The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity

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In an excerpt from his new book, Dr. Scott Haltzman offers insights into some of the unmet needs that may cause people to stray.

In the last chapter, I offered different explanations for why people look for and find love inside and outside of marriage. Everyone has hormones, everyone has biological drives, and everyone feels attractions to other people. But not everyone cheats. As many of the stories included in this book emphasize, cheating happens when a perfect storm of several factors come together. This chapter explores these factors.

 

A TIGER’S TALE

Let’s start by looking at a real-life example of infidelity. Consider Tiger Woods, one of the greatest golfers, and possibly one of the most noto- rious philanderers, of our age. I’ve never met Tiger, so I am basing my profile on television and print information.

Tiger married Elin Nordgren, a Swedish model, in 2004, three years after he met her at a golf tournament. They moved to an estate just outside Orlando and had two children, one in 2008 and the other a year later. Just three months after the birth of their second child, Tiger ran his car into a mailbox just outside his driveway. Because of a National Enquirer article about an affair between Tiger and a nightclub manager named Rachel Uchitel, the press suspected that the accident was related to a fight between Mr. and Mrs. Woods. But nobody was talking.

By the end of the week, the silence was broken. Not by Tiger, or Elin, or even Rachel, but by a cocktail waitress named Jaimee Grubbs who claimed that she had been sleeping with Tiger for more than two years. By way of proof, she released the now-famous voicemail recording of a man she claimed was the star golfer saying: “Hey it’s Tiger, I need you to do me a huge favor. Can you please take my name off your phone? My wife went through my phone. . . You got to do this for me. Huge. Quickly. Bye.”

In the month that followed, eighty-nine different women came forward to proclaim that they had had sex with Tiger while he was married. By then Tiger admitted to having had an affair. According to one newspaper (the National Enquirer again), Elin finally decided to file for divorce in June 2010, when Tiger revealed he had a one-night stand with his 21-year-old neighbor, whom he had known since she was 14.

In a one-year retrospective on Tiger’s infidelity published in a Tampa newspaper, thirteen women were confirmed as objects of Tiger’s philandering, including porn stars, nightclub owners, social- ites, and a waitress at a Perkins restaurant in Orlando.

It’s absolutely true that few people are as rich and famous as Tiger Woods. So his affairs may be much, much different from the affair (or affairs) that affected you. Tiger’s story illustrates a fundamental certainty, however: for any affair to take place there must be three elements in play: a need, an opportunity, and disinhibition of impulses. The first three letters of these words, combined, give the NOD to an affair. In this chapter, I’ll talk about how these three elements form the building blocks of cheating.

♦◊♦

NEEDS

As soon as most people cross the line into adultery, they begin to try to understand why they are attracted to someone outside the marriage and what needs their own spouse is unable to meet. After discovering an affair, the hurt partner often asks, “Did the affair happen because of something I did wrong, because of some way I was just not good enough?” I find that people who have affairs, and the people married to them, spend extraordinary amounts of energy trying to figure out what exactly the partner needed that wasn’t being provided. Too much energy, in my opinion. The reality is that all of us have needs that our partner will not be able to meet.

Unmet needs unveiled

I have one patient, Eric, who gets great erotic pleasure when a woman intertwines toes with him. Not the most bizarre erotic fantasy, but it works for him. Eric’s wife, in contrast, says she has very sensitive feet. Touching any living thing with her toes gives her the creeps, and she will not, under any circumstances, touch toes with Eric. Is Eric’s need to have toes linked an adequate reason for finding another lover?

Eric is a reasonable guy, and he wouldn’t risk wrecking his mar- riage over this issue. “It’s not life or death for me,” he says. But what about the following perceived needs, which have driven people to have an affair?

“I need more sex.”
“I need different kinds of sex from what I’m getting.” “I need more attention.”
“I need to feel needed.”
“I need to feel special.”
“I need to feel powerful.”
“I need to be swept away.”
“I need to prove that I can still wow a woman.”
“I need to prove that I am still seductive.”
“I need excitement in my life.”
“I need to punish my partner for something he or she did.”
“I need to individuate myself from my partner.”
“I need to get my partner more interested in me by stirring up jealousy.”

