Affairs. Cheating. Adultery. Infidelity. It doesn’t matter what you call it, it happens with an alarming frequency. If you look up statistics the numbers you find will be all over the map. But based on the numbers I’ve read, 20-25% of women, and 30-40% of men will have an affair during a marriage or other committed relationship. Even plus or minus 10%, those are staggering numbers.
Of all the issues a couple can run into, nothing is as damaging as an affair. Often they signal the point of no return for the couple. Relationships are built on trust and mutual caring and respect; and affairs tear those foundations down. Even when relationships are able to rebuild and recover after an affair, the landscape of the relationship has fundamentally shifted. As the saying goes, you can forgive, but you never forget.
Types of Affairs
In a prior post, I talked about types of sex. There’s sex as the physical act and intimate sex, where it goes beyond the physical act and is also an emotional connection. Similarly I see two types of affairs. For lack of a better term I’ll just call them “sex affairs” and “love affairs” (if anyone has better names let me know).
Sex affairs are purely about sex. This may be one night stands, or it could be a recurring sexual relationship where there are no expectations beyond the physical side of things.
Love affairs go beyond the physical. There is actual connection between the two people and they want to see each other for more than just sexual gratification.
Sex releases oxytocin, which helps facilitate feelings of trust and attachment and build connection. So sex affairs can develop into love affairs, because the sex can lead people to believe they have fallen in love with someone just based off of the sexual connection.
Although there are differences between the types of affair, there are also similarities. In both cases, the person engaging in the affair knows they are doing something “wrong”, but they figure it is alright as long as they don’t get caught. Some people get away with it for years. Sometimes their partners find out but turn a blind eye to it. Other times their partners find out and they confront the person. When forced to confront the affair, either to themselves or to their partner (when they are caught) the offender often has all sorts of reasons and excuses as to why they did it.
From various relationship books, articles, blogs, and the comment sections on blogs I’ve seen many different rationalizations given for why people have affairs. I don’t believe I have ever been the “victim” of an affair, but I feel strongly about commitment and that causes me to have pretty strong feelings on affairs (you’ve been forewarned). Here are some of the common rationalizations I have seen, and my thoughts on them …
It just happened
Really? Things like that don’t “just happen”.
Imagine you are out for a walk. While walking you trip, and another person sees you falling and tries to catch you. Now let’s also imagine that while you are falling there is some strange wind vortex that causes both of your clothes to come off and at the same time makes it so instead of the person catching you with his/her hands they catch you with their genitals. Oh yeah, they also happen to catch you on your genitals, causing to two of you to get tangle up by the genital area. Then, in the process of trying to untangle yourselves the wind pushes you back together repeatedly until one or both of you orgasm. Under those circumstances I suppose yes, it could have “just happened”.
But there are a fair number of events that have to happen in a certain sequence in order for this to take place. Is it possible? Anything is *possible*, so I guess so. Is it probable? Maybe I’m crazy here, but I’ve got to say no. So no, I don’t think “it just happened” is really a viable rationalization.
It didn’t mean anything
This one is a bit better, as the person is partially taking ownership of the issue. They are acknowledging they made the decision to cheat. But they are saying it’s alright, because it didn’t mean anything. “Oh yeah, I did have sex with another person. But don’t worry, because I didn’t actually care about them. It’s really you that I care about”.
It didn’t mean anything? Umm, yeah, actually it did. The affair may not have meant anything with regards to their feelings for the other person. But it meant a lot in terms of showing how they value their partner. It meant they put their own personal desires above the commitment of the relationship. It meant commitment is something they feel they can turn on or off as it suits them.
Affairs are Romantic
Of all the rationalizations I’ve seen this one is my personal favorite. When I’m picturing a romantic setting I tend to visualize things like a candle lit dinner to the backdrop of soft music. Or holding hands and walking down the beach during sunset. Or even just curling up with my partner and simply enjoying their presence.
Maybe my thinking just isn’t as progressive as it could be, but for some reason the prospect of having sex with someone other than the person I am currently in a committed relationship with doesn’t qualify as romantic (even if it is done by candlelight, on a beach at sunset).
I suspect the person just had a poor choice of words, and what they really meant was affairs are exciting. That I can kind of understand.
As a kid I remember sneaking a peek at my Christmas presents. My brother showed me a technique where I would cut the tape on one side of the present, open it to see what it is, and then just cover it over with another piece of tape. I was often able to find out what I was getting in advance, and it was difficult to detect. Sure, it took the fun out of Christmas; but at least I could plan out which presents I would play with first! Around the same age I discovered swearing, and I would frequently swear with my buddies. I would even occasionally sneak (alright, steal) a dollar from my mom’s purse to go buy candy. There was a degree of excitement in doing something I knew was wrong. Of course I was about eight or ten at the time, and eventually I grew out of these things.
