Here’s a look at some of the questions that arise with infidelity:
- Why infidelity occurs?
- Who’s to blame?
- Can a couple recover from an affair?
- How to evaluate whether a couple can survive and recover?
- What it takes to recover.
Why infidelity occurs?
There are as many reasons for affairs and sexual acting out as there are people. The main reason I see is when there is a break down in the primary relationship. There may be a lack of emotional intimacy and closeness. The couple may struggle to openly communicate about what’s not working. Many women need to feel emotionally close and connected in order to feel sexually open, men less so. Women may say they want to “make love” and men sometimes just want to have sex. Foreplay, especially for women, is what is happening everyday between partners and not just when they jump into bed. I remember one woman who would tell her husband “I don’t have sex with strangers.” He would say “But I’m your husband.” And she would say yes, “I know that but I don’t have sex with strangers.” What she meant is that you don’t talk with me or share the emotional ups and downs of our lives. You don’t know my inner self (which is really the definition of intimacy) and then you want to have sex…you are an emotional stranger to me.
The person who feels emotionally and or sexually deprived is angry and can often justify falling into a relationship with another person (accidentally or intentionally). This is a person who provides what they are yearning. Sometimes there are multiple affairs. They can even be just emotional affairs without sex. The question is whether the person having the affair is falling in love with another or not? Higher risk times for affairs can be after a couple has a baby and sex may drop off. They have very busy lives and no time for each other. Sometimes menopausal women may have a drop in sexual desire and a decrease in sex drive.
People (more often men, although women can also act out too) seek other partners for sexual adventures only. Like visiting prostitutes or having brief sexual flings. Here they can have sexual experiences without all the responsibility of the relationship. It is really the infatuation and attraction stage of a relationship. Janice Abrams-Spring who wrote After the Affair and How Can I Forgive You, termed the phrase, “intoxication with the self” that actually activates the pleasure center of the brain for those involved in an affair or sexual encounter. It may be a supplement to what is or what is not happening in the primary relationship. President Clinton’s and Gov. Elliott Spitzer’s sexual encounters could qualify for this. In those cases neither person appeared to be falling in love with the other partner.
“There’s nothing mystifying about any of this,” says Todd Shackelford, an evolutionary psychologist and professor at Florida Atlantic University.
Shackelford reminds us of the basics of the evolutionary psychology: For millennia, the whole point of males’ often-risky efforts to achieve power, resources and prestige was to translate status into sex with more women. You run the tribe, you get dibs. That’s the way it worked in hunter-gatherer cultures, most of which, Shackelford says, were polygamous. Nearly all men, at every age, wanted sex with multiple partners, but only the leaders could attract additional partners and have the resources to provide for them.
“It’s a relatively new development for men to be vilified for reaping what would have been ancestral rewards for power and prestige,” Shackelford says.
You can’t understand the accounts of Spitzer’s behavior, Shackelford maintains, without understanding that the hard wiring of his brain was designed in an age when that behavior would be deemed perfectly normal.
The correlation between infidelity and high status apparently exists across cultures and over huge swaths of time. Today, of course, you don’t need to lead a tribe to achieve prestige or accumulate wealth. Athletes, entertainers & CEOs are all high-status figures and nothing suggests these people cheat in smaller numbers than politicians. We just don’t hear about it as much when they do. Politicians have been expected to lead impeccable lives in this country since the Colonial era.
Who’s to blame?
It is interesting that Dr. Laura went on the Today Show and blamed Gov. Spitzer’s wife for his behavior. Laura said that Mrs. Spitzer was “wrong since she didn’t make him feel important and make him feel special!” I’m sure NBC got tons of negative feedback for this.
I believe that both partners are responsible for the condition of their relationship, but the one who acts out sexually or has an affair with another person is totally responsible for their actions. People have choices. Even though the wounded partner looks like the primary victim…all parties are victims here… family, community, society.
Can a couple recover from an affair?
I can personally attest after working with hundreds of couples for years that when one or sometimes both partners have had an affair, that couples can recover.
- The first assessment is whether there is a heartfelt apology from the unfaithful partner for the hurt and pain it caused his partner and others. Does the unfaithful partner truly have compassion for the pain he has caused in his partner and family?
- The second – The unfaithful partner must end the affair and turn attention back to the wounded partner (reinvest and recommit). While understanding why the affair or sexual acting out occurred. Does this partner truly want to rebuild or just get out of trouble by appearing to do the right thing? Does this person have the capacity and willingness to remain faithful?
- Third – is the unfaithful partner willing to work with the wounded partner (provided the wounded partner wants to rebuild and recover) to heal the wounds that were created? Rebuilding the intimacy, love bond and trust that has been severely broken by the affair must be the priority.
The recovery is often measured over time and whether the lost love and sexual relationship can be restored enough for both partners. This often takes time and much patience and is built on the existing bond and open honest communication between partners.
I have several examples of affairs and what it takes to recover in my book, Taking Space.