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5 ways COs can ‘affair-proof’ their marriage

When an affair happens it is a symptom of relationship discord, but problems in the relationship existed before the betrayal took place


A lifelong, committed relationship takes work and daily maintenance.


In law enforcement, affairs and physical indiscretions are sadly common – sometimes even expected. There are many reasons why this happens. Some would argue it’s the shift work and working weekends and holidays. It’s hard to have a connected life to another when you are two ships passing in the night.

Others argue it is because the career breeds a sort of exclusivity with beliefs and statements like “no one will ever understand what it is like to be a corrections officer.” When repeated enough times, it becomes common to only confide or talk to those who will “get it.” Rumors of interdepartmental affairs are common and fuel fears among corrections spouses.

Another reason is that a lifelong, committed relationship takes work and daily maintenance. Many go into marriage expecting it to “just work” and then become complacent in their relationships.

Complacency Kills

A committed, lifetime partnership has vows – either spoken or implied – that bind us together. We vow to love, honor and cherish each other in every moment. This means we will never choose to betray our partner by seeking out the affection, emotional attention, and physical touch of another person who is not our spouse.

To do so risks emotionally destroying the one to whom we made that lifetime commitment. Yet, such vows are broken all the time.

I’ve been a marriage therapist and relationship counselor since 1996 and one of the most common statements I hear is: “I never thought this would happen to me. We were the couple everyone admired. I thought we had the perfect relationship and were the perfect couple and then, one day, I was looking through his phone….”

But the reality is, it does happen. More marriages end in divorce than stay together. This has been our national average for all, but in the world of law enforcement, it is often reported to be even higher because of a lifestyle that leads to frequent isolation and long hours away from one another.

To avoid/defeat complacency in your relationship:

1. Realize that affairs do happen and commit to not putting yourself in harm’s way. Have the mindset of “I will never have an affair or cheat physically and/or emotionally.”

2. It only takes “one” to change your life and those around you forever. When you find yourself around that “one” retreat and turn towards your spouse. Begin working out those hurts, wounds, and sources of anger with them that are making you unhappy at home.

3. Educate yourself on marriage and long-term relationships skills. This is a different relationship from any other and needs a survival mindset to last “in sickness and in health till death do you part.”

4. Know that every marriage and long-term committed partnership encounters really tough times. Expect the bad times. Commit to working on survival skills such as communication during the good times so that they are in place and practiced until they become second nature. It is harder to learn these skills in crisis mode. Remember: repetition and practice save lives on the street; now, apply this concept in building your marriage’s survival mode.

5. Check in with your spouse and partner. Ask them how they are doing in the relationship, if they need anything from you and what you could do differently. Open the lines of communication to build safety in the relationship. Be open to their feedback and avoid becoming defensive, hostile, or taking it too personally; that will only lead to the marriage breaking down instead of building a future together.

Define Cheating

One of the best conversations my husband Mike and I had when we began dating was around how we each defined cheating so we knew what lines to not cross. Every individual and couple has different tolerances. Some couples define the mere act of flirting as cheating while others have an absolutely open relationship.

Most individuals and couples fall somewhere along the continuum between the two but even in that open or swinging relationship, each couple has certain hard and fast rules that must never be betrayed (you’d be amazed at some of the stuff you learn working as a therapist!). A person must know what and when they have betrayed the trust of the other, and strive to never cross that line.

Set Boundaries

It is now commonplace – and healthy – for men and women to be platonic friends, but when in a committed relationship, discuss openly the boundaries on those friendships.

Mike and I have always had close friends of the opposite sex and this hasn’t changed in our marriage, but we are also not naïve on how quickly an emotional affair can start, nor how easily they cross.

Some boundaries we have agreed to are:

  • Never complain about each other to another person, but especially the opposite sex for this is the first step in an emotional affair; being condoled by another. It will breed intimacy that can turn into romantic feelings.
  • We include each other in those friendships and never keep them secret.
  • Another friendship will never become more important than our friendship with each other. When something good or bad happens in our day, it is each other we always seek out first and share more details about our lives than anyone else. We choose to make each other our priority.

Don’t Give Up

Have a mindset of endurance that will last a lifetime. Realize tough times come that will rock you to your soul and that all marriages at one time or another think about divorce. When those times come for you, dig in your heels and begin to problem-solve the answers. Look at yourself and take ownership of what you are doing to cause the breakdown of the relationship and communicate this to your spouse.

Seek out counsel from happily married couples, pastors, chaplains, and counseling from a licensed professional. Also consider going to relationship conferences, reading books, and even looking up videos on Access all resources to put the relationship back together. Relationship discord is not always a sign a person must leave, but often that something is broken and needs to be fixed.

Friendship Is Key

Mike and I have been married 19 years and best friends for 23 years. It is something we work at maintaining by doing things best friends do. We have hobbies together, laugh a lot, point out each other’s strengths, commit to not criticizing or blaming, cheer each other on in their successes, and share those things that matter to us. We make sure we include each other in our daily lives. It takes work at times and other times it just flows, but we know it is the friendship that has and will continue to be the foundation of our marriage.

As a marriage counselor, I know that when an affair happens it is a symptom of relationship discord, but problems almost always existed before the betrayal ever took place. There was hurt, wounds, and anger that made that person open to another relationship. Commit to addressing the problems before its too late and safeguarding your relationship so you have the survival skills in place to endure for the long haul.

This article, originally published 02/13/2015, has been updated.

Althea Olson, LCSW, and Mike Wasilewski, MSW, have been married since 1994. Mike works full time as a police officer for a large suburban Chicago agency while Althea is a social worker in private practice at Fox Bend Counseling in Oswego (Illinois). They write on a wide range of topics to include officer wellness, relationships, mental health, morale, and ethics. Their writing led to them developing More Than A Cop, and they have traveled the country as police trainers teaching “survival skills off the street.”

You can keep up with them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter, or check out their website at

Contact Althea Olson and Mike Wasilewski