Lesson 4 of 7  - optimize your relationships

Perspective on Marital Affairs

The Real Reasons Mates "Cheat"

by Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/relate/mates/affairs.htm

Updated 02-05-2015

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      This is one of a series of articles in self-improvement Lesson 4 - optimize your relationships. This subseries focuses on improving primary relationships.

      This brief YouTube video previews the key ideas in this article. The video mentions eiight self-improvement lessons in this site. I've since reduced that to seven.

      Stories abound in all ages and cultures about married women and men having romantic and sexual liaisons ("affairs") with other partners. Headlines and gossipers question why people risk their integrities, reputations, families, and self esteem to have secret trysts and illicit relationships. A common reaction is to sympathize with the betrayed mate, and fault the betrayer and the "other wo/man."

      This article offers a different perspective on...  

why typical affairs occur,

how to judge people who choose them,

    and the article encourages you to...

understand the implications of these ideas, and how to...

benefit from affairs in your home, family, and family tree.

      The article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site, and the premises underlying it  

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 3

  • this summary of typical marital needs

  • this overview of three wise courtship choices ; and...

  • this research summary on commitment

      Do you know anyone who has had an affair? Have you had one? History and headlines endlessly hint or trumpet ordinary and famous people breaking vows of marital fidelity. Most (all?) religions and ancestral values proclaim that having an affair is wrong, immoral, and sinful.

      How were you taught to judge men and women who "cheat" on their mates? How about judging  professionals who become romantically and/or sexually involved with a client, student, or patient? Typical opinions are that such people are corrupt, weak, shameful, immoral, despicable, sick, selfish, pitiful, criminal, and irresponsible. What are your favorite adjectives? How would each of the adults who raised you describe someone involved in an affair? Did any of them or their ancestors "cheat"?

      I write this brief perspective because many of my ~1,000 therapy clients have described being affected directly or indirectly by affairs. These men and women usually focused on (a) their reactions to the affair/s, and/or (b) judging the persons involved - not what caused them.

      I have never met one person who tried to compassionately understand the primary needs of all the adults affected by an affair. Failure to do this blocks the chance to identify and correct the personal and marital reasons for an affair, and increases family stress and dysfunction.

Premises

      See how you feel about these ideas...

adults and kids act (behave) to fill needs - i.e. to reduce current emotional, physical, and  spiritual discomforts - and to experience short-term pleasure.

most adults and all kids are unaware of the underlying primary needs that usually cause their conscious (secondary) needs.

any day, a person (like you) can learn to use inner and social awareness and clear thinking to identify and fill the underlying primary needs. Learning to do this is part of Lesson 2 in this Web site; and...

effective problem-solving between two people (like mates) happens when both want to ...

  • be consistently guided by their true Selves,

  • respect each other's needs and dignities equally,

  • learn how to use effective-communication skills, and both mates want to...

  • help each other identify and fill their respective primary needs in a mutually-satisfying way.

      If you disagree with any of these premises, what do you believe?

      After 36 years' clinical experience working with hundreds of typical Midwestern-US. persons and couples, I estimate that under ~5% of them knew how to problem-solve effectively. This was usually because they were (a) unaware of significant psychological wounds, and (b) they didn't know they needed to learn effective-communication basics. Could this describe you?

colorbutton.gif Typical Surface Reasons for Affairs

      Try completing this sentence out loud: "Typical people choose to have affairs because ____________.": Then compare your reasons to these premises:

      They (their dominant subselves) ...

want excitement and adventure, in an otherwise dull or boring life or marriage;

want to feel desirable and sexually potent with an attractive partner;

hope sexual desire and behavior will fill a desperate need for love, intimacy, and companionship;

want to (re)experience the "thrill of the chase" and "succeeding" and/or being seduced;

want sensual pleasure and sexual release they're not getting from their mate;

act impulsively, rather than making a well-considered decision;

"don't know why" they choose the affair, do it anyway, and usually regret it;

      And/or people choose to have affairs because they...

want to hurt or "make a point with" their partner or someone else, despite harmful  consequences; or they...

want to defy social, religious, parental, and/or ancestral rules to prove "I am independent!" to someone; and/or they...

feel sorry for the new partner and want to rescue or help him or her; or they...

want to avoid facing the painful realities of aging and what that means; and/or...

several of these.

(add your own reasons) ...

      I propose that none of these are the primary reasons for typical romantic/sexual affairs. If this is so, then focusing on them will not fill the primary needs that cause an affair, and may amplify relationship stresses.

      To benefit from affairs personally and together (!), mates must want to identify the...

Primary Reasons for Affairs

       Surface reasons for romantic-sexual affairs (above) are usually caused by primary reasons like these:

      1) One or both original partners have been ruled by a false self, and no one knew it. That means...

  • The couple's unseen psychological wounds + courtship neediness + unawareness + idealisms (distortions) may have caused one or both to marry the wrong person, for the wrong reasons, at the wrong time. This usually means...

    • their relationship could never fill their primary needs well enough after courtship illusions and excitement inevitably fade, and...

    • increasing psychological and/or sexual dissatisfaction and frustrations are inescapable;  

  • Possibly one or both partners were so psychologically wounded they could not bond with their (or any) mate, so they pretended to bond ("pseudo intimacy"). This means that neither partner gets their core marital needs met. It also means that the mate initiating the affair may have felt there was no real commitment to betray, and nothing of value to lose.

      And possibly...

