“A final comfort that is small, but not cold: The heart is the only broken instrument that works. “ ~T.E. Kalem
I wonder what is going through the mind of the man or woman as they fill out their Ashley Madison profile. The tagline of the website is pretty clear: “Life is short. Have an affair.” What emotions dominate as one plans to cheat on one’s partner and betrays promises made? The spike in signups after holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day is probably a good indicator. It isn’t just the promise of some great sex that gets prospective customers to hit the payment button. In fact many say it is companionship, appreciation and recognition that are the greater fuel towards their path to indiscretion.
Most people have very little insight into their own pain. In fact, culturally we suffer in epic proportions from a profound lack of emotional intelligence, which is to say that often we don’t know how we are feeling. We also usually cannot reliably link the how of our feelings to the why. Our emotional responses are more often filtered through old insecurities, memories still alive with pain and transgressions we haven’t forgiven. We are charged with powerful emotions that literally fill our physical bodies, but like young children in a tantrum, we have limited language and experience of dealing with these overpowering experiences.
Anger is the first and easiest feeling to process, and many of us get stuck there when what we really need to understand is the more subtle shades of grief, fear and sadness. It is easy for our primary relationships to trigger feelings of being invisible, disrespected, or unappreciated when we are unskilled at taking the time to show up and communicate effectively. Instead, we invest our time into building stories around these feelings and the many ways that our partner is wrong or has wronged us. Before long, our minds are embroiled in a full-length feature focused on, searching for the myriad ways that our relationship disappoints us.
The story of a broken relationship takes on a life of its own and soon you can’t remember what you loved in your partner. Walking on eggshells or living with a cushion of tension between you, the most minor of transgressions constantly add fuel to the story that your mind keeps telling over and over. When the day arrives that we sit down to sign up to cheat, we feel fully justified.
Certainly not everyone goes for the ease and convenience of Internet cheating, although that format is growing at a whopping 79 percent per year. Looking for a way out of your pain through infidelity offers multiple exits from office romances to friends of friends.
We gravitate towards infidelity because it looks like an easy fix. We get what we need, we get even, and we don’t have to do the messy work of figuring out our own relationship. No one gets hurt. Except that they do. Deeply hurt. Ending primary relationships through acts of infidelity, which is the result over 65 percent of the time makes the pain of break ups last longer and cuts more deeply into the fabric of our psychological well-being.
Being cheated on sexually and romantically is the kind of betrayal that calls into question all of the foundational beliefs you have about yourself, your ability to trust what you know as well as your beliefs about the values structure of your life.
Being the cheater isn’t much better. The shame and grief of the pain you created when you had no insight into your own shadows you for years. Few relationships that begin as an affair last because they are, at their core, untrustworthy and both people know it.
Perhaps the most tragic part of this story is that for most people, if they had the insight and emotional intelligence to use the effort, time and resources that they put into making their affair towards re-inventing the story of their relationship, they would end up happier and more fulfilled in the end. Maybe not every time, but more often than most people would think. Ask yourself this before you press send…. Is my relationship workable? If so, start doing the work. If not, end it and then try again. Affairs will not offer the ending or the beginning you are hoping for.