An Open Letter to Cheaters

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Based on everything I know, people who cheat REALLY don’t get what they have done.  Yeah, some say they do – they may cry and say they are sorry, but they DON’T GET IT.

They don’t get the damage they have done and the pain they have caused.  They don’t understand how their actions have fundamentally changed the world for the person they have cheated on.  They don’t understand the pain and loneliness, and how this one revelation can completely change everything.  Everything you believed about your partner is called into question.  Every memory becomes tainted.

You find yourself questioning – if they were capable of cheating on you, how well did you actually know them?  If they were able to lie and hide this, what else was a lie?  What is/was real?  Was anything real?

It’s kind of like the movie the Matrix, where Keanu Reeves was going about his daily life and he knew something was wrong, but couldn’t figure out what.   Then he eventually found out his life was a lie and he was really hooked up to a machine; and his whole world changed.

Finding out your partner has been cheating on you can be THAT level of a fundamental shift in your understanding of things.  You may have known that things weren’t as good as they could be (though sometimes people have no idea), then suddenly your world becomes broken and things don’t make sense anymore.

 

Cheaters don’t get this.  They can’t.

Because if they DID get it?

Then they wouldn’t have been able to cheat in the first place.

 

A Breakdown of Trust

Now, I won’t pretend the above is a blanket statement that applies to all cases.

I don’t believe all affairs are created equal.

An emotional affair with an anonymous person over the internet is different from a drunken one night stand.  And both of those are different from long term affairs where someone is leading a double life and hiding their activities from their partner.  There are a lot of different things that can happen, and different “severities” of affairs if you will.

Additionally, I believe that while the person who cheats is ALWAYS wrong, that doesn’t mean the person who was cheated on is necessarily in the right (to be clear, they are NEVER at fault for the cheating.  They’ve likely contributed to the decline in the relationship that contributes to the cheating, sure.  But cheating is always a choice made by the person who does it).

So affairs can be nuanced, and complex.

 

But they all have one thing in common – a complete and total destruction of trust.  And this is kind of a significant problem, because trust is the foundation relationships are built upon.

So when that is gone, there’s a good chance it will tear down everything else with it.

Your relationship may not have been perfect (obviously it wasn’t, or you wouldn’t have cheated), but chances are even if your partner knew there were issues, they had NO IDEA how bad you felt things were.  They probably thought you were fairly solid as a couple, and you should have been able to work though whatever problems existed.

If nothing else, they trusted you with their heart.

Relationships may be hard at times, but they REALLY don’t have many rules.  Love each other, and be willing to show it.  Try to communicate with each other.  And don’t be selfish – don’t put yourself first all the time, your partner needs to matter too.

If you’ve cheated on your partner, regardless of your reason you have to understand you have broken pretty much every relationships rule there is.

 

Why Did you Cheat?

There’s very little in this world that is black and white; but affairs are one of the few things that are almost universally accepted as wrong.

Something you need to understand is, why?

Why did you do it?  

What in your values allowed you to justify having an affair?

 

This is an extremely important question to be able to answer to yourself honestly.

 

I can understand people being unhappy in their relationship.  I can understand people falling out of love.  I can understand feeling stuck, and wanting some excitement in your life.

There may have been any number of reasons why you felt you would find yourself happier in another relationship.  And they may be completely valid and understandable.

But none of them will answer the most important question of all:

If you were that unhappy why didn’t you leave your existing relationship first? 

If you can’t look hard at yourself and truly answer that question of WHY (even if only to yourself), then you are likely at risk of doing the exact same thing again.  Not saying you will, but it will always be a risk if you don’t truly know why.

When caught, some people will show genuine remorse and make promises that it will never happen again.  And often I suspect they mean it – at least in the moment.  But then it happens again.  Or, if it doesn’t happen it’s mostly because someone is scared of the consequences of getting caught again, and not because they really saw what they did as wrong.

It’s crazy to me, but through this blog I have talked to a number of people who have cheated.  And one of the common things I have heard is they are sorry for hurting their partner but they aren’t sorry for the affair!!!  The regret is mostly for the damage done and the consequences they have suffered.  But they really don’t regret the cheating, or breaking their vows.

I believe serial cheaters tend to be people who have never taken a hard look at themselves and tried to understand how their values became so broken that they were able to do what they wanted and not care enough about their partner to think of how their actions could impact them.

 

When someone has cheated, I think one of two things has happened.

