caused by self-maintenance neglect.
Essential Tips for maintaining your emotional self-care:
1. Primary-process journaling. A powerful way to reduce stress and anxiety is to put what is bothering you into words. A lot of research has demonstrated that for folks who give themselves permission to write down their disturbing thoughts just as they occur, i.e. without editing or censoring, writing can be more effective than a prescription of valium. Journaling doesn’t have to be done every day, but it can be used a resource when stressed. An important thing to keep in mind is, since what you write may not be very nice, it is important that your journal be kept in a secure place, either locked up or password protected if done on a computer. (THREE KEYS TO EFFECTIVE PERSONAL JOURNALING. | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com) )
2. Aerobic exercise. In addition to being important for top physical health, being physically active is equally important for emotional wellbeing. Getting and keeping your heart rate in the aerobic zone for 30 minutes a day is a crucial part of self-are. (Your aerobic zone heart rate is calculated by subtracting your age from 220 and then multiplying the difference by .7.) Aerobic activity , which can be something as simple as a brisk walk, increases endorphin production. Endorphins are a stress reducing hormones which counteract the effects of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Reducing stress hormones is not only important for maintaining and improving physical health but also increases a sense of wellness.
3. Mindfulness and monitoring of stress levels. Another crucial aspect of self care is mindfulness and being aware of just how stressed you are. Too many folks ignore the initial warning signs of stress until they become overwhelmed. Addressing anxieties early on can prevent stress levels from getting out of hand and impairing one’s health. Neglected stress can also interfere with relationships. In addition to agitated moods, neglected stress levels can lead to things like an abuse of alcohol or an affair.
4. Leisure and Non-demand activity. Over the past decade, modern research has shown that the brain needs two kinds of rest to heal from daily trauma. In addition to unconscious rest (sleep), the brain also needs conscious rest which I call non-demand or leisure activity. Non-demand activity is anything that a person finds relaxing and which is free from external demand or obligation or threat. Things like meditation, listening to music or hobbies allow the brain to have fun and play or just passively observe being alive.
5. Direct Communication and Intimacy Skills. Finally, in addition to these suggestions, communicating is especially important to protect an intimate relationship from a serious boundary violation like an affair. Letting your partner know what is bothering you whether it is work , money , health or something about your relationship (including sex) is the best way to keep small problems from getting out of hand. Sometimes, simply sharing your distress can lead to finding solutions. At other times, professional help may be needed.
Life is challenging. Having a loving partner with whom to share its difficulties is not only a great help but is also deeply rewarding. Taking care of your physical and emotional needs and sharing difficulties honestly with your spouse is the best way to protect intimacy boundaries and to increase emotional intimacy.
Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow AAPC 12 5 2021