Every couple lives in the shadow of adultery.
I heard this sobering, and scary, statement made once by Esther Perel, a psychotherapist and the author of Mating in Captivity, during a Dialogue on Infidelity with Terry Real, another author and psychotherapist. The two conceded that wherever there is monogamy, adultery lives side by side.
I see the fallout from affairs in my office on a regular basis. I also witnessed it in the marriages of two people very close to me. If you have any experience with it, you know it is not a pretty sight. The devastating pain of betrayal is agonizingly visceral. And, often, utterly destructive to the relationship.
The truth is that most affairs happen for one of two reasons.
The first is when an opportunity presents itself or is created, to be sexually intimate with someone who is not your spouse. It is when one partner wants the safety and security of a marriage, but not the responsibility that entails. It is the epitome of “it’s all about me” selfishness. It is the sense of entitlement that you can choose when to be married instead of honoring your commitment.
The second, and more common occurs when the partner who steps outside the relationship has felt lost and alone in the marriage. Sometimes it’s not even a case of being obviously unhappy, just more going through the motions. Either way, someone enters their life and makes them feel alive and vital again. They often don’t even know something has been missing until the new person rekindles it. It is more than just a physical attraction or a sense of infatuation. It is the recapturing of a deeper emotional connection that has dimmed in the marriage.
When couples stop taking the time to focus on the marriage and turn their attention to other aspects of their lives, they leave the marriage vulnerable to external forces. Maybe there are significant disappointments or disagreements a couple isn’t willing to address. Maybe there is nothing wrong in the relationship; it’s just been left on auto-pilot too long. Maybe another opportunity just presented itself, and it was taken. It doesn’t really matter because the damage is severe; not only to the couple but anyone connected to them.
There is, however, one way that finding yourself attracted to someone other than your spouse can be a plus. It can even result in your marriage becoming stronger and happier. If, instead of turning away from your spouse thinking that the marriage must be over because of this attraction, you use it as a foundation for overhauling the marriage. Unfortunately, if you act on the attraction instead, it can be a drastic blow that many couples never recover from.
I have been honored in helping couples rebuild the foundation of their marriage and take it to a higher, happier level after infidelity has laid waste to it. However, it is tremendously hard work for everyone involved. It is not a path for sissies. Not getting into the situation where this work is required in the first place is a much wiser course.
I believe there are better ways to increase happiness and maintain excitement within a marriage than having an affair. If you want a sex life outside the home, there are ways to have it. One, be in a relationship that isn’t marriage. Two, have an open marriage. Anything else is just giving yourself permission to pretend that choices don’t involve either responsibilities or consequences. Not only to you. But to those that believed your promise of love and fidelity.
Being “in love” is about you. Love is about the other person. Being involved with someone who has a commitment to one, and maybe more, other people is not loving behavior. Neither is attempting to build your happiness on the backs of innocent bystanders. There is no way you can honestly believe that.
I recognize that the one thing a lover can always offer is newness. They are a new body and a new face. They provide an escape from that which is known. Of course, one reason to get married is for security, and familiarity comes along with that. But frequently the routine of a relationship catches people off guard, and they long for the unfamiliar.
Humans are wired to be attracted to new. But you can only have “new” once with each person. It is hard to look at reality when you are in the throes of infatuation. But real love is based in that reality. Like new car smell, the excitement of a lover will fade with time and frequent contact. Not to mention the increased stress that comes from living a secret life.
Lying to your partner, not to mention putting their health at risk, is not conducive to a happy marriage or a happy life. If you find yourself bored or disconnected in your relationship, fix it or get out. Anything less stems from a lack of integrity.
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