A smoldering gaze from a stranger across a crowded room…a chance encounter with an old flame who confesses to still missing you. You’re probably familiar with the delicious frisson of sensual excitement that can accompany such events. If you’re single, you may well decide to take things further. But what if you are already in a committed relationship? Before you let temptation get the better of you, take these steps to affair-proof your partnership…

Remind yourself not to misinterpret an attraction to someone else as a sign that your current relationship must be seriously flawed. It is normal to be drawn to almost any person who is charming, attractive, intelligent, accomplished or funny…and it also is normal to feel flattered by this attention and to fantasize about being with that person. Such thoughts and feelings are harmless enough. In fact, research suggests that they can even strengthen your bond with your current partner—at least if you’re a woman. Reason: Studies show that women’s brains have a built-in faithfulness feature that, when triggered by a flirtatious fantasy, touches off subconscious counterbalancing thoughts of loyalty and commitment.

Set safe limits. Flirtations can be innocent as long as you merely enjoy the electricity without letting things get physical. To keep from crossing that line, make a list of the possible consequences of a fling (such as feeling guilty or empty afterward, contracting an STD, getting caught, enduring a painful breakup)…acknowledge how hurt your partner would be if you cheated…remind yourself how much you value your moral integrity. If passions get intense, reaffirm your limits by saying, “I am attracted to you, but this is going no farther—I am committed to being faithful to my partner.”

Inject some “new love” excitement into your existing relationship. What’s missing from your life right now that has you toying with thoughts of cheating? Quite likely, it’s the excitement factor. Over time, it is common for couples to become bored, take each other for granted and think they know everything about one another. The new object of your desire is appealing precisely because he is a mystery (even if he is an old flame) and his attention makes you feel desirable. To experience those same heady emotions with your current partner, get him to agree to go on a date and pretend that it’s the first time you met. (This may feel forced or silly at first, but stick with it.) Dress up…hold hands…go somewhere special that you’ve never been before…treat each other in a courteous, caring way. During your date, ask your partner the deep questions you would want to ask a new man to whom you were strongly attracted (for example, What do you treasure most in your life? If you could have one wish, what would it be?). People change, so no matter how well you think you know your partner, you may find his answers surprising and exciting. Then, when you get home, fall into each other’s arms…tear off each other’s clothes…and let your recent fantasies inspire some truly creative lovemaking.

If the urge to stray persists, seek professional counseling. You may need professional help to confront unresolved conflicts within yourself, such as an exaggerated need for attention or a fear of commitment…or to resolve real problems in your relationship, such as sexual incompatibility, built-up resentment or retaliation for a partner’s indiscretions. For a referral, visit the Web site of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (www.aamft.org). Talking things through with a trained counselor can help you figure out why you are putting your relationship at risk…whether it really is time to move on…or whether what you have with your current partner is worth working on to make it stronger, deeper and more satisfying.

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