Getting needs met

Which of the needs listed above is sufficient to explain adultery? Which might someone like Tiger Woods have experienced? We can’t know for sure, maybe even Tiger doesn’t know, but I’d place a strong bet that he may have felt the need for sex, the need to feel special, to need to feel powerful, and the need to feel excitement. But you don’t have to spend years studying human behavior to come to that con- clusion, because many people who have affairs have the exact same needs. And if you really think about it, many people who don’t have affairs have those same needs as well.

From the Web: Consolation Prize?

My wife hooked up with her first love from high school, who wrote to
her through classmates.com. A long-distance affair that lasted about ten months. She got pregnant and called me while I was on business in Europe telling me she wanted a divorce. We have two girls in elementary school. I was shocked. She filed papers.

Somehow, we managed to stay together and cancel the divorce. Good thing she lost the baby, and he dumped her. Am I a consolation prize?

She tells me I don’t communicate. I’m not positive and upbeat all the time. I don’t hear her. I’m not emotional enough. Sounds like every marriage. I’ve changed in ways she wanted me to. Things seem much better in the

last couple months, but something inside makes me want to go out and just screw the crap out of some kinky babe. I would do it discreetly. I don’t want a relationship. Just a torrid short-term affair. Will that mess me up? I don’t know. But I still feel like I need it. Revenge? Consolation? Meeting the sexual need that is important to me and not to her?

—Josh, 39, married nine years

The factors related to needs that lead to extramarital relationships fall into three categories: a need for nurturing, a need for excitement, and confusion over needs.

Category 1: Need for nurturing

In my book The Secrets of Happily Married Women I write that men need nurturing. Many women e-mailed or came up to me after lec- tures to ask, “What about women? Don’t we need nurturing too?” The answer, of course, is yes. While research suggests that a woman’s style of nurturing might look different from that of a man, I have no doubt that both sexes need to feel cared for by those they are close to.

When I think of nurturing, I think of how a wife might provide comfort and assistance to her husband after a heart attack. In this case, nurturing means being cared for. I’m sure you can think of events in your lives when you were under the weather, either physically or emotionally, and someone you loved stepped in and reduced your suffering. They nurtured you back to health.

Nurturing can also relate to supporting someone’s hobbies, goals, or aspirations. It’s the Miracle-Gro that one person sprays on the dreams of another. I recall how one husband supported his partner’s dream of opening up a boutique by helping her shop for fixtures and by painting the store walls. His partner felt taken care of by these acts.

Unlike attractiveness, which exists in casual and romantic rela- tionships, nurturing either comes from professional caregivers (like psychotherapists, nurses, or physical therapists) or from intimate relationships (like family members or close friends). Most people in committed relationships seek the majority of nurturing from their mate. In fact, not only do partners desire that from their mate, they expect it.

As relationships settle into routines, husbands and wives become distracted and less attentive to their spouses. The mutual nurturing that came automatically now comes less spontaneously or not at all. Often the introduction of a child into the marriage will shift the balance, so that a new mother will pay close attention to all that her baby requires and be less focused on her husband’s needs. Husbands, particularly those going to work while the mother stays home (if even for a few months), tend to increase their work hours and experience a rise in anxiety about income; they may have less tenderness to give their wives.

When nurture-seeking is the psychological motivation behind an affair, the partner who strays finds a new partner who makes him or her feel supported and comforted. That new partner expresses deep compassion for, and understanding of, unmet needs. This nurturing boosts the spirit and elevates the sense of self-worth of the person. He or she feels cared about and cared for. Hence, a sentiment that is supposed to be only shared with an intimate is now shared with an outsider.

 

To read the rest of Dr. Haltzman’s book, visit Amazon.com

 

From The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity by Scott Haltzman, M.D.  Copyright 2013 by The Johns Hopkins University Press.  Reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher.

