About 6 years ago I exclusively started counselling couples struggling with the aftermath of extra marital affairs. Either, the spouse had himself/herself had the affair and had been caught – reeling with guilt and embarrassment and fighting fear; or he/she had been the injured party and caught their partner engaged in an affair – these were on a downward spiral of despair, hopelessness, self-doubt and unfathomable hurt.
In either case, my job was extremely challenging as a therapist because I had to work simultaneously on two levels – allowing the time and space for the betrayal trauma to heal as well help the client (or the couple) to rebuild their self-image and/or their relationship with their spouse (if they decide to try again).
But while going on this journey with couples, I discovered something else – that there are certain common reasons why people cheat on their partners. However, the more important addendum to this point is that NOT EVERYBODY CHEATS. Even though they may have the reasons I’m going to list in a while, it does not guarantee that they will be unfaithful. But if they do, it is most likely for any of these reasons:
We all love to be admired. Who doesn’t like compliments? And if they come from someone new, your brain tells you that they must mean it, because believe it or not, after a while of living with someone, WE start taking their compliments for granted – thinking “oh they have to say it, they are my partner”. It’s the way the human mind works. So when somebody in a committed relationship meets someone who showers them with compliments, their brain relays he message “I’m (still) desirable!” This is a huge adrenaline rush (remember those initial courting days with your partner?) that drives you deeper into the relationship with this person because every time you’re with them, you get a high!
Yes, you heard it right! Actually it’s not loneliness that drives people to seek company outside – it’s actually boredom. People get tired of same mundane work-life-home cycle and miss the days when life offered new surprises every day and when you woke up in the morning, you couldn’t wait to find out what the day would bring! There were no routines, no rule books, no set patterns. An affair brings back that thrill into life. You can’t wait to hear all the sweet nothings your loves would bring to your day!
Try an experiment – talk to someone every day for almost all of your waking hours for a week and then stop suddenly. We guarantee that you’ll miss them so much that you’ll start to wonder if it’s love! What might surprise you is that this could be someone you might have worked with for years, or seen around the neighbourhood and yet never thought about them ‘that way’. Just goes to prove that sometimes what we mistake for ‘love’ or attachment is just temporary intimacy Click To Tweetsometimes what we mistake for ‘love’ or attachment is just temporary intimacy developed by sharing of close information over an extended period of close contact.
If you’re a spouse who feels undervalued by their partner, over a period of time you start to wonder about your own worth and then you start to question everything about yourself. It’s this self-doubt that sometimes drives people to seek solace outside of the committed relationship because they like being told that they matter (everyone does in fact!). A new person not only provides a fresh perspective, he/she also makes them feel worthwhile through admiration.
It is not unheard of when people get into affairs with someone they knew in school or college, may be even went out with for a while, but the relationship didn’t pan out for some reason and they got married to someone else eventually. In this case, if they happen to reconnect with the old flame , a lot of “what ifs” crop up, leading to an imaginary rosy scenario where both people imagine how things would have been if they had ended up together. Like they say, grass always looks greener on the other side, these scenarios draw both parties deeper and an affair begins.
Sometimes you don’t need an emotional reason that pushes you towards an extra marital affair. Some people are born with a higher threshold for excitement (think adrenaline junkies in extreme cases). In such cases, a steady relationship does provide stability and security but stops providing the thrill after a while, and they crave it. This thrill is a combination of a new suitor, the thought of engaging in a socially forbidden act, a sense of power if the other person in the affair is also married, and sense of newfound sexuality in self. Sounds like quite a heady mix huh? Precisely the reason why it’s so damned appealing!
The above motives don’t just apply to married couples. They also work for people in long committed relationships but not married yet, because the dynamic becomes similar. Any given affair can have one, or a combination of the above motives. I recently also came across a well-worded post that explains the three basic kinds of affairs, which, combined with this one forms a sort of manual for understanding affairs!
Discussions on forums :
In conclusion, it’s easy to see than an affair is primarily for the satisfaction of a few basic human needs that come up on slightly higher rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of self-actualization, and the human mind (or heart!) seeks to harvest it from anywhere, throughout life. Some people just take one more step and take action on that need.
Do you think there’s a way to take proactive action on that? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
And stay tuned for the next post in this series on how to divert impulses for having an affair!