It was her first appointment. My 29 year old client, Mickie (not her real name, of course) who had been married for 5 years with a 9 month old son, trembled from head to toe. Her sobs were heartbreaking. Mickie had known that something had been very wrong in her marriage to Tim since mid-pregnancy, when he withdrew from her completely. After Johnnie’s birth, Tim seemed disinterested in him, and began to spend evenings away from home. Then evenings turned to nights. Late one night when her husband was sleeping, my client examined his texts, which confirmed what had been obvious for months.
On Jack and Julie’s honeymoon, Jack awakened at 3 a.m. after what he believed had been a loving and romantic evening. Julie was nowhere to be found. Frightened, Jack called the front desk of the resort where they were staying, and asked that there be a search of the property. At 5 a.m., Julie returned to their room, thinking her husband would be asleep. Jack demanded an explanation. A man at dinner flirted with Julie, and during a moment she passed him, he put the key to his room in her hand.
Willie was 45 and had never been married. He had had a series of long-term relationships but when pressured to marry, he always retreated. However, Willie had always longed for a family and when Martha became pregnant, he proposed. Yet, as much as he respected Martha and cherished their daughter, he felt lonely and empty in their lives together, experiencing an unsettling longing he could not escape. Willie was gay, and had pushed this awareness away from consciousness for all of his adult life. The proposition of a male colleague on a business trip awakened him to his true self. “I was sickened by desires I now see as part of who I am,” he confided during his first session with me, “and so I buried them.”
The above true to life experiences reflect several of the reasons for infidelity. Tim truly loved Mickie. However, he did not feel capable enough to take on responsibility for their new family. “I grew anxious and terrified as the pregnancy moved forward,” he explained to Mickie, after he joined her in therapy, where he realized he began his affair to escape his terror.
Julie, an only child, came from an abusive home, where her parents fought and drank constantly, and in drunken stupors each would beat and curse her. Determined to be educated, she won a scholarship from her state university, where she met and fell in love with Jack, whose family was the opposite of his wife’s. In therapy, Julie faced that she never felt worthy of the love both Jack and his family offered her and that her one night stand was an attempt to anger Jack and drive him away.
The above illustrates that often a sexual involvement outside of marriage, be it a full flung affair or brief liaison, is a cry for help. Tim’s terror reflected the fear of adult responsibility. A variation of Tim’s challenge occurs when one partner maintains an intimacy with parents to the exclusion of a partner, and to avoid facing the pain inflicted on a partner begins an affair.
Reasons why people get involved in illicit affairs
Among other factors leading to affairs are a lack of confidence professionally, an inability to find meaning in life, financial insecurity, inability to hold one’s own and satisfactorily resolve marital conflict, the fear of aging, as well as an inability to deal with the aging of a partner, regardless of how beloved. Sometimes an affair means that one realizes that the marriage is a mistake, but does not have the courage to say so, and wants the other partner to become so hurt or angry that he or she takes the lead in the decision to separate and divorce.
The challenge is to keep the love alive
One does not marry and remain the same. In the best and most fulfilling marital relationships each person grows in positive and productive ways. The challenge is to keep the love alive through the various stages and challenges of married life. This takes time, commitment, work.
Some marriages can still be salvaged
Mickie and Tim and Julie and Jack were able to use the pain of betrayal to understand each other and themselves more fully, and their love deepened. Willie realized that in his decision to marry, he had been unfair to Martha, their daughter and himself. His respect for Martha remained a constant, and his financial settlement to her was as fair and generous as possible. He met all responsibilities to their daughter, whom he got closer to as he allowed himself to live a truthful life. Both Martha and he found loving partners and built fulfilling lives. To this day, they remain devoted friends.
The above examples are far different that choosing to begin an affair as an act of power or control or expression of cruelty and torment. An abused partner needs immediate help to set himself or herself free.
Yes, of course, it is possible to love two people for different reasons. However, it is obvious that romance is easier to find for several stolen hours when one is not surrounded by crying kids, bills to pay, and sheer exhaustion.
Fidelity is a promise those who love do their upmost to keep. This said, absolutely, it is possible to move forward in your marriage after an infidelity. The wisest way for this to happen is for each member of the partnership to work hard to understand and learn from what happened to threaten the stability of their marriage and why.