Scenario one, they are people who always put themselves first and think the regular rules of relationships shouldn’t have to apply to them.  In their minds, they are special and feel entitled to do whatever they want to achieve their own “happiness”.  They believe they deserve to be able to do what they want, when they want, and not have to worry about the consequences of their actions and how it impacts others.  Because of course, they are the ones who matter.

These people are true narcissists, people who don’t actually care about anyone but themselves.  So if the opportunity was there?  Sure, why not.  They either don’t really see what they are doing as wrong, or maybe they do and they simply don’t care.

 

Another scenario is someone was unhappy and feeling emotionally dead – often due to something like depression or unresolved grief.  Their emotionally dead state made them start to believe there was something wrong with their relationship, and to believe they have fallen out of love.  While in this emotional state someone started to give them the type of attention they felt they were missing – and they liked how it made them feel.  One thing leads to another, and before they realize what has happened they are in an affair.

These types of affairs often stem from a state of anhedonia, and become like an addiction the person can’t give up.  When someone talks about how their affair allows them to “feel alive again”, often the person who is cheating is dealing with underlying issues with depression or something similar.

These people do realize they are doing damage, and will go through periods of guilt and shame for their actions.  They may even start to hate themselves for what they are doing.  But like an alcoholic with a bottle, they find themselves unable to stop.

In both cases, the cheater likely has underlying issues that need to be faced, and resolved before that person will ever be able to have a healthy relationship.

 

What Now?

It’s always important to understand the “why”, but if you are someone who already HAS cheated and is trying to hold onto your relationship, what do you do?

 

First off, you have to TRULY want the relationship, and you need to be able to say WHY you still want your relationship.  You cheated, so you can’t have wanted it that badly at the time.  What is different?  Why do you want it now?

Your answer can’t be that you are scared of losing it, losing your family, or being alone.  Wanting something and being scared to lose it are two VERY different things.  And unless you TRULY want it, you are never going to be capable of putting in the work required to (potentially) save it.

Even if you do truly want it, you need to accept that there is a very good chance you are going to lose it.  That’s just the reality.  You’ve broken every rule of relationships, and actions have consequences.

Anyone trying to decide if they want to stay with you now will be struggling with the fact that commitment seems to mean something very different to you than it does to them.  The cheating has happened.  It can’t be changed now, but trust is destroyed and that will color the future if it’s not rebuilt.  And only you can rebuild it.

This isn’t the sort of thing you ignore.  It’s not the sort of thing that you say “sorry” and then move on as if it has never happened.

 

I’ve spoken with people who are trying to rebuild/hold onto their marriages after an affair, and the healing process is a slow and difficult one.  It will likely take years, and realistically if the relationship IS salvaged, it will never be the same.

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Understanding that, here are a few tips for anyone who is hoping to hold onto their marriage.

First, it HAS to be over.  There can’t be contact with that person ever again.  If you think you can either keep it going, or even just be friends with that person in the future then you are proving you REALLY don’t get what you have done (not to mention you are a sh*tty person).

Likewise, trust with you ever being alone in the future with members of your gender of preference is probably gone.  You have cheated, and it’s now up to YOU to make this better.

You need to sell your partner on why they should stay with you.  And you need to understand that you’ve already shown yourself to be dishonest, so this selling job will take a very long time.

It will take consistent effort, probably for the rest of your life.

 

You need to own your actions.  No blaming, no rationalizing, and no minimizing.

Don’t say you made a mistake.  You may be still telling yourself it was a mistake as a way of rationalizing it to yourself, but it wasn’t a mistake – it was a choice.  And even if someone is willing to buy into the idea that an affair can be a mistake, that only applies if you did it once.  When you continue it and see that person a second time, it becomes a pattern of choices.  And another word for a pattern of choices is behavior.

So no, it wasn’t a mistake.  Here’s what it really was – an opportunity.

You saw an opportunity to live outside the “rules” of your primary relationship.  To do what you wanted, even at the expense of your partner or any promises you may have made to them.  And you did it because you thought you could get away with it.

Sometimes when they are caught, cheaters will say things like “I never stopped loving you” or “I never meant to hurt you”.  For someone on the receiving end, it’s pretty incomprehensible to understand how cheating is an act of love, or to think that you could cheat without realizing you would hurt them.

You didn’t just hurt them, you destroyed their world.

And to hear you “never meant to” just proves what they have likely believed all along.  You didn’t mean to, because you were never even thinking about them.  You were never even considering them, their emotions, or the damage you would do.

You were only ever thinking about yourself.

 

Here’s something you need to understand – the cheating isn’t the actual problem here.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty big f*cking deal.  The REAL issue is the lying.  The deception.  The double life.  The time, energy and effort that was put into another relationship instead of being put into the primary relationship.

