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? (more…)
During the traumatic throes of the discovery of an affair, finding the right label, and therefore, singular explanation may feel like a life preserver.
As you read through books and web sites, you’ve probably noticed that almost everyone who writes about affairs has some way of categorizing them. Here are some common examples:
“intimacy avoiding”, “anger avoiding”, “romantic”, “exit,” “split self” “availability,” “alcoholic,” “retaliation, “revenge,” “sexual,” “culturally enabled,” “emotional,” “sex addiction,” proving you’re still attractive,” “can’t say no,””….
However, in my experience, this is only a good start, rather than the final word. Most affairs do not have a singular motive, or cause, but are multi-determined, frequently one piece in a complex puzzle. Understanding this enables couples to be more interested in the whole picture, and lessens the need for blame/shame dynamics.
Let’s use John as an example. (This story is not representative of any particular client that I have seen. Rather it is a composite based on my experience with hundreds of individuals and couples.)
John’s affair started months after his wedding and continued for years.
John had secretly been (more…)
“Men weren’t really the enemy – – they were fellow victims suffering from an outmoded masculine mystique that made them feel unnecessarily inadequate when there were no bears to kill” Betty Friedan, Christian Science Monitor, April 1974
“Mad Men” portrays this “mystique” … women as subordinate and submissive, housewives, maybe secretaries, always standing behind their men, and only able to derive status from their husbands’ positions. The women who dared to deviate from this arrangement paid dearly (as did the women who submitted to it).
It appeared that men had it all… power, control, status, in general..superiority.
But Don Draper (more…)
It might seem like the questions will never stop, or that there are no answers that can satisfy. However, there is a kind of “healing intelligence” behind these questions, and they usually occur in roughly the following sequence. Although there can be more than one motivation for asking a question, a bit of introspection will reveal the core of what you are searching for.
Shock: “How could you do this!?” “How could this have happened!?” “Do you have any idea what you have done to me?” These first questions frequently are the emotional equivalent of shaking your partner by the shoulders as (more…)
Everyone has their own personal beliefs about affairs. These beliefs can stem from how we saw adults around us behaving with each other during our childhood. They can stem from how our parents and other relatives talked about and regarded affairs, from the particular culture you grew up in, and your religious upbringing and beliefs. Sometimes beliefs about affairs are really rationalizations that allow the affair to go on. If you really believe these things, than you don’t feel that you should have to apologize and you may be truly shocked at how traumatized your partner is upon discovery. Janis Abrahms Spring lists some beliefs that justify affairs (and I’ve added a few of my own):
It’s okay if I truly love the other person.
It’s okay if it’s just for sex and my partner remains the most important person to me.
It’s okay as long as we don’t actually have sex.
What my partner doesn’t know won’t hurt him or her.
A one-night stand (more…)
It can be confusing to know that you have betrayed your partner’s trust, to see him or her so devastated, and yet be unable to feel true remorse. This lack of remorse can be the final nail in the coffin of a marriage. You can see that it leaves your partner feeling more betrayed, enraged, disgusted, and/or withdrawn. You can see their panic and feel the tenuous threads holding you together fraying. What you might not know or want to think about is how your lack of sincere apology leaves your partner feeling as if they now mean nothing to you and the lover, everything. However, sometimes that is not the case at all, yet you still don’t want to apologize. Here are some common reasons:
Deep down, you had the affair to get out of your marriage. This is commonly referred to as an “exit affair.” But sometimes this motive is not experienced on a conscious level. In my experience, it can take someone a long time to come to grips with the desire to leave a marriage and the familiarity and/or safety that it represents. Acting out the wish by having an affair can be the first step towards this realization. Ironically, acting out feelings can keep us from being in touch with them.
You’re too angry. You haven’t been able to get through to your partner all of these years, either because (more…)
It can be useful to think about trauma as something that actually wants to heal. If provided with the appropriate conditions, it frequently does. Your partner probably feel that his or her world, life, identity, and marriage has been shattered. Natural reactions include feeling betrayed, panicked, rageful and vengeful, and ultimately very deep, and previously unimaginable pain. I frequently hear “the ground opened up under me,” or (more…)
Whether you are the other person, the discoverer, or the discovered, virtually all of your relationships have been altered by the affair.
Especially at first, the impulse to keep the affair a secret is usually very strong. Certainly, the person having the affair doesn’t want anyone to know, and the secrecy can even add excitement to the affair relationship. However, if you are feeling conflicted about the affair, it may be painful (more…)
I came across an interesting statistic recently; 25% of relationships that start as affairs succeed. “Succeed” is defined as the couple staying together, rather than by the quality of the relationship. I was surprised by the statistic. If I had to guess, I would have thought the figure to be much lower. (For an update on this statistic go to “Can Relationships That Start as Affairs Succeed? Revisited”). But a statistic is just that, and doesn’t tell you anything about any particular situation.
Feeling torn between two lovers can be an agonizing experience. Besides the guilt, and fear of discovery, there is usually some degree of awareness that sooner or later one of those relationships will end. Trying to decide which one would be the most painful to lose may lead some to wonder what the chances are that a relationship that starts off as an affair will succeed. (more…)
Most likely if you are reading this you have been struggling with whether to tell your partner for a while. It’s natural to feel paralyzed, and unable to think deeply about your options. The issues involved can seem endlessly complicated; any route you take resulting in emotional upheaval for everyone involved. Revealing your affair will undoubtedly alter many important relationships in ways that you cannot predict or control. The situation is less difficult if you are clear that you want to leave your relationship for your new lover, but if you have now realized that in fact, you have made a mistake and want to save your primary relationship, or if you don’t yet know who you really want to be with, (more…)