There was one year in my life some time ago when business travel took me away from home one or two times a month.
I watched too much TV during those evenings alone in my hotel room. More than once, I watched movies in which a character cheated on a spouse. This seeded my own imagination with ideas that developed into my private fantasies of marital infidelity.
The strength of a marriage is tested when the jobs of one or both spouses require frequent overnight travel away from home. Under the demands of work-related travel, husbands and wives can go days, sometimes weeks, without seeing each other or even talking to each other. Some jobs keep couples separated for months at a time.
Away from home for days at a time, husbands and wives may become bored and feel lonely, especially in the evenings. I certainly did. Offered the opportunity to spend that time with someone else rather than alone — the truth is that many men and women take that opportunity.
The danger arises when the opportunity for spending time with someone else is between people who may feel some mutual attraction. A survey says that one in three men who cheated on their spouse or partner did so on a business trip. A little more than one in 10 women who cheated did it while working out of town. Their decision to cheat had nothing to do with how happy they were in their relationships. These are findings from The Normal Bar survey, conducted by Chrisanna Northrup and her colleagues.
The survey also found that business trips were the most common settings for infidelity. It appears that the stress and loneliness may make it difficult to resist sexual temptation. For men and women in these circumstances, overtures from a friendly co-worker, client, stranger, or other acquaintance seem hard to decline.
That year when business trips frequently took me away from my wife, my marriage lacked the satisfaction I enjoy today. But even then, I wasn’t interested in facing the consequences of infidelity. Knowing other men who’d cheated on their wives, I couldn’t think of one who lived happily ever after. As much as my marriage back then wasn’t all I dreamed it would be, I knew that protecting my marriage offered me the best chances for having a happy marriage in the future.
As The Normal Bar survey revealed, marital satisfaction is not a vaccination against infidelity. Effective prevention requires planning. The best way to avoid giving in to temptation is to avoid temptation. To guard against being lured into infidelity’s snare, I developed a few habits I still follow today. I share them here for frequent business travelers who may want to adapt them to their travel plans.
1.) Have bedtime chats. When alone and away from home, I always call my wife before I tuck myself in at night. By texting each other earlier in the day, we agree on a time to talk. Without scheduling the call, it’s not likely to happen. For us, it’s a good time to share with each other about our day. Scheduling and making the call keeps our relationship in the forefront of my mind and leaves little room for devious thoughts or temptations.
Having a plan provides a way out when an unexpected offer arises that could lead to trouble.
2.) Set boundaries. I enjoy after-work social activities as a way to get to know my co-workers and clients better or to visit friends who live where I’m traveling. But I won’t allow myself to be alone in a hotel room with a woman for any reason. I also avoid pairing up with a woman for late-night activities, whether it’s for drinks, entertainment or work. While it may lead others to think I’m a party pooper, I’d rather live with that than the memory and grief of having cheated on my wife.
3.) Avoid flirting. It may be only for “fun,” but whether you intend it to be or not, flirting is a signal you’re available.
4.) Make a plan and share it. An attractive co-worker invites you to meet him or her in the bar after dinner. How do you answer? If you have a plan, it’s easy to politely excuse yourself to keep your appointment to call your spouse.
I begin each day of my business trips with a plan, including what time I expect to return to my room in the evening. I share it with my wife the night before or in a text in the morning. Having a plan provides a way out when an unexpected offer arises that could lead to trouble.
Jon Beaty, counselor and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of the book “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work.”