Lots of people have them.
In some cases people are serial adulterers. They are hedonists who are only interested in themselves, and they don’t care about who they hurt in the process. Basically they are narcissistic and selfish, and just overall not nice people.
But stats say that anywhere from 20-40% of people have affairs at some point. That many people can’t ALL be terrible human beings.
People generally don’t advertise when there has been an affair in their relationship, but often it gets out. And when friends and family find out that someone they know had an affair they are often stunned. A common reaction is:
He/she had an affair? I never thought they were the sort of person who would do that. I guess I didn’t know them that well after all.
This sort of reaction isn’t just isolated to outside observers though, as the betrayed partner is often in a state of shock.
And not only is the betrayed partner shocked, but often the person who HAD the affair is also shocked. Many people who have affairs are somewhat horrified with themselves both during and after. They never thought *they* would be the sort of person to have an affair.
Yet they did.
And that leads them to realize that they aren’t who they thought they were either.
When you look at stories, there are a lot of common elements. Usually starting with long term relationships that are “in a rut”, where the passion is gone or fading. But sadly, that happens to most of us over time.
So is everyone at risk of having an affair? Well, even if 40% of people do, 60% don’t. So are there actually some common characteristics of people that make them more susceptible? I believe there are.
In this post I want to explore that, as well as provide some thoughts for those who are either having an affair or have thought about it.
I think the idea that sexual needs not being met leads to an affair is only partially true. Yeah, if your sexual needs aren’t being met it will spill out into the rest of the relationship. But I actually think that’s a symptom and not a cause.
I believe affairs are much more frequently about emotional needs and connection. And when you feel emotionally connected then sex is a natural result of that.
So people are in relationships that are in a rut, and the emotional connection has broken down. They meet someone and connect emotionally, and don’t actually intend for it to go any further. But once that emotional connection has been made, nature takes over.
In fact, a recent British survey on affairs found that for both men and women, attention and emotional connection were among the leading reasons for affairs. Here are the top three reasons, broken down by gender:
- I felt flattered by the attention (men 35%, women 44%)
- I felt emotionally deprived in my relationship (men 29%, women 43%)
- I was dissatisfied with my sex life (men 32%, women 15%)
Note the difference between men and women when it comes to their sex life. Sex is twice as important to men than women. I suspect those numbers are skewed a bit by different perceptions around sex. For men, sex is often seen as symbol of the relationship, so dissatisfaction with a sex life is dissatisfaction with the relationship. For both genders however sex is only part of the reason behind an affair, and attention and emotional connection are more significant factors.
When people say they didn’t mean for an affair to happen or it was a mistake, I think there is some truth to that. They probably weren’t looking for an affair. They were actually looking for attention and an emotional connection that was lacking in their own relationship.
They just didn’t mean for it to go as far as it did. But by pursuing a friendship/relationship after they knew feelings were developing, they are completely at fault.
The Cheaters Perspective
In the blogsphere you find many stories of relationships broken by affairs, mostly from the perspective of the betrayed spouse. A few months back I found a blog written by a guy on the other side of the fence; someone who betrayed his wife and is now trying to deal with the fallout from his decisions.
An affair is always wrong – I will never suggest otherwise. But although we may not choose to have affairs, the pain and loneliness of a stagnant relationship is something I suspect many couples in long term relationship can relate to.
In his blog he starts with the affair and it’s ongoing aftermath, and slowly peels back different layers of his history. But for purposes of telling his story here I will try to stitch together a few pieces in some degree of chronological order (The sections below in blue are reprinted from his site with permission).
The Breakdown of the Marriage
Up until this point in our marriage we only really ever fought about one topic. Sex. I have a higher drive than she does and so it has always caused friction. I would make an advance, sometimes I would handle it poorly and sulk for a short time but often times I just would leave the bedroom to watch TV or something else. Just so I would not bother her. Then she would feel extremely guilty and we would end up doing it in the morning half the time or maybe the next week. Either way neither of us ever felt good about the situation.
After a few years of this, I started to believe that even when she accepted my advances she was just doing it to get her “wifely duties” completed. It wasn’t because she wanted me or even sex for that matter. It was very hard for me to deal with but I did what I thought was best. First I assumed I must suck at sex. I must be awful because I love how she makes me feel and if I don’t make her feel this way then I could see why she doesn’t want me.
