A Therapist’s Thoughts About Affairs

This topic is a tough one. “We have trust issues…” are words I often hear in a first visit. This often from a recent discovery over electronics, or Social media, or it could refer back to something some years back. What to do?

I think I used to feel a bit more judgmental about this topic, or towards the straying partner(s) until I became more informed, and indeed witnessed the extreme and agonizing pain inflicted on several generations by such an event.

Whether or not a person is of a particular religious persuasion, I have to say…there must be a reason why somebody wrote down that Sixth Commandment: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” It does create such a mess!!

Once this event has occurred, the relationship will never be the same. However, some couples do seem able to address the situation and use the crisis as an opportunity to create growth and change, and even a better relationship.

This all does depend on so many factors: age and stage of the relationship, history and background of each partner, willingness, and desire to work hard to create the changes necessary to demonstrate and live commitment.

From my research, 48% of American males and 36% of American females experience an affair over the lifetime of a marriage. That number astounded me at first. But, when you have think of it, marriage is hard. Life is difficult: work stress, commute stress, bills going out of control. Children born. Too many children. Unexpected children. Sick children. Small children. Teenagers. Complicated schedules. Unemployment. Nasty bosses. Drugs and alcohol. Mental illness. Sickness in the elderly. Deaths. Stress! So, for a marriage to endure all that over the years is really something.

Certain occupations seem to allow people to become more prone to affairs. There may be more opportunity in certain job classifications, and also when spouses travel a lot or attend trainings or business conferences. Higher income persons are more likely than lower income persons to be vulnerable to affairs. Military, police, physicians, lawyers, clergy are in higher risk groups.

Affairs often provide fun and adventure-seeking; they do not have the trappings of the difficulties of the sustained relationship of the institution of marriage. Yet, marriage is an institution, so there are certain pressures to sustain it.

One thing all parties have told me: within the affair, they got the attention they had been missing. Sometimes their feeling neglected was because the circumstances in the home and family situation made it difficult or even impossible to offer attention enough!

Indeed, all parties I have interviewed told me this: wish I had not done this! What a mess!

So, is there hope? I always think that there is hope, if both parties are willing to try. Sometimes, things have gone too far, too long. I never make the recommendation on which way to go in deciding if to preserve the marriage; I do try to help the individuals to come to their best decision and find their best path forward.

One of the books I frequently recommend is called, “Not Just Friends”. The author, Shirley Glass, explains a frequent scenario about how affairs can develop, and a good prescription to move forward: shut down the opportunities, improve communication, and help the couple reach back to locate that joy which bound them together in the first stages of their relationship.

“Forgiveness is the key to happiness”, says A Course in Miracles. Holding onto the hatred will kill you, no matter which way things go. This DOES NOT mean condoning the behavior, but it does mean eventually letting go, changing one’s mind, making peace. This may of course take time, learning, growth, understanding and change.