It’s hard to describe the feeling that came over me when I discovered my husband was having an affair. It was one part horror, one part punch to the gut and one part relief because some of the things that didn’t make sense finally did.
And of course, one of the first questions to enter the screaming torment of my mind was, “Why did he cheat on me?” Followed shortly by the self-preserving thoughts of,
“But I was a supportive wife.”
“We talked about everything and never fought.”
“We had a great sex life.”
“He always said he loved me.”
I thought that affairs happened only in the absence of love. Of sex. Of emotional intimacy.
I was wrong.
Affairs can happen for many reasons. Here are the ones I encounter the most:
The Bad Decision
This is the “it just happened” infidelity, although that excuse makes my skin crawl. This is the affair born of bad decisions that may or may not have other co-existing causes. There is no magic in a wedding band that suddenly causes all others of the opposite sex to be invisible. We all meet people that we find attractive and that awaken that little spark. But you always have a choice. Long before anything happens, you can make the decision to walk away. The earlier the better. The closer you get to a flame, the more difficult it becomes to leave without ignition occurring. You may get to a point where your body has the best of you, but you can choose to use your brain before then.
The Need for Physical Connection
A marriage where the partners have different sexual needs is certainly a struggle. In this type of affair, one (or both) of the partners is craving more physical intimacy and they look outside the marriage to sate their appetites. Sometimes the affair is proceeded with a pronouncement about one partner’s dissatisfaction with the dead or dying bedroom. Other times, the lips are kept sealed about any discontent, leaving the non-straying spouse in the dark.
My frustration with this type (and the affair described below), is that so often the straying partner is helping to create the desert at home by turning his or her attention away. This reason is also used as a fictitious excuse for infidelity and can even be created by the straying partner as a way for them to reconcile their decisions within their own mind. After all, it’s easy to claim a sexless marriage and difficult to refute unless you never close your blinds.
The Need for Emotional Connection
Two has the potential to be lonelier than one can ever be. There is no worse feeling than being with someone and yet feeling invisible. Sometimes, people can change and grow apart. Other times, one spouse may feel completely abandoned by their partner. I often hear this complaint after the arrival of a child, when one spouse returns to school or when one person is overwhelmed with increased duties at work. The partner left behind may feel ignored, unappreciated or disrespected. And they slide into an affair with someone who helps to build them back up.
In this type of affair, the straying partner is seeking responsiveness and demonstrative affection from another. They describe their marriage as “dead” and want to feel alive, appreciated and understood.
The Need for Approval
This is often the affair of the narcissist. They are typically brief and in succession, a new partner replacing the former before he or she gets to know too much. This straying partner is driven by the need to be idolized, which is a trademark of early romance that fades as time reveals more about the person.
The Need for Stimulation
Affairs can be rewarding; there is a rush from the newness that is amplified by the necessary intrigue. Some people are wired to need more stimulation. These are your daredevils. Others train themselves to need an increasing amount of stimulation, such as in the case of addiction. Their threshold for stimulation is set higher than a “normal” life can fulfill and so they are always seeking their next reward. After all, there is a documented connection between Twitter use and affairs.
The Snipe Hunt for Happiness
I find this the saddest reason for infidelity. In this case, a person is truly unhappy and, rather than address the issue internally where it resides, they begin a snipe hunt for happiness, looking for it in external things and often, people. This affair is not driven by something missing in the marriage; it’s powered by something missing in the person. And, what makes it sad to me is that while they are on a winless quest for happiness, they steal joy from others along the way. Even those that they truly love.
Regardless of the reason for the infidelity, it comes down to this –
Having an affair is a choice.
And there are certain characteristics of those that are more likely to make that choice.
Cheaters are often selfish and lack empathy. They act without regard for consequences to others and fail to see the bigger picture.
Cheaters often shirk responsibility for their own wellbeing and are quick to lay blame. This leads them to demonize their spouse, idolize their affair partner and refuse to consider their own actions.
Cheaters may be impulsive and struggle with boundaries. And this may put them in situations where it’s difficult to not make bad decisions.
Cheaters may be manipulative. They gaslight their spouse while telling the affair partner that the spouse is awful.
Cheaters are pros at compartmentalization. They build walls between their actions and their self-image in order to avoid the discomfort of cognitive dissonance.
Cheaters are often cowardly and afraid of confrontation. Rather than speak up with their spouse, they’d rather quietly step out.
Betrayal within in a marriage is some of the most acute pain you can feel as you face rejection by the one who promised to always hold you. By understanding what may have led to the affair (both in the marriage and in your spouse), you can begin to learn from the experience and eventually move on.
Refuse to let your partner’s actions determine your self-worth. Because if you allow this to continue to hold you back, you’re ultimately cheating yourself.
Lisa Arends is a moved-forward, re-center, re-purpose divorcee working to inspire others to do so as well. She has written the “How-To-Thrive Guide.” You can learn more about “thriving” and get other inspirations at her blog, lessonsfromtheendofamarriage.com.