By Tiffany Anton for YourTango.com.
I recently read an article on Slate.com by Hanna Rosin titled The Upside of Infidelity: Can An Affair Save your Marriage, and it really got me thinking. My first reaction was joy at knowing therapists are changing their puritanical views of martial infidelity and realizing how our flawed self can bring us healing & reparations. I was also impressed with the idea that monogamy as a social expectation doesn’t equate our biological nature, as well as the validity of differing relationship and sexual needs. My second thought revolved around the vastness of reasoning behind affairs.
Many therapists have a list to explain the ‘why’s’ of affairs. Those whose partners cheated tend to search rapidly, and in a fit of panic to find the “reason” the affair occurred. There are many, many why’s and I’ve listed several below.
More from YourTango: 4 Types Of Infidelity & How Affairs Help Marriage
Many of the ‘whys’ of affairs:
- Situational availability
- Need for excitement
- Attachment issues
- Emptiness in their marriage
- Lack of sex at home
- Desire to be wanted
- An ego boost
- An escape
- Sexual diversity
- Intimacy avoidance
- An out: a way to end a marriage/relationship
- Externally meeting your sexual and emotional needs
- Conflict avoidance
- and many more
By understanding the ‘why’s’ of affairs, you can look at and hopefully address the challenges in your own marriage, share your needs, and create a new and reinvigorated relationship and sexual expression.
Michael Formica, in his YourTango article 4 Types of Infidelity and How Affairs Help a Marriage, states the that “an affair can add fizz to a flat partnership — what was once stale gets refreshed by a new energy.” Second, if you’re having an affair you’re probably doing it because you’re missing something in your first relationship. If you analyze the affair you might be able to see what it is that you lack, and address that problem. Finally, people tend to get into the same kind of relationship over and over again, but affairs are different. According to Formica, they can be “a more authentic barometer for what we actually need in our relationships.”
Another article Can Adultery Be Healthy? 6 Kinds of Sexual Affairs and How They Can Be Good for You by Douglas LaBier offers similar explanations. “Some affairs are psychologically healthy,” he writes. I agree. An affair can help leverage you out of a destructive or deadened relationship that’s beyond the point of renewal. It can springboard the couple into greater emotional honesty and mature action. Of course, you have to be honest with yourself here, and not rationalize yourself into having the affair while postponing necessary action.
More from YourTango: Having Sex After The Affair
An affair can spur you to confront what you really want from your existing partner and motivate you to try creating it. Larry, for example, had an affair for nearly four years. After an argument with his lover one day, he realized he was beginning to feel much of the same irritation and sexual boredom that he felt towards his wife. “This is pretty screwed up,” he said to me. “I’ve got to do something.” As he examined what he really wanted and valued, he recognized his own role in evading long-standing conflicts in his marriage.
There’s always a reason for beginning an affair, and it usually relates to some issue in your existing relationship. It’s far better to face and resolve that first. You don’t just “find” yourself having an affair, or “end up” in bed with someone. It’s your choice, but it can be rationalized. So take a look at what’s missing or unfulfilling in your relationship, why that is, and whether you can — or if you even want to — do something about it. It’s preferable to try renewing your relationship, or end it with mutual respect before taking up with someone new.
By acknowledging that an affair means you’re living a lie in some form, you have a greater chance to deal with the emotional and practical consequences of the affair in a healthier way. And there are plenty of consequences for yourself, your children, and your existing relationship. But if you fool yourself about the reasons for your affair and what it may set in motion, you can squander irreplaceable years, trapped within illusions and rationalizations. When it all comes crashing down, loneliness and emptiness may be all that remains.
That’s why I advocate awareness at the outset: you can become more conscious of your actions, and use that awareness to deal maturely with their consequences. Or you can remain oblivious, but then you still have to deal with the consequences!
LaBier’s article leads me to my third thought — the costs of an affair. Aside from the potential to end your marriage, even affairs “undiscovered” by a partner comes with a price tag: your heart. Most affairs are short lived despite fantasies of longevity. Therefore, a posible outcome can be equated to a heartbreak that rivals the intensity of adolescent/early adulthood relationship endings.
According to Sam J Buser in the article, Why Your Affair Will Never Lead to True Love, “some research suggests that about only one in ten affairs lead to a long-term relationship. Of these, only about 10 percent are permanent. This means that there is about a one in a hundred chance that you and your affair partner will stay together for the long haul.” But that doesn’t mean the feelings aren’t there. In the article The Emotional Cost Of Infidelity, writer Pam Gerhardt notes how many people feel as though they’re falling in love. “According to researchers and eyewitnesses, thousands of people have life-changing affairs and use nearly identical language to describe the passion, betrayal and pain associated with them. “No one ever made me feel like that before.” “I wanted to kill myself.” “If I had to choose one person to live with me on a deserted island, it would be him.”
More from YourTango: Can An Affair Ever Become A Healthy Relationship?
It can create quite a whirlwind of cognitive challenges, visceral sensations, self rejection as well as exploration and growth. A Psychology Today article The Eight Reasons that People Cheat On Their Partners adds to the sentiment with the following: “Extramarital affairs clearly represent a complex mix of desire, anguish, and need for connection. Rarely are they apparently entered into without conflict or even distress. They may be the product of, or the cause of, the ending of a marital relationship. Happy couples may decide to experiment and, as Calhoun observed, find that their marriages survive intact if not improved. However, as shown in these studies, it’s a risky venture, not one for the faint at heart.”
Are you currently experiencing this in your life and marriage? Below are some questions that may benefit you if you’re feeling confused.
Your Sense of Self:
Who am I to make a choice that would hurt my spouse whom I still love? How do I feel good about myself? What does commitment mean to me? Can I remain monogamous? Do I need to end my relationship? Do I need an open relationship? What is empty or at void with me that I am filling in ways to go against my commitment? How do I meet my needs in respectful ways?
Challenges Your Values:
How do my values and behavior align? What do I value in marriage? Do I value monogamy? If not, it is a high value to my partner? What does my faith say about my choices? How do I understand my values and implement them in a way that doesn’t feel judgmental or suffocating? Do I tell my partner?
The most challenging times in our lives provide the greatest room for growth. The above examples of the cost of an affair can provide an excellent learning ground to reduce judgement and create a wonderful learning opportunity. Despite the ability for an affair to promote self growth and relationship enhancement, be aware that the costs are high and it’s an emotionally expensive way to learn.
This article originally appeared on YourTango.com: Can An Affair Save Your Marriage? Some Experts Believe So.