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About Scott Haltzman MD

Dr. Scott Haltzman is a former Brown University professor and the country’s foremost expert on infidelity and marriage. His latest book, “The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity,” is an essential relationship-saving guide based on twenty-five years of research and clinical work.

Comments

  1. Hi Scott

    You write:
    ✺.” Most people in committed relationships seek the majority of nurturing from their mate. In fact, not only do partners desire that from their mate, they expect it.”✺

    Women are quite good at nurturing each other. I am convicted lots of women use some part of their day to nurture a female friend,chatting,talking on the phone ,exchanging e-mails back and forth. In my case I say 90% of the communication is pure nurturing of the other.

    And when crises trikes women have had up until now fewer successful suicides. We have friends.

    My question to you Scott is this:
    1:” why can’t men support each other more,and be there for each other in crises instead of expecting all the nurturing from their woman( if they are heterosexual)?

    2: Why are men so needy?
    Why can they learn to nurture themselves a little bit, work on building their self esteem, and other aspects of feeling good,instead of expecting validation, nurturing,enthusiastic sex whiteout romance……
    Why do they need sex to feel like men?
    Why do they need sex to feel attractive?
    Is this feeling of being a man so fragile that it crumbles after a week or two without sex even when they live physically close to a woman?

    Maybe I am off the point here, but as a divorced women I have many questions.
    And it is exactly my knowledge about men’s needs that stops me from marrying again. Just the though makes me tired. Sorry, I do not want to offend anyone,but that is how I feel.
    And yes,I have experience with infidelity. For me it is not a deal breaker.

    • The guy was writing about affairs, what does that have to do with suicides? And doesn’t men’s success with suicide have to do with the use of firearms vs poison? I’m guessing men have more successes and women have more attempts. Neither of which points I think speak much to nurturing or to the point of the article.

      I think the crux of needs in the context of affairs and relationships is the expectation that your needs are to be met by one person. When she feels like it. If you do everything else right. Which means meeting her needs first. So, I have little sympathy for the idea that men are needier.

      I lived alone for a long time before marriage. I don’t need my wife for any sort of house/mothering etc things. I didn’t marry her out of need but out of desire and optimism and the belief that we’d enjoy life more together than apart. But, point by point:

      2: Why are men so needy?
      Why can they learn to nurture themselves a little bit, work on building their self esteem, and other aspects of feeling good,instead of expecting validation, nurturing,enthusiastic sex whiteout romance……

      I don’t need a woman to tell me I’m right or to validate my thoughts. I’m confident in myself. I don’t need nurturing. And it’s not that I don’t need “sex without romance”–I just don’t need romance, though I can enjoy it. I do like sex though. It’s not a need like air or water, but I wouldn’t have much interest in either of those when there’s no pleasure in life.

      Why do they need sex to feel like men?

      I don’t need sex to “feel like” a man. I am one. By definition, how I feel is how a man feels. But, sex is an important part of enjoying life.

      Why do they need sex to feel attractive?

      I don’t need sex to feel attractive. But if someone who used to be eager for sex no longer is, one might question whether she finds you attractive.

      Is this feeling of being a man so fragile that it crumbles after a week or two without sex even when they live physically close to a woman?

      Have you ever considered that, in the absence of regular sex, there may not be much pleasure for many men in living with a woman? It’s a lot less about propping up my self-esteem or whatever than it is a motivator–sex is a powerful drive. Some women are terribly needy. I married one. I’ve got very little interest in catering to that attitude unless I’m getting something back. And if I’m not finding what I want at home, I have no problem looking elsewhere.

      • Hi A guy
        You write:
        “Have you ever considered that, in the absence of regular sex, there may not be much pleasure for many men in living with a woman”.

        Yes,I understand that.
        And please remember that the day you are 40+ 50+60+ plus and maybe can no longer make love to your wife the way you used to. Will she leave you then or take lovers ? Or will she love you just the same?

        • If her sex drive finally comes back after mine has gone. I doubt we’ll be married in the first place. If we are, I doubt I’ll be in any mood to humor requests. She might leave, but I might too.

