So often I am seeing clients who have experienced some sort of infidelity, some physical affairs, some emotional or online affairs, or fantasies. As I browse the internet reading research and recent blog posts I am bombarded with questions, and topics related to infidelity. What is happening? Why are affair so prevalent? We can make a lot of assumptions as to why sexualized interactions have increased with the increased use and availability through technology. But I wonder if there is more than that? We tend to assign a moral template to someone who has an affair. We tend to criticize and judge, but I don’t believe any of us our immune to these behaviors. I say that not to inflict fear or anxiety for the reader, but to allow greater insight and perspective as to why folks cheat. I have complied a list of a few reasons that folks have given me.
- Sex. The primary reasons that so many individuals and couples come to therapy after an affair is sexual differences. This is in fact a huge problem in our society, one that we don’t talk much about. Sometimes it’s because one individual states they weren’t able to have enough sex with their partner, other times because they weren’t satisfied with the sex. Overall this is the major reason folks give, and one that is often only a topical reason for affairs. What I mean by this is: Sex can certainly be challenging in relationships, however since it’s such a common problem, why do some cheat and others don’t? We could easily assign a moral compass to this, or pass judgment, however, to me it is greater than that. When people are using sex as a means of communication or connection, trouble can arise. Sex holds many jobs in a relationship for most couples, often times it is more than physical pleasure or release, but also attaining closeness, feeling connected, forgiving after an argument, stress or conflict resolution, or attempts at communicating further needs physically or emotionally. When an individual says they had an affair because of sex, what I hear is that there is likely a mental, or emotional need in the relationship that is not being met or communicated.
- Desire. The feeling of being desired, the beginning of a relationship, the feeling you get when there are butterflies in your stomach. Folks state they have cheated or had an affair because it felt good to have someone else desire them, to find them attractive, to want to be with them. This again speaks to the need to feel special and connected in a relationship and while that falls by the wayside, it can be challenging for both partners.
- Ease or accessibility. This can be a bit more tricky, I have heard many people state that they cheated simply out of ease of finding someone to be sexual with. As first glance this is confusing, insinuation on some level that one cannot control their sexual impulses. But upon further scrutiny, I find that often ease of sexual encounters really just means, someone that was readily available desires me, and is able/willing to have sex when I want to. This speaks a bit more to the desire to be fulfilled at our individual whim, and to feel innately desired by those around us.
- An Ending. An excuse to end the relationship. So often in couples counseling, it begins with one of the partners stating they had an affair because they thought their relationship was over. Let’s face it, ending a relationship is really hard. And for some, there doesn’t appear to be a really “good” reason to end the relationship. So instead, we cheat. We seek out an affair to exit the relationship without actually telling our partner that we are out. This can be particularly painful for the partner that is unaware, as they are not only managing the emotional pain from the affair, but also the end of the relationship. This really puts the partner in a disempowered position in which their individual healing process can take a bit longer.
- Unacknowledged desires. Monogamy isn’t for everyone. Some folks attend individual or couples counseling after an affair, and recognize that monogamy isn’t their ideal relationship status. For some relationships this is the end, and others learn to navigate the world of non traditional relationships together. Regardless, when we talk about cheating and affairs, we need to acknowledge that it is coming from a very “traditional” perspective in which only two people “should” be in relationship with one another. And while there is certainly the ability to have an affair in a non-monogamous relationship, the need for constant open communication is so great that it tends to be disclosed earlier, and dealt with more effectively.
If you are in a position in which you have recently had an affair, or recently discovered that your partner has been unfaithful, seek out counseling. The statistics indicate that you are not in the minority, affairs are very prevalent, and more importantly, you and your partner can have a very successful passionate relationship post affair recovery if that is the path you wish to take.