For many, the biggest deal breaker in an exclusive relationship is infidelity. Once you’ve committed yourself to someone, there should be no one else.
Yet more and more people find themselves either cheating on their partners, or being cheated on. Affairs happen, but to Counseling Psychologist Lissy Puno, they simply “don’t just happen.” Sure, people don't suddenly set out on some extramarital quest. But as Lissy explains, "An affair touches a void or an emptiness that has been lingering in one’s life or relationships. An affair is attracted by an unmet need wanting to be fulfilled. A lot of people say, 'I don’t know how it happened, it just did. I was not planning to hurt my spouse'."
In November 2016, Lissy published her first book, Affairs Don’t Just Happen: Protect, Repair, Recover, to help readers better understand relationships, marriages, and affairs. The idea to pen it came from years of working with husbands and wives. “I hear stories of challenges that marriages face. Many of them faced various types of infidelities or affairs from emotional ones, to sexual ones to online ones to texting ones. People were wanting to exit marriages sooner… Commitments were not given importance,” Lissy recalls.
Part of the process in couples counseling is to work backwards; Lissy helps figure out just what would trigger a spouse’s vulnerability to cheating. As petty or serious as the reasons were for doing so, she makes it her mission to help them work through the problem. “In counseling them, I always remained hopeful. They were giving up on each other but I was not,” she says.
The book also comes at a time when local movies and teleseryes seem to put the spotlight on philanderers. There was, for instance, 2011’s No Other Woman and 2012’s A Secret Affair. The former saw Cristine Reyes' character discovering that her husband (played by Derek Ramsay) is cheating on her with Anne Curtis' character. The latter reversed Anne's role to that of the victim, competing for her ex-fiance's (played again by Derek) attention against Andi Eigenmann's character.
Two years later, The Legal Wife came out on primetime, with Angel Locsin playing a woman scorned but still trying to keep her family together. Etiquette For Mistresses followed in 2015, which followed four women being asked to mentor the newest member of their group on how to be a mistress, while struggling coping with their own issues as kabits of their respective partners. Now we have My Ex and Whys, wherein a work project reunites Liza Soberano's character and her ex-boyfriend, played by Enrique Gil. Naturally, reactions to these titles range from anger over the supposed propogation of adulterous behavior, to praise from people who could well relate to their situations.
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Affairs Don't Just Happen is an intended guide towards better understanding of relationships, which can help men and women keep a partnership strong enough to withstand the threat of an affair. “I realized that if we highlight the red flags and inform couples what to watch out for, then maybe affairs can be prevented. Then many couples would be spared of the turmoil, chaos, and pain that an affair can bring,” notes Lissy.
Without giving too much away, Lissy’s book tells stories of the people she's counselled and sheds light on just how common affairs have become. It also brings attention the consequences it has not just to the cheated, but to the cheaters, and even the family. As its title suggests, Lissy offers words of advice on how to protect their marriage, repair it when it starts to feel distant and disconnected, and recover it from the ravages of an affair, if one has taken place.
Of course we just had to ask what her favorite "affair" story is: "Anita's best friend’s husband passed away. They attended the funeral. Her best friend was devastated with the loss of her husband. She had no idea how to deal with finances of the business and appeared just so helpless. Anita encouraged her husband to help her best friend, accompany her to board meetings, settle the assets, go to the bank, and make decisions and so on. Before she realized it, an affair develops between the two and Anita’s marriage ended." *cue Alanis Morissette* Anita’s good intentions had “stabbed her in the back”. Two women, two best friends losing their husbands... one to death and one to an affair, and both lose a lifelong friendship, she recalls.
Lissy’s 8 Cs or Commandments For Every Rule in every relationship:
(Be) Centered: Know yourself so that your partner can know the real you. Your partner should know you the most/the best. Allow yourself to be known.
Curious: Stay interested in each other and stay interesting for your partner.
Connect: Maintain a meaningful connection thru emotional closeness, sharing your deepest thoughts and feelings.
Care: Act in loving, in affectionate and caring ways daily.
Cherish: [Treasure] each other. Make the other feel they are special.
Communication: Regular communication using effective skills are essential to understand one another.
Calendar: Be available for each other—Do fun things together. Set regular time to be with each other.
Commitment: Love is a decision not only a feeling.
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And her words of advice, for women married or otherwise:
To a young woman who's with her first boyfriend: "Know that you should know yourself in different relationships and situations. Hopefully, your first boyfriend won’t be your last. Date more and know what kind of person would be right for you. Know the qualities that are important to you so that you can decide well. If you are their first girlfriend, too, realize that they need to also date a bit more before you commit. Better to date now than later."
To a woman who's in a long-term relationship: "You know each other well, more comfortable and possibly not putting in so much effort to impress the other. The true self is being revealed and you might be a bit disillusioned. This is the period when most vulnerable to an affair. This is also the time when you more or less know if you are ready to make a lifelong commitment to one another. If you seem unsure, might be important to acknowledge what's lacking and maybe the need to take a break and date others first should be considered. Better to know before marriage than suffer an affair."
To a woman who's about to be married and worried her fiance might not be all in on the whole marriage thing: "Ask yourself what are the red flags that are telling you that he is not 'all in on the marriage thing'? Where is the doubt coming from? Have there been affairs during the relationship? It can be helpful to listen to your gut feel. Is there something missing in your relationship? Does he prefer his barkada? Do you not feel special? Don’t think things will change after marriage. It will even get worse. What you see is what you get. Don’t tell yourself it will get better. Find out now and seek help. Work on issues until they are resolved."
To a first-time mom: "Children receive our unconditional love the moment they are born. Parenting is such an exciting time that it is easy to get so distracted by the little one. A lot of affairs happen at this time. The spouse feels unattended to. When they see you give all your energy to the kids and none for them, they may seek it elsewhere. Be aware also of your grooming and hygiene. When busy with a little one, there might be less time to look our best. Don’t let your husband call you 'mommy.' It takes away the intimacy in being their lover. Continue to call each other the endearing names before the children came."
To someone in a long-distance relationship: "Being away from each other for long periods time is really not advisable. The reality, though, is that we live in a commuter world due to job opportunities around the world. What can we do? It is really very challenging. It takes maturity, strong commitments, and emotional strength to keep the relationship safe. There are many unmet needs in a long distance relationship. Hopefully the relationship was strong before it had to endure the distance. Remind each other of the goals of why you decided to be in a long distance relationship. Keep in touch daily (at least 3x during the day). Attempt to connect through a video cam. Stay curious about each other’s lives, be interested in each other’s activities, and bring your problems to one another. Be available. When one partner feels vulnerable, reassure and spend time to comfort each other."
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Artwork by PV Sandrino / Photographs courtesy of National Book Store