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.
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 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.