          • Hi A Guy

            I laughed when I red your comment.
            But let me tell you that I wish we all had healthy,active sex life.

            And when we marry we are comitted and it is terribly hard to break loose.
            I no longer see marriage as sacred. I think we all have a right to leave when enough is enough.

            But first it is wise to visit the best marriage therapist or sexologist in the area.
            Women can turn off sexually in a way most men can not. We can go into hibernation like the bears when they crawl into their winter sleep. But we can also wake up again.
            Maybe a professional can help your wife. When our tooth hurts we go to the dentist,
            When sex drives dissapears it may be time to visit a sexologist.

    • @Iben…,

      “Women are quite good at nurturing each other. I am convicted lots of women use some part of their day to nurture a female friend,chatting,talking on the phone ,exchanging e-mails back and forth. In my case I say 90% of the communication is pure nurturing of the other.”

      Yes, you are correct. Women tend to value relationships more so than men. Also, they definitely share more of their feeling and emotions to their friends.

    • Iben….,

      “Maybe I am off the point here, but as a divorced women I have many questions.
      And it is exactly my knowledge about men’s needs that stops me from marrying again. Just the though makes me tired. Sorry, I do not want to offend anyone,but that is how I feel.
      And yes,I have experience with infidelity. For me it is not a deal breaker.”

      I share your pain. Much empathy Iben. I am NOT a needy man. I do not seek validation from neither men nor women. I am hetero. I think this may have been contributed to my divorce. I really don’t know.

      I don’t mind the relationship part Iben. I don’t even mind the romance part of being with a woman. It’s fun. I did all those things and enjoyed sex only ONCE A MONTH. Sex is natural Iben. It is like the need to eat….People who have vibrant sex lives have better mental health. Sex relieves stress. Men who have sex 2-3 times a week have fewer prostate problems.

      Sex is fun, sex creates intimacy for a lot of men. Sex does not affect my self esteem. However, in my marriage I felt rejected which created much anger and resentment. I do not need sex to be attractive. But, I love sex! What is wrong with that?

      • Hi Jules
        It is nothing wrong with loving sex. Quiet the opposite,we are born and wired to want it,need it ,think of it and enjoy it. And my husband married me for several reasons but one of the main reasons was that he liked his sex with me. We had sex before marriage. Then he was the innocent rather inexperienced guy and I found that charming.

        Maybe I am different from other women?
        But it is in fact possible to destroy the sexual part of a relationship. A man can do or the woman can do it. The sexual part of a long lasting relationship is not nesseceraly robust.

        I got turned off. I got turned off by strange suggestions( “everything is natural ” )about sex in bed,in the garden ,out in the forest …and think my husband destroyed it all with bringing porn into the marriage bed. He also spoke to me like a little child in bed,and I said :”please don’t “. But I was his little child….( I am small and look younger than my years,I still do)
        I did like sex before I married,but I am not kinky,and I expected sophistication but got something vulgar instead. And it was sex without any kind of intimacy emotionally,so I said :” no thank you”.
        I do not fake,nor do I see it as my job to be a sex worker.

        And like you Jules ,I stayed to long,was loyal to marriage for too many years because I was brought up to see it as sacred. And like you I can say it changed me for life,and not for the better.
        He offered my a new house if I stayed,but I left.

  2. @Iben…..

    I really do not get the porn thing with men (and now women). When men watch a lot of porn it seems as if they start to think that stuff is “normal.” If the man is sex starved….maybe he turns to porn and prostitutes? I do not know. But, to me there is not place in a marriage for porn unless the two people want it.

    There must be some kind of connection (friendship, intimacy, emotional) with me to have sex with a woman. Last year I had a friends with benefits (FWB) relationship with two women. But, I realized that it simply was not for me.

    I was sex starved from my previous marriage and just wanted to enjoy a decent sex life for a change.

    While I do not desire marriage anymore, I have no objection to a relationship. The only problem Iben is I just cannot give all of myself emotionally. Not yet at least.

