Infidelity Myths Exposed
People have lots of theories about why infidelity is as common as it is. Most of these theories don’t hold water. It is difficult to deal with an issue that is so painful and destructive to families. Therefore, it is important to try to have an accurate, objective understanding of what’s really happening when a spouse breaks the marital vows by becoming sexually and/or emotionally involved with someone else.
Here is the truth behind some common myths about why people have affairs:
1. People cheat because they are bored with the marriage.
People don’t really get “bored” with each other. Boredom means tedium or monotony-a lack of feelings. What actually happens in many marriages is that partners become overly sensitive to one another as the tensions of life build up between them. They learn what pushes each other’s buttons and they start avoiding doing or saying things that will make them or their spouse uncomfortable.They emotionally distance from one another. This is even true for high-conflict couples who inevitably have a whole laundry list of topics they won’t address. They just fight about the same things over and over again, avoiding what’s really going on between them.When all this gets bad enough, spouses become so anxious around each other that they refuse to be vulnerable. They have their “walls” up as high as possible and may avoid each other entirely. This distance can certainly look and feel like boredom, but the key difference is that it comes from too much emotion rather than too little.
2. Someone is having a midlife crisis.
The midlife crisis is an American invention, based on the perception that men often have affairs, get toupees and buy boats in middle age. As Olympia Dukakis says in the movie Moonstruck, a man has an affair “Maybe because he fears death.”There may be some truth to this, but looking through a wider lens at the larger family system can provide a more helpful perspective: Tension builds up between spouses as part of the evolution of building a life together. When the kids are born, many couples manage the tension by creating a “child focused” family. Child focus means that a disproportionate amount of the family’s emotional energy gets funneled into raising the kids.A classic child-focused family has mom overly emotionally involved with the kids and dad overly involved outside of the home with work or hobbies or something else. The child focus enables the marital couple to keep a safe distance from each other. When they are together they will spend most of their time talking about the kids. The couple relationship takes a backseat. Eventually, however, the kids grow up and move out. For some marriages this is very destabilizing. An affair can be seen as a reaction to the changes, or even an unconscious creation of a new relationship triangle to try to maintain the emotional distance that kept things stable during child-rearing.
3. People (men especially) can’t help themselves-they’re wired that way.
First off, in today’s society women are having affairs at almost the same rate men are. Affairs are a common go-to human behavior, just like drinking, spending, gossiping, overeating or any of a number of go-to behaviors you can think of. In that sense, the desire to have affairs is “wired in”. But no one can say that we have to engage in those behaviors. If we have zero free will, what’s the point of trying to do better at anything?
4. People cheat because they are no longer attracted to their spouse?
I have worked with many individuals who say they are no longer attracted to their partners. Sometimes someone will report having absolutely no libido whatsoever. They are afraid they’ll never desire sex again. Then they get to know someone somewhere and-wham-that lost libido comes roaring back in a tidal wave of desire. It’s no wonder it’s so tempting to act on that feeling.It is essential to understand, however, that a lack of sexual desire in an individual results primarily from the relationship process. In other words, sexual desire is lost when the tension between spouses gets too high, their life energy gets spent in reacting to one another, and they lose their ability to function independently. One or both may distance and, in a sense, shut down. This is not indicative of a loss of feeling for the spouse, although it may be experienced that way. The loss of sexual attraction or desire is not irreversible, either.Many couples rediscover the attraction through the course of working on their relationship. Sometimes a spouse will explain that they’ve lost sexual desire because their partner has gained a lot of weight or otherwise “let herself go”. This sounds plausible on the surface, but it is always helpful to look at the dynamics underneath. Overeating, depression and poor self-care are all possible manifestations of relationship disturbance. Those poor coping mechanisms then lead to more emotional distance and it becomes a vicious cycle of self destructive behavior and emotional distance in the relationship.
Affairs are common. They cause a lot of suffering for all parties concerned. People don’t usually set out to have them, but it happens all the same. A better understanding of the relationship dynamics that precede affairs can help spouses to understand them and, if it’s already happened, to heal from them.
Read the entire series:
Part 2: Why People Really Have Affairs
Part 3: Affair-Proof your marriage, 4 Do’s and 4 Don’ts
Part 4: Understanding Marital Infidelity: The Key to Healing From an Affair