Of all of the people who show up for therapy struggling with some aspect of an affair, those in the infatuation, pre-affair (or maybe emotional affair) stage are the least likely to appear. This is such an important decision, you’d think one would seek assistance in reflecting on the implications of taking such a step. In fact, I expect that this post will generate many less readers than others I have written. Why is that?
Understanding what happens to the brain during infatuation can shed light on this phenomena. The euphoria of infatuation actually alters brain chemistry in several ways. The first is that one’s own pleasure becomes the main motivation that is organizing thinking and action. The second is that the center of the brain that connects cause and effect is compromised and thinking in this vein is distorted, infused with an inflated sense of being able to control everything that happens. The third is that one becomes obsessed with the other person. (This is not just psychological. Symptoms of lowered levels of serotonin include this kind of obsessiveness; an intense focus where it feels difficult to stop thinking about the object of the obsession infused with a sense of urgency or even desperation.)
Researching, reading, sitting in therapy and reflecting are not primarily pleasure- enhancing experiences in the short term. There is frequently an impulsivity associated with starting affairs (“it just happened’”) that does not want to be interrupted, lectured to, or discouraged in any way. The warnings that one might hear, either from inside oneself, or those around them seem to lack weight, and are easily tossed aside. They do not penetrate to where they can be considered seriously. They are not supporting pleasure.
So, at the risk of being dismissed, I am going to delineate questions addressing the very real risks that affairs entail.
- Are you okay with getting more involved with the other person, making it harder and harder to end it than it feels right now?
- Are you okay with adding more emotional difficulty to a marriage that may already be struggling?
- Are you okay with plunging your spouse into a prolonged period of suspicion, guilt about being suspicious, loneliness, self-doubt and feeling like they are going crazy?
- Are you okay with causing damage to your affair partner’s well-being?
- Are you okay with causing emotional devastation to your spouse once they find out that may be permanent, or last a very long time?
- Are you okay with extended family members, friends, and colleagues finding out?
- Are you okay with your children finding out and perhaps never looking at you the same way again?
- Are you okay with your children growing up unable to trust their own partners in intimate relationships?
- Are you okay with exposing you and your family to acts of retaliation and revenge by your affair partner, or their spouse?
- Are you okay with you and/or your affair partner losing your jobs?
- Are you okay with your marriage ending?
As I make this list, I already see the hands waving it away. Again, the sense of being able to keep everything under control can make questions like these sound like “catastrophizing.” However, after many years of seeing individuals and couples in the aftermath of an affair I have to say much of this occurs frequently, and in fact is the norm rather than the exception.
The thrill is very real. Furthermore, it is romanticized on television and in the movies, which just makes it seem all the more attractive. If you are still reading, try to find the part of yourself that can till think this through. Consider seeking professional help. It may be the most important thing you consider in your adult life.