    I too was a very inexperienced man with women and sex before marriage. I just assumed sex came with it. Prior to marriage, I never dated a woman who I did not feel was worthy of being my wife. I still maintain this rule, even though I do not desire marriage. No casual sex for me. No serial dating for me. These lifestyles are not for me.

    My current girlfriend knows my past. I shared everything with her. I believe it was the right thing to do. So far things are good with us. It’s been only six months. So, the time has been short.

    As with yourself, when you experience a marriage of the type we both had, it does change you. Often for the worse The struggle becomes: how to get back to where you were before the episode. It really makes you a more cautious and guarded person emotionally.

    I respect how you feel as a human being and woman. No it is not your job to be a sex worker to any man. You have every right to demand what you want emotionally out of any relationship. However, it MUST be discussed PRIOR to entering into the relationship. That is what I learned. You cannot assume anything.

    • Hi Jules

      I really like you Jules,when you write like this.

      ” to me there is not place in a marriage for porn unless the two people want it…..
      …..While I do not desire marriage anymore, I have no objection to a relationship. The only problem Iben is I just cannot give all of myself emotionally. Not yet at least…..
      ….However, it MUST be discussed PRIOR to entering into the relationship. ”

      I hope you will give all of yourself one day,when you feel safe in the relationship.
      I will pray for you and women with the pink pen. She sounds exiting and you are a good man.

      Now my summer vacation starts,and I will have to unplug.
      Just rember never give up on love.

  3. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    Tiger Woods had no childhood. I, for one, am glad that he finally had a chance to play a little. To me, it’s a form of child abuse for parents to project their ambitions, even greed, on children. And his case was one such.

    To me, monogamy is fairly unnatural. Sure, at times we go along with it, but it’s usually an uncomfortable compromise. During some (not all) of the times I’ve felt sexually deprived, I’ve had another lover. Or even if I’ve felt emotionally deprived. But, sure, monogamy can be more comfortable–honesty feels good, etc., etc.

    I do wish we had above-board mechanisms for having alternate relationships as part of culture. I find pollamory tiresome because of all the discussing and contracting.

    • So because his parents engagd in a form of child abuse, he’s allowed to screw over others both literally and figurtively as an adult?

      Relationships are sometimes a set of compromises. There are all kinds of things people compromise on in relationships. I do agree that no one person CAN be everything to another. But why do we believe we are justified in receiving ALL our personal needs on demand from people (basically using people to please ourselves) instead of approaching it from the perspective of doing a little self sacrificing and compromising for our partners? When did self-sacrificing and compromising become dirty words? Perhaps it’s an affect of our *me* culture.

      Tiger Woods was a grown adult Hank. If he wanted to “play”, then he should have gotten divorced. I can’t help but think your comments sound akin to “Hey, at least he got *some*, that’s what matters.” He hurt ALOT of people and his type of “playing”, was treating women like blow up dolls

      • Hank Vandenburgh says:

        Erin, thanks for not having this be one of your 1,000 word exegeses. You don’t actually know if Tiger hurt people (other than his wife,) not to mention “ALOT of people.” Somehow I doubt it. I think he was with people who liked to party. Probably not the women I personally would be attracted to, but hey. I don’t doubt that he had to pay for it sometimes, in spite of being famous and handsome. And if you read my piece, notice that I did say that we compromise for the sake of monogamy. We do it most of the time, in fact.

        • I know I make long posts sometimes. But it’s not like I do it to purposely aggervate you or anyone else here. I say what i think is important to say to get my point across. Even if it’s not perfect or to your liking. You don’t need to take pot shots at me because I’m not a perfect typer that gets my point across always in a short manner.

          You doubt Tiger hurt a lot of people. I doubt that he didn’t infact hurt a lot of people. We are both allowed to think what we want to think.

          And yes, I noticed what you said about compromise. You also said you were glad he had a chance to “play” (even though that came at the expense of his wife and kids), that monogamy is unnatural ( however, science disproves this since monogamy does have a place in the world, survival and is often a very natural desire for a couple in love with each other), and you talked
          about how ou went out for sex with another because of unmet needs. So that’s not really exactly compromise either.

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