I would try and talk to her about it but it usually ended up having the focus about sex and not just my wanting to know that she did indeed want me around. Then she would feel guilty and then try to have sex with me and then I did not want it because it was only because she felt guilty, not because she wanted me. It was a frustrating cycle. I don’t know if you can imagine but having the only person you have known and loved constantly reject you and avoid you will destroy you. She was everything I had ever known.
My response was to keep slowly pulling out of our marriage. I stopped going out of my way to work on us. I stopped reading and researching ways to make your marriage better and closer. Instead I just avoided alone time. We stopped having sex but every couple of months and it was nothing spectacular.
The Rise of the Affair
One day as I was driving home from my commute I came across an app to meet other people. I could view peoples pictures and decide if they were a match for me. After a couple of weeks I had a few dozen matches of people I thought were out of my league. I would chat with a few here and there but one drew me in particular. She was funny and cute and we seemed to really have a good time chatting back and forth. We talked for a few months and I noticed I was much more pleasant at home. I felt good about myself because my ego was being fed. I was happier and even my kids noticed it.
I thought this was a perfect setup. I really believed I had no intention of ever meeting her and she never pushed to meet me. We were both content with what we were getting. It seemed to take the edge off my marital problems and my wife and I were getting along better. We still were not very active in the bedroom but when she denied me it wasn’t such a big deal because I knew there was at least someone else who found me attractive and good company.
But it also started a destructive dialog in my head. It was something like:
- “These women find you funny and attractive but your own wife doesn’t.”
- “She won’t be intimate with you because she does not find you good-looking.”
- “You are just the father of her children and her partner but you will never be the love of her life and you can never make her happy.”
These thoughts or ones similar would just pour through my mind. I couldn’t get them to stop.
Exciting and New
We kept sharing more and more personal information with each other. This went on for a days and I felt like we really had a connection. She kept telling me how easy it was to talk to me and how I can make her feel so safe that she can share most anything with me. She told me that she has not felt this at ease with anyone before. I told her that I felt the same. I was a lot less guarded around her and felt like I could say anything and it would not surprise her or scare her away. I was thinking how much different she was than my wife. How exciting, how refreshing. I did not feel judged, just accepted. I felt like she really understood me and liked me for who I was, even though she truly did not know who I was yet.
I think this led to a lot of the attraction I felt. It was new and exciting and she was interested in everything I had to say. We were sharing and exploring each other intellectually and emotionally. I really believe that is what really hooked me, it had been a long time since someone made me feel this way and I wasn’t even sure if I actually felt this excited and close to my wife all those years ago. Now in hindsight, I can say that this is probably how I first started with my wife.
Crossing the Line
Now I have thought about this for a while, why did I finally decide to meet her again even though I was pretty sure deep down that I knew what I was getting into. I know on the surface I thought I could control myself. So really, the second time I was going to see this woman we would actually do it. No way! Not in a million years! Uggghhhh… (I guess on the surface I was old-fashioned, but deep down I knew. I really knew).
Ending the Affair
I was lonely and dying for attention, which is what led me to look for it else where. I did not do this looking for an affair, but just some attention that validated I was worth something. Then I met the other woman (OW), one thing led to another until I was in a full blown affair. It was euphoria when were together and agony when we were apart. This is what fed the illusion that it was such a great “relationship”. The reality was, it was just fantasy land and as I began to see her with everyday problems like us, the less and less I wanted to be with her.
I think I was finally really realizing what I had done. I was seeing that the OW was really just fantasy land and none of it was real. My wife helped me recognize this by her asking about the OW and why she was so perfect. I told her she wasn’t and if I decide to leave the marriage I am not running into her arms. She has a lot of problems that she would have to fix before I would let her around my kids. Once I told her this it pretty much shattered the fantasy that I had with her. I started seeing her with her problems and everyday trials just like everyone else.
I have tried to give excuses for why the affair happened. The reality is I am the one who made the decision to cheat. If I thought the marriage was that bad I should have left, not taken this route. I made that choice and she had nothing to do with that choice. I have to take responsibility and be a key component in both her recovery and my own.
