Queen Elizabeth II and Second Lady Karen Pence

Many affairs begin, innocently enough, over drinks with a colleague after work, or while attending a convention or business meeting out of town.

The cheater doesn’t start out intending to cheat. But opportunity knocks, one thing leads to another, and coworkers or business acquaintances find themselves having an affair – betraying one and sometimes two spouses.

Such hookups are often portrayed as romantic and adventurous in novels and films – and by online profiteers such as Ashley Madison. In real life, however, they more typically lead to disaster: broken marriages, profound emotional wounds, parent-child estrangement, sexually transmitted diseases, community ostracization and financial ruin – not to mention the derailing of once promising professional careers.

There are concrete and highly effective steps that you can take to stop work-related infidelity before it ever starts. I know of many, many men and women – including successful executives and professionals – who adhere to these rules and have safeguarded their committed relationships as a result.

That said, these steps are decidedly “old-fashioned,” and some critics will insist they are prudish and overkill.* To which I respond, “true” to both. There is nothing trendy about remaining faithful to your spouse or committed partner.

I believe the best evidence for adopting these recommendations are the skyrocketing divorce rates we face as a society, as well as the reported incidents of infidelity.

A Relationship Seatbelt

Like wearing a seatbelt while in a car, most often these suggestions won’t actually be necessary.  But just as no one knows when a vehicular accident may occur – so it’s wise to always wear your seatbelt – no one really can control when a cordial work relationship, given the right opportunity and atmosphere, might cross the line to become a romantic work relationship.

So think of these ideas as a relationship seatbelt for committed partners: Better safe than sorry.

  • Avoid one-on-one meetings away from the office, if it is at all possible to bring along a second colleague or friend.
  • If you must meet outside of the office, select a “business” venue that is primarily associated with business activities, not social gatherings. Avoid bars, hotel rooms, and dark restaurants that serve alcohol.
  • Reduce or eliminate topics that do not pertain to work, especially those related to sex, physical attractiveness, and your relationship with your spouse. If you are having relationship problems at home, share them with a family member or professional counselor, not a work colleague.
  • Don’t act differently in any way toward a colleague or business acquaintance when you’re alone than you would if your spouse or significant other was present. That includes:
    • Flirting in any fashion, no matter how innocent
    • Casual touching, such as a hand on the shoulder or back. Clothed massages are especially hazardous
    • Sharing desert or side dishes at a business meal
    • Walking him or her back to a car, home or hotel room
  • If everyone in the office is buying a birthday gift for a colleague, you can participate too. But avoid giving one-on-one gifts to a co-worker of any kind, if the gifts are not from you and your spouse.
  • Don’t have business drinks. Stick to soda, water, or juice. I suspect alcohol is responsible for more unintended incidents of infidelity than any other factor.

Know the Signs

An early infidelity warning sign among colleagues and professional contacts is when you “miss” a co-worker if he or she is away on business or absent from the office for an extended period. If you find yourself hoping for a communication from a colleague – text, email, or call, even if the topic is pure business, you should take extra precautions to shield yourself from temptation.

Fully trusting one another – regardless of the setting or the circumstance – is one of the most important foundations of a healthy marriage.

Whether you apply all of these suggestions or only some of them is your choice. Knowing yourself, you may wish to add other rules and modify these. But making a commitment to avoid work-related affairs – and being certain to adhere to those rules – is a wise choice for any married person or committed partner who wants to avoid the serious consequences that almost always result from infidelity – regardless of how innocently the affair begins.

Infidelity knows no limits based on age, race, economic class, or religion. You might think to yourself, “I’m safe socializing one-on-one with her (or him). We could never become romantically involved because we’re so different.”  Think again.

History has demonstrated untold millions of times that when it comes to sex and infidelity, humans will surprise themselves over the partners they select.

Not Even for The Queen

I like the true story of a well-known, wealthy international businessman whose religion – and own set of anti-infidelity rules – prohibits him from any form of physical contact with a woman other than his wife.

This successful world-traveler had occasion to be among those enjoying an audience with the Queen of England, who extended her hand to him. With a warm smile, he declined to meet her welcoming gesture.

Later at a reception, a woman who witnessed the businessman’s unusual interaction with the Queen asked his wife about it. His wife explained it was her husband’s rule – and an act of loyalty.

“As his wife,” she explained, “It’s very reassuring to know that when he travels alone, meeting so many attractive and influential women, I needn’t worry about him. If he won’t even shake the Queen’s hand, I know I can trust him completely.”

Fully trusting one another – regardless of the setting or the circumstance – is one of the most important foundations of a healthy marriage.

The Mike Pence Rule

* Late last month The Washington Post published a profile of Karen Pence and noted her close relationship with husband Vice President Mike Pence. Karen and Mike were married in 1985 and later become evangelical Christians.

The Post article cited an earlier profile in The Hill in which then Representative Pence – who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001 to 2013 and then became Governor of Indiana – disclosed that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without Karen by his side.

The Pence Rule, which some say is a version of the Billy Graham Rule – designed to avoid even the appearance of sexual impropriety – generated a storm of controversy.

Critics punched holes in the Pences’ approach to marriage, using a variety of arguments, including that it is discriminatory against women – especially single women – and may violate workplace regulations.

Defenders pointed to other elected officials, including President Bill Clinton, Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, General David Patraeus, Congressman Mark Sanford, and others of all political persuasions, who were publicly humiliated when their infidelities were exposed, noting that they could have saved the damage to their families, their reputations, and their constituents had they adhered to the Pence Rule.

My position is that the men and women who enter public service – whether elected or appointed – give a great deal of themselves for the benefit of others. That said, they must also do whatever is necessary to preserve and protect their marriages and their families.

I believe that each public official, like each of us, would be wise to set and follow a personal set of rules in order to reduce – and ideally eliminate – the temptations of infidelity.