More than the cheating, it’s this deceit that will likely tear your relationship/marriage apart.

And there’s only one way past that.

You’ve been dishonest and broken trust, and it’s time for that to stop.

A common thing for cheaters to do is to downplay what they have done, figuring the less their partner knows the better.  Or perhaps figuring that although they are now caught, they will only own up to the things that they have actually been caught in.

You partner is going to want, and even NEED to know things that you probably don’t want to tell them.  And you know that the truth is going to hurt them, and likely push them even further away.

But the truth is the ONLY way out.

Because relationships are built on trust, and that trust is already broken.  So if you EVER want to repair it, you need to start with truth – no matter how difficult it is.

If they want to know the truth, you need to tell them.  All of it.

Yes, they may cry, they may scream, and they may leave.

Better to leave knowing the truth though, then to try to rebuild a relationship on a rotten foundation.

Because I can promise you one thing.

If they give you another chance and you continue to hide things and lie?  After they have tried to forgive and tried to rebuild, if they find out you were hiding things and not being honest?

Well, the trust that needs to be rebuilt will be shattered again.  And once you have broken it a few times, there won’t be any more chances, and there won’t be any going back.

 

Actions have consequences.  And if you’ve chosen to cheat, you will need to live with yours.

 

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Honesty

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Honesty.

We all want it in our relationships.

But is dishonesty ever “alright”?

It seems like a simple question at first.

Of course dishonesty is not alright – we want honesty all the time. After all, if you can’t trust someone about the little things then you can’t trust them about the big things, right?

But when you really look at it, it’s not really that straightforward.

What is dishonesty? There are three main forms of dishonesty:

  1. Lies
  2. half truths
  3. lies by omission

Some people think of honesty only in terms of lies, but it seems very clear that it’s more than that. Honesty is not only about the words you say and the actions you take.

It’s also about the things you don’t say.

You can be 100% honest in everything “you say”, while still being very secretive and deceitful. Half-truths and lies by omission are as damaging (if not more) than the things that you say.

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Intimacy vs. Autonomy

Intimacy is all about closeness, and the way to build intimacy is through the sharing of your thoughts and feelings.

No one shares everything however, and we shouldn’t want them to. It’s important to balance intimacy with autonomy. Even when we are part of a relationship, we are still an individual and it’s important not to lose sight of that.

When you see your partner at the end of the day, it’s common practice to ask about their day. When we do this we don’t actually want to know everything. We aren’t looking for an itemized list of what your partner did during the day, minute by minute (at least I hope not). What we are really looking for is a summary, with maybe some of the highlights and lowlights of that day. We want to know what was important to them, and by them sharing that with us they are both maintaining and building a sense of intimacy.

It’s up to each person to determine what the “relevant” details are, and this is one of the places we get ourselves in trouble. What it relevant to one person may be different from what is relevant to another.

Let’s say you had a cheeseburger for lunch.

Now let’s say you had sex with a co-worker at lunch.

Maybe it’s just me, but these seem like they are pretty different things. Having sex with your co-worker is kind of a big deal, and sharing that knowledge would probably have a different impact on your relationship then telling your partner you had a cheeseburger.

One seems a wee bit more important in terms of relevance to your relationship than the other, and although the fallout would be considerable, I think it’s a safe bet that your partner deserves to know about the lunch sex.

But what about the cheeseburger? Is there any need to tell them about that?

Normally the answer would be no. But it comes down to context.

What if you and your partner are on a diet together, and the cheeseburger was a way of “cheating” the diet?

What if you are saving up for something and you promised to brown bag a lunch in order to save up money?

Well then perhaps the cheeseburger IS actually relevant. Maybe your partner WOULD be hurt if they knew about the cheeseburger.

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Intent

When withholding information from your partner (either through half-truths or complete omission) it comes down to intent.

WHY are you withholding information?

Is it because you truly thought it wasn’t important and it didn’t even occur to you to tell them? Is it because you want to surprise them with something? Or is it because you were feeling guilty and you didn’t want them to find out?

Sometimes people have disconnects on what “is important”, and this is an area where communication comes into play. Over time these sorts of disconnects will be sources of conflict for a couple, and this is natural and even healthy conflict.

When there are disconnects on what is important you can use them as opportunities to understand your partner better, and be a better partner to them in the future.

But if you are ever withholding information or keeping secrets out of shame or guilt, then you KNOW you have done something wrong. If this happens, any withholding is intentionally being deceptive.

Drawing the Line

Is it ever alright to intentionally be deceptive?