I’ll admit these aren’t exactly the same as having an affair. But there IS a bit of an adrenaline rush and excitement in doing something you know you shouldn’t be doing. If you get your kicks from the danger of being caught doing something wrong, then I can see how there would be an allure to affairs. But that doesn’t make them romantic.
We can’t control who we fall in love with
While it’s definitely possible to love two different people at the same time, it doesn’t happen overnight. It requires intimate sharing of emotions and feelings to build the connection that leads you to fall in love with someone. And that is the part you DO have control over.
If you are committed to someone else, you owe it to them to not take actions that will jeopardize your relationship. Don’t put yourself in situations where this is a risk. If you’re ever doing something and you know you wouldn’t be comfortable telling your partner about, then you know you probably shouldn’t be doing it. If it’s something like buying yourself a new outfit, then maybe those little lies by omissions aren’t that harmful. But when it involves interactions with another person? Sorry, people know when they are crossing certain lines. They just choose to do it anyways.
Let’s say it does happen and you find yourself having fallen in love with another person? Well then you have a choice to make. Have enough respect for your partner to end one relationship before moving forward with the other one.
I wasn’t happy
This is at once obvious and troubling. There’s a saying “happy people don’t cheat”. If you are happy in your relationship why would you?
One of the first questions I would have for someone in this case is “Why aren’t you happy?” All sorts of things can cause unhappiness, and it may have nothing to do with the existing relationship.
If you aren’t happy in your relationship, you are more likely to be taking actions that put you at risk of falling in love with someone else. But like I said above, if you find yourself in love with someone else pick a relationship and move on.
The Real Reasons
Alright, we’ve had a few common rationalizations. Now let’s get down to the actual reasons that people have affairs (well, according to me).
A big part of affairs is emotional immaturity. This isn’t overly surprising when someone is young (say early twenties), but it becomes a bit alarming when it persists as someone gets older. I’ve seen exchanges where a guy points out a girl and tells another guy that he’s “banged her”. To which the other guy says something like “nice”, and they fist bump. The girl in those cases is simply a conquest, another notch on the bedpost. There is no interest in a relationship; this is just hedonism.
Commonly people who have affairs have self image issues. They need the validation of another person wanting them sexually to make them feel good about themselves or give them an ego boost.
Another reason for affairs is selfishness. Someone wants the positives of a committed relationship or marriage, but they don’t want the restrictions that come along with it. They feel they should be able to have the best of both worlds. Their focus is “them”, and their pleasure. They don’t respect their partner. They may claim that they do, but if they did would they really be having an affair? Hell, I doubt they even respect themselves. Commitment involves trust, and by having an affair they are showing that they aren’t deserving of that trust.
If an affair is a love affair and not just about sex, it can be more problematic. Love affairs are often symptoms of deeper underlying issues. They may be issues with the existing relationship, or personal issues. Either way, the affair becomes a way of trying to fill a void that they are feeling. Just as some people turn to drugs or alcohol to “deal” with issues, others turn to sex.
People should work on their relationship first instead of trying to fill a void by stepping outside of it. Try to understand what’s wrong with your existing relationship. View any problems as opportunities to improve what you have, and work on it. Long term relationships aren’t always easy, and commitment shouldn’t only apply when times are good.
There are many cases where people have tried to repair their existing relationship and it hasn’t worked. When this happens, it should be decision time.
Don’t stay to “keep the family together”. That’s really just another excuse to try to have it both ways. A way to have the kids and the safety and comfort of home while doing whatever you want. If you’re having an affair chances are you have checked out emotionally on your partner. That not a good environment for the kids anyhow.
And don’t stay just for the financial stability of that comes with the existing relationship. Actions have consequences. If the current relationship was bad enough that you decided to stray, then be willing to accept the consequences. It won’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be.
Putting in your Notice
Have you ever changed jobs? With jobs, most people line up a new job before they put in their notice to quit their existing one. That’s fine, because jobs are a form of a contract where what you do outside of work time is your own business.
If you aren’t happy with your current job you can start looking for a new one, and if an opportunity comes up you take it. You put in your notice and for two weeks or so you show up to your current (now old) job, while counting down the days until the new one begins. If you don’t get the job it’s no big deal because you still have your existing one to fall back on.
Many people do the same thing with relationships. Often a relationship ends and it’s amazing how quickly one of the parties finds themselves in a new one. I suspect the “new” one was often in the works or already started before the old one ended.
Unlike jobs, the commitment of a relationship doesn’t have set hours. And it doesn’t only apply when your partner is around. If you are in a committed relationship with someone, no matter what state it is in now, at one point in time you cared about that person. If the relationship has broken down to the point that you believe it is beyond repair, or if you believe you have fallen in love with someone else, you owe it to the love you once shared to end the relationship before starting one with someone else.