Things to Learn
As I said earlier, cheating is always wrong. But generally, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Most commonly, an affair is an attempt to fill gaps that are missing in a relationship. And attention is the number one thing both men and women are looking for.
They want to feel loved again, and they want to feel valued. In the story above, the guy turned to “dating apps” for the attention he felt was missing in his relationship. This is not uncommon.
I recently read an article on Tindr that found 36% of users are actually married, and an additional 12% are in a “committed” relationship. That’s almost ½ of all users who are probably not looking for an actual relationship. So what are they looking for?
Sex? Probably. An ego boost? Definitely. But mostly, attention.
It’s a sad commentary that in many relationships, we often do a poor job of making our partners feel loved and valued. And eventually, they look elsewhere for the attention that is missing.
In a prior post I talk about some of the reasons I think this happens. Basically I think we get too caught up in every day life, and we stop making our partners a priority. After all, they will always be there, right? Thing is, when you stop making the other person a priority they start to feel it. And it hurts.
Some people won’t like this, but I believe in relationships damaged by an affair the partner who was cheated on does hold some of the blame. I’m not suggesting it’s 50/50 or anything, and they aren’t the ones who cheated. But in most cases they contributed to the conditions that led to affair. Unless they recognize their own role in the breakdown of the relationship (whatever it may be), they will never be able to heal and move forward.
Life does get busy. Jobs, kids, house maintenance, personal lives etc. But in order for a relationship to survive, it needs maintenance. It needs time, and effort put into it. And it can’t only come from one person. Both members of the relationship need to feel valued, and loved.
When we subconsciously think “I’m married now, I don’t need to try”, problems will invariably set in. Relationships only stagnate when you let them.
For the person who has cheated (or is on that path), a few things to consider:
When the guy in the story above was on the dating app, it felt good. He was getting the attention from other women that he wasn’t getting from his wife, and it made him question why? He came to his own conclusion:
What did they see that my wife didn’t? This question never went away. I could not get it out of my head. It would not go away. I was the same person wasn’t I? I looked the same, had the same personality, then why?
It is a funny question to me now. What did they see that my wife didn’t? I can answer it without a problem. They saw someone who had an interest in them. Who made them feel attractive and interesting. So they never saw me, they saw what I was giving them. So the real question I should have been asking myself was not “What did they see that my wife didn’t?” but “What I am giving them that I am not giving my wife?”.
Another thing to note is that an affair is rarely about our partners, or our relationships. It is about ourselves, and our coping mechanisms. As another person wrote after his affair:
I wish I’d known what love was. I craved feelings I labeled as love. Feelings that came from having someone I valued value me in return. It made me feel I was all that. In fact, the more I esteemed the other person, the stronger the effect. But, what I really loved was how they made me feel about myself. The reflection of my image in their eyes made me feel amazing. But love isn’t that feeling, rather it’s the grace my wife extended, not when I deserved it, but rather when I least deserved it.
One final thought.
People are often more susceptible to have affairs when they are dealing with things like depression, or if they have issues with self-esteem or self-love. If you struggle with loving yourself, external validation from others is needed. However it’s important to understand the following:
All the external adoration, respect and adulation in the world, can’t drown out the internal voices that tell us, we are not good enough and unworthy of; happiness, love and an abundant life. When we need others to tell us we’re amazing, worthy and lovable, in order to feel good about ourselves, it is never enough. It goes into the bottomless pit where our inherent self-worth should be. It may feel like we are reaching out to receive love, but in actuality, we are seeking external noise to help drown out our negative core beliefs.”
― Jaeda DeWalt
Affairs are never the answer. They are a form of escapism, a way of running from the problems that relationships will face from time to time. Sure, the cheater gets an ego boost and some sexual release – which helps them feel better (for a time). But they don’t solve anything, and they don’t make things any better.
A better solution is effort. Communication. No matter where you are, and how deep the hole is you can always get out. But you need to want to.
The guy in the story realized that he felt good around other women because they were giving him attention. But that attention was in turn because of the attention he was providing to them. Attention that he had stopped giving his wife long ago.