Sure, if you want to surprise your partner with something. It’s kind of hard to surprise them with things if you can’t keep some secrets.

But what about secrets that would hurt them?

I think there probably is a bit of a grey area here as well.

We all run into problems and issues in life. And sometimes we don’t want to share those. Sometimes we need to be able to work through things on your own.

That’s understandable to a degree. We don’t want to be the person who is alarming our partner by crying wolf every time we have concern or a fear. Sometimes we realize our fears are nothing, and it’s best not to stir the waters by raising them.

It’s important to be very careful with this though.

If these fears persist for a long time, or if they start to spill over into and affect the relationship, then they are pretty damned relevant. At that point choosing to keep them to ourselves will only ever do harm. It will break down trust, and damage the integrity of the relationship. And the longer it goes on, the more damage will be done.

Being Honest

I think being honest in a relationship doesn’t mean you are always truthful. It doesn’t mean you have to share every little thing. There are cases where you will hold things back, or even outright lie in the short term (with surprises for example).

To me it comes down to three very important things:

  • Intent
  • Empathy
  • Respect

We all choose our own actions. If we are in a relationship, then we need to think about our partners in the things that we do.

If our intent is good in the sense that we are considering our partner and being respectful towards them, we may still get ourselves in trouble if there is a disconnect between what is important to one versus the other. But those sorts of conflicts are fine.

We should never hide behind lies and partial truths or omissions out of shame or guilt though. Those sorts of things will only do long term harm.

And we should never do things that are disrespectful to our partner, or we know would hurt them if they found out. If we are doing that, then our relationships are built on a rotten foundation. And eventually, they will crumble under the weight of our own deceit.

Acting with respect, empathy and good intent is always the best approach.

The truth isn’t always easy to face; but it’s always the right answer.

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Coping With Life

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A few weeks back I had a post chronicling one guys story as his marriage broke down and he started an affair.

It’s a common story. A couple in a long term relationship gets in “a rut”. Their relationship feels stagnant, and one or both parties don’t feel particularly appreciated or valued. Then someone else shows up on the scene who shows an interest in them, and the attention feels great.

They feel valued.

They feel “alive” again.

So they start to spend more time and energy on this new person while simultaneously emotionally pulling out of their relationship.

It’s easy to see how it happens. And it seems the obvious solution to prevent this from happening is to take care of your own relationship.

But for some reason, it doesn’t seem that easy. Why can it be so hard to turn around your relationship when it’s in a bad spot?

As I was thinking about this, I had one of those “aha” moments, where it feels like a bunch of disparate pieces of a puzzle have come together in a way that I had never seen before.

Here’s my theory:

In the vast majority of cases, relationship problems and affairs are not about the relationships at all!!! Rather, they are about coping mechanism.

Let me explain…

Life Sucks

Here’s the thing. Life sucks.

Alright, not really. Life doesn’t suck – but a lot of the *stuff* we need to do sucks. Jobs, groceries, chores, bills, diapers, whatever. This is no surprise, and is something I’ve talked about before.

My idea at the time was that we get so caught up in day to day life that we stop making time for the relationship; so OF COURSE the relationship will suffer.

To turn things around, it stands to reason that you just need to start making time for each other and start having fun together again. Doing this should let people rebuild, while also strengthening the relationship against future breakdown.

Simple, right?

It seems like it should be, but for some reason it isn’t. Many couples get caught up in negative momentum, and have a hard time digging out.

You loved each other once. How hard should it really be to nurture that love?

Harder than it seem it should be.

Why?

Getting Drunk

Let’s think about drinking for a moment.

Why do people get drunk? I’m not exactly an expert on being drunk, but I can ask questions and do Google searches just as well as the next guy.

There are all sorts of reasons people give for getting drunk, but here are a few:

  • I like how it makes me feel
  • It makes me feel confident
  • It’s fun
  • I feel carefree
  • There’s no stress
  • It makes me feel like anything is possible

Looking at those answers, it seems pretty clear that getting drunk is a form of escapism. It’s a way of forgetting your worries and the stresses of everyday life. It’s a temporary escape from the real world and a way of coping with life (though perhaps it’s more accurate to say it’s a way of not coping).

There are all sorts of things people do to cope with and escape from the stresses of everyday life.

Some people get drunk. Some self-medicate. Some work out, play an instrument, a sport. Some of us read and write blogs.

We all do something. It’s just that:

  1. people have different amounts of stress in their lives
  2. we are different in how well we manage the stresses we do have
  3. some ways of coping with those stresses are healthier than others

Which brings me back to affairs…

Affairs

In many ways affairs perplex me.

