You’re in your car in the early morning on your way to an important business meeting. You pull up to the intersection in your neighborhood, and as you approach, the light turns red. Murphy ’s Law! And it’s a long light, too, one of those that isn’t dependent on trip plates or electric eyes. As you look to your left and your right, you don’t see a single car in sight. You don’t see any cops either. Should you go or wait for it to change to green? As you sit behind your wheel, pondering what to do, you see a car pull up to the red light across the road. The driver looks to the left, then to the right, and, like you, seems to ponder what to do. Suddenly the driver pulls out, crosses the intersection and continues down the road. You look up; the light is still red. What the hell, you say. You put the pedal to floor and take off toward work. Shaved a whole minute off your trip!
That seemingly mundane scenario represents a bigger sociologic phenomenon. When one person bends social conventions, it sends a message to others around to do the same thing. It’s not quite “mob behavior,” but it is one way that an individual gauges the difference between right and wrong.
Marital infidelity follows the same behavioral paradigm, but the impact of an affair is much greater then that of running a desolate red light. Steven M. Ortiz, of Oregon State University, has researched this phenomenon in professional athletes. This assistant professor of sociology describes a “culture of adultery,” fueled by frequent travel, adoring fans, separation from spouses and the behavior of other athletes.
But you don’t need to be a professional athlete to be at risk for an affair. The people you associate with influence which behaviors you permit yourself to do, and which stay off limits. Poor social modeling can happen anywhere, and to anyone. It can take place at night clubs, fitness centers or business conferences. For example, if the primmest and best intended married individuals choose to join their licentious friends at the bar, they may watch detachedly while their friends flirt with potential pick-ups. Over time though, many of these well-meaning people get cozier with potential affair mates. If everyone else around you is doing it, it can’t be that bad. Or so it seems.
In my work preventing infidelity, I encourage my clients to seek the company of individuals who intend to follow through with wedding vows, every hour of every day. Such a strategy helps to reduce the risk of affairs. The July, 2012 Psychology Today article by Hara Estroff Marano points to statistics that show that happily married couples who attend religious services are less likely to stray, as are couples who perceive their friends as being faithful to their marriages. When the prevailing message is one of fidelity, it can make the difference between straying or staying the course.
So take a good look at whom you associate with. How strictly do they stand by their marital vows? If you’re at the intersection between staying true to your vows or going down the road of infidelity, don’t let the person you share the road with steer you the wrong way.