  • The "betrayed" partner was not finisherd mourning prior losses (broken bonds), so s/he could not really bond. So their partner eventually began looking for relationship satisfaction with another person, because neither mate knew (a) about psychological woundings or blocked grief, and (b) how to reduce these via Lesson 1 and Lesson 3.

      And false-self dominance may have meant...

  • Either or both of the original partners had psychological and/or organic malfunctions with their sexual desire or with normal sexual responses. Once admitted, these are often correctable with skilled help - specially if the mates are working to free their true selves as empathic teammates. 

  • The personality subselves ruling the mate who took part in the affair were burdened with excessive shame and/or fears, and could not risk honesty with their mate about thinking about or having an affair. Once the affair started, these dominant subselves' combined shame, guilt, and fears to overcome the true Self's wish to be self-responsible and honest with their mate, so s/he "lied." ("I am not having an affair!")

      There may be other false-self dynamics (e.g. reality distortion and excessive distrust) that can add to these.

      2) The second primary reason for any affair is that the original (wounded, unaware) couple doesn't know the seven communication skills. Therefore, they couldn't...

  • identify and assert their primary needs effectively; or...

  • do win-win problem-solving to help each other fill their needs as teammates; or...

  • assess and resolve their mix of communication blocks.

      Can you name the seven skills and when to use each of them? Even if mates they know these skills, If they're psychologically wounded they'll still have ineffective communication because their subselves will be distrustful, distort reality, and act impulsively.

      3) The third real reason for an affair is that the third adult (a) has unfilled primary needs, and (b) is ruled by a false self and doesn't know it. Various needy subselves - like the Shamed Child, Lonely Child, Lusty One, Whore/Stud, and Magician - use reality distortion to justify the deception, betrayal, and damage to all adults and kids involved.

      4)  For some mates, a fourth reason for affairs is that if they seek relationship help before the affair, the professionals they hire focus on surface problems like those above, and may also be ruled by a false self .

      Bottom line: typical sexual/romantic affairs are really caused by (a) one or more of the people being controlled by a needy false self and not knowing it, and (b) the original couple not knowing how to identify and assert their unfilled primary needs and problem-solve effectively together. These core factors may have caused one or both mates to make up to three unwise courtship choices.

      Notice your reactions to this premise. Does it make sense to you? If not, have you taken the time  to follow the reading links at the top of this article and reality-test the ideas they present? Is your true Self (capital "S") reading this article?

Implications

      If these are the real reasons for affairs, consider...

  • People choosing an affair are psychologically wounded, needy, and in protective denial - not sick, selfish, immoral, weak, shameful, sinful, irresponsible, etc.  

  • The betrayed partner usually owns half the primary-relationship problem, vs. charging "It's all my mate's (or the third adult's) fault." Fighting over who's to blame for an affair is like trying to prove who caused Winter to happen.

  • Shaming or scorning a person who chooses an affair and lies about it is equivalent to saying someone with cancer or Alzheimer's disease is morally corrupt and despicable. Adults and kids lie when they feel it's not safe to tell the truth. Staying safe is a survival reflex, not "good or bad." Wounded people still must confront the results of their wounds, unawareness, and behaviors... 

  • Striving to "fix" any of the surface problems above (i.e. the symptoms of the primary problems) can never succeed, long term. The best choice is for both partners to want to commit to...

    • assessing, admitting (vs. denying), and intentionally  reducing psychological wounds,

    • growing and using effective communication skills, and possibly...

    • identifying and completing unfinished grief. 

  • Committing to the wrong mate, for the wrong reasons, at the wrong time can be endured but not "fixed."

  • Mates who use pornography to satisfy unfilled primary-relationship needs are similar to partners who have affairs; and...

  • Typical mates will need to work patiently together to (re)gain genuine trust and respect as part of their healing from an affair. Lesson 4 here proposes how to do that.

      A final implication is...

  • Mates who divorce because of an affair may miss the opportunity to learn from it and to improve their wholistic health and their family's nurturance level. This promotes passing the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle down their generations and wounding their descendents.

Recap

      This Lesson-4 article exists because of...

  • the universal reality of some mates choosing to have romantic / sexual affairs,

  • the personal and family stress that causes, and...

  • the common reaction to blame such people rather than to understand ...

    • the psychological wounds + unawareness + unfilled needs that cause typical affairs, and

    • how to reduce the wounds, gain awareness, and fill these needs in healthy ways.

      The article's basic premise is that adults who participate in affairs are needy, wounded, and unaware, not bad, self-centered, selfish, immoral, weak, or sinful. They made unwise courtship decisions, and are not getting some important needs met in their primary relationship. This does not excuse them from owning responsibility for the hurtful effects of their behavior on themselves, family members, and others.

      Major implications of this premise include (a) the betrayed mate is always one half of the problem, and (b) typical romantic and sexual affairs are an opportunity to learn and heal, rather than whine, complain, rage, scorn, punish, blame, divorce, and deny their three primary causes.

      To accept  and apply these premises, all affected adults must want to take responsibility for (a) keeping their true Selves in charge of their other personality subselves, and for (b) reducing any ignorance and false-self wounds. Often that doesn't occur until wounded men and women have hit true bottom in midlife or later.

      Pause, breathe, and recall why you read this article. Did you get what you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not - what do you need? Is there anyone you want to discuss these ideas with? Who's answering these questions - your wise resident true Self or ''someone else''? .

Learn something about yourself with this one-question anonymous poll.

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      For more perspective, see this article on family secrets (like affairs).

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