Getting attention from someone feels good. I get that. Sex feels good. I get that too.

But when you read stats on affairs you hear things like he/she didn’t find the other person more attractive. They are often someone completely different from their partner – often in ways the cheater professes they do not prefer. And oh yeah, the person who cheated often still loves their spouse.

So why have an affair?

While reading the comments section of another blog recently I read the following:

Does the affair partner really listen more? Value our spouse more? I really don’t think so. I think it is the illusion of a new, illicit relationship. Two broken people, feeding each others’ egos. Sharing stories with fresh ears that haven’t heard it a dozen times already or more. Their relationship exists in an artificial bubble. They steal time from us, and when they are together with the affair partner, there is no pressure, no responsibility

Note that last bit – no pressure. No responsibility.

I think that’s the key.

Previously I thought that affairs were all about the “excitement of the new”. And I’m sure that IS part of it, but I suspect it’s really the escape from reality that is the biggest part.

Like other escapes, it’s a way to temporarily get away from the problems of life. Work, bills, the kids, all of it.

Thing is, like getting drunk affairs are illusions. They are temporary escapes. They are ways of escaping to an imaginary world where love is all about passion, your emotional and physical needs are being met, and you don’t have to deal with the “hard parts” of life.

And while they may give you a temporary escape from your troubles into the arms (and bed) of another, they sure as hell aren’t going to do anything to reduce the levels of stress that someone is trying to escape from.

Maybe I’m crazy here, but I’m pretty sure they are going to make someones stress levels worse.

A lot worse.

Long Term Love

Long term relationships are about a hell of a lot more than just love. They aren’t just going on dates and having fun together.

They include other fun things such as managing a household, balancing a budget, and potentially raising kids. All of these things add responsibility and are potential sources of stress.

One thing about stress – it breaks down empathy. When people are stressed it is a natural defense mechanism to turn inward, and focus on “me”, instead of “we”.

When relationships run into issues I think it’s frequently the responsibility and stress (and how it is managed by each person) that is the problem, and not really the relationship itself.

The problem is, over time is becomes very difficult to separate the two.

An increased focus on “me” just accentuates the stress when you are together as a “we”. So like Pavlov’s dog, your partner comes to represent all these other things. Your partner is seen as the source of responsibility and stress, instead of being seen as a person who is also dealing with the same stresses with you.

What would really happen if you took them out of the equation? Would the stress actually decrease? Would you have less responsibility?

If you constantly fight about *how* to deal with the stresses in life, then sure, that type of conflict would be removed. You would now be able to deal with the stresses of life in whatever way you felt was appropriate.

But the responsibilities and stresses remain.

Actually, one could argue that they would now increase – because instead of having someone there to offload some of the stress onto when you need, you would now have to manage it entirely on your own.

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For those having or contemplating affairs, guess what. The other person seems “perfect” because the person you are seeing isn’t real. If the relationship were to ever become serious and long term, you would have all the same responsibilities with the new person.

Well, unless they are completely rich and you are having your every whim catered to. Then maybe there’s less stress. Of course if you’re doing that you’re pretty shallow. And you’re also just putting a nice diamond and gold encrusted band-aid on a difficulty in dealing with the stresses of life. But you can always just pay someone to deal with your problems for you, so I suppose there’s that.

As a side note – I think maybe this is one of the real purposes of sex. It’s a release valve from the regular stresses of life and a way for a couple to have a temporary “escape” from the pressures of life, in a way that they can only do together.

Coping Together

Lets face it. Life is full of highs and lows. It can get really busy and stressful, and it sucks sometimes. But that’s life. You deal with it. You do your best to get by.

To me that’s actually one of the strengths of a relationship. You aren’t doing it alone anymore. You have someone with you, and side by side you are going to support each other and help each other get through these hard times.

In good times and in bad.

So one of the best ways to improve your relationship is to try and reduce your stress levels, while simultaneously improving your ability to cope with the stress you do have.

Additionally, try to separate the stresses in life from your partner.

It can be hard to realize it sometimes, but try to ask yourself if the problems are really due to your partner. If they were replaced with a newer shinier model, would things really be better? Or would most of the same problems exist?

I think this notion of associating the responsibilities and stresses of life with the other person is probably one of the biggest contributors to unhappiness in relationships.

If you can accept that it’s often NOT the other person, try to remember that your partner is in the same situation you are.

Try to bring back the idea of “us”. And try to support each other and cope with things together.

The Road to an Affair

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Affairs.

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.

The Myth

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.

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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.