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Spouse Poaching: Why Married People Are Sexy Targets

02/24/2015 05:27 EST | Updated 04/26/2015 05:59 EDT

Have you ever heard of "spouse poaching"? In today's hook-up, shack-up, non-committal dating world, it may unfortunately be becoming a kind of desperate, last-ditch strategy for some people who cannot find a partner to marry or who is worthy of marrying.

Let's back up bit. There have always been men who seek out married women for no drama, no-strings sex. The hook-up website Ashley Madison capitalizes on this. Some men prefer sexual encounters with no emotional attachment, and the taboo thrill of sleeping with another man's wife provides a real ego-boost.

To be sure, some women prefer and pursue married men for the same reason -- sex with no commitment and an empowering sense of conquest.

Yet some single people admit to being attracted to married people because of the things they represent, such as stability, reliability and devotion. And it seems that today's bleak dating landscape may be causing more people to act on this attraction by actively targeting married people as a potential spouse for themselves. After all, most men and women (at least those who have not been previously married) still report that marriage is a life goal.

For example, if a woman is unable to find suitable husband material or cannot find a man to marry her - all the guys she dates just want casual sex or cohabitation at best - she might set her sights on a married man. I have had female clients who admitted to pursuing a married man, even the husband of a close friend, because he has already demonstrated his willingness to commit. That's spouse-poaching in action.

Of course, the vast majority of single women out there would never lower themselves to this tactic; however, it is perhaps an unfortunate outcome of an increasingly non-committal society where some women still long to find a husband, not just a boyfriend.

Nor is this trend limited to women. Many single men are also disillusioned with the hook-up dating culture and I've heard more than one say, "If he married her, then she must be worth it." The fact that another man has put a ring on her finger indicates she's been pre-screened as wife material, giving the illusion that she is a better catch than her more available counterparts. It isn't true of course, but then again it's human nature to want what someone else has.

This so-called "wedding ring phenomenon" is backed up by research that demonstrates how people tend to be more attracted to a person they believe is married. I've seen this in action with clients of both genders who, after becoming involved with a married person, admitted that the person's "taken" status did increase his or her desirability.

So why is any of this important? Well, for starters it might help those single people who are drawn to married people have some insight into their attraction and therefore make smarter life choices. It's fine to look, but once you touch, you're probably going to get used and hurt.

Affairs are messy things and it is unlikely that the illusion of this relationship will lead to any kind of happy reality for you. Even if you do defy the odds and this person leaves his or her spouse for you, all you've accomplished is "winning" someone else's cheating husband or cheating wife. Talk about a booby prize. It's unlikely your relationship with this person will enjoy an abundance of trust or faithfulness. You deserve better.

Knowing that "spouse poachers" are out there can also prevent married spouses from falling into their trap. In my book COUPLES IN CRISIS: OVERCOMING AFFAIRS & OPPOSITE-SEX FRIENDSHIPS, I talk a lot about how "innocent" opposite-sex friendships can quickly lead to emotional and sexual affairs, particularly if the opposite-sex friend is a spouse poacher.

These people can be shockingly aggressive and manipulative in their pursuit of a married man or woman. They know precisely what buttons to push. For example, a woman might play the "damsel in distress" and appeal to a married man's desire to feel needed.

She may begin to text him all the time to ask for his advice or help. When his wife expresses concern over this, he defends her innocence -- She's a nice girl, she just needs me!-- which in turn begins to cause marriage problems. One day she's crying on his shoulder about how awful her boyfriend treats her, and the next day she's stroking his ego, among other things.

Similarly, a man might compliment a married woman's appearance or character, telling her how lucky her husband is to have her and lamenting how much he wishes he could meet an amazing woman like her. What? Your husband is working late again? Doesn't he know what a sexy woman he has waiting for him at home? Before you know it, their texts have become secretive and sexual and an affair is on the agenda.

Yes, these are superficial and stereotypical examples. They might even seem paranoid. Yet these are precisely the scenarios I have seen play out in relationships time and time again. Thinking this can't happen in your own marriage is naïve and short-sighted.

Your marriage might be strong at the moment, but if you're unlucky enough to encounter a spouse poacher when your marriage is going through a time of trouble -- as most marriages do -- you're in for a world of pain, conflict, divided loyalties and emotional chaos.

So what's the solution? Should married people take off their wedding rings? Um, no. What they should do, however, is remain vigilant in terms of opposite-sex friendships and commit to building a fortress of love, devotion and privacy around their marriage and family unit.

Prioritize your marital bond above all things and do what you can, every day, to show each other affection, appreciation and intimacy. Honour your obligation to each other and your kids. And if a spouse poacher does come sniffing around, he or she will move on to easier targets.

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