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updated 2/22/2006 4:59:26 PM ET 2006-02-22T21:59:26

Q. My husband is in the military and is deployed more often than he is home. He is surrounded by men who cheat on their wives. I have issues with trust from previous relationships and this is hard for me to deal with. My husband does not do anything to make me distrust him. When he is home, it is not an issue between us. How can I make sure he is being faithful to me? How does a healthy, sexual man go for a year without sex?

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A. Even though you have no particular reason to doubt your husband, you bring up two important points about fidelity.

First, people who have had their trust betrayed often feel paranoid about subsequent healthy relationships. Sometimes they can even destroy their relationships with unfair and untrue accusations about cheating. So if you only suspect that your husband has betrayed you, your fears may have more to do with your past hurt than with your husband’s present behavior.

Second, if your husband is constantly around men who cheat — and who trumpet this fact — this is a cause for concern. It is hard for someone to stand his ground about the importance of fidelity when those around him constantly voice opposing views. This talk may desensitize your husband to the importance of being faithful and cause him to make adjustments to his moral compass.

It is not clear whether you know that your husband’s colleagues cheat, or whether you simply assume they that do. If they do cheat, there’s not much you can do except to point out to your husband that while you trust him, he is on a slippery slope if he hangs out with men who see no problem with this. You can suggest that he cultivate friendships with men who are faithful to their wives and that he tell his cheating pals to keep their business to themselves.

And yes, a healthy sexual man can go for a year, or many years, without having sex. While a man might want to have sex, he is perfectly capable of knowing that remaining faithful to his wife is more important.

If he is not having sex with a woman, this does not mean he’s not experiencing some sort of sexual relief. Nobody needs a partner for self-pleasuring. Talk to your husband about this.If he's not already practicing this, you may suggest that, in your absence, self-pleasuring may be a solution. This is not an uncommon situation.Many people find themselves in the same boat as you are in, with spouses who travel often or work far away.

I also suggest you make the effort to stay in as much contact as possible with your husband when he's away through letters, e-mails, calls, and visits. You want to maintain a close relationship with him. Let’s face it, with enough time apart, people can grow distant from each other. And it sounds like you want to prevent this.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: For spouses who are often separated from each other for long periods of time, self-pleasuring provides sexual release without cheating.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book, "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts" (Penguin), helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.

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