It’s that magical first-love all over again. The joy … the romance … the rush of blood to the head! PLUS the risk … the secrecy … the thrill of the forbidden! What a contrast to the dull old world of marriage: work-work-work, bills to be paid, lawns to be mown, wife who nags, husband who won’t listen, kids who always want money for something.
You feel young again! Attractive again! More alive than you’ve felt in years! How could something that seems so RIGHT be so WRONG?
Your hormones are screaming, “GO FOR IT …!”
Chances are this isn’t such a smart idea. Chances are this hot, panting passion won’t last. Chances are you’ll cause a heap of people a heap of pain and wish you’d never got started.
So, please read on …
AFFAIRS ARE LIKE HAVING your cake and eating it too! Hardly surprising they’re popular, eh. But just how popular? Well, that’s a hard statistic to pin down …
“Pardon me, ma’am, we’re doing a survey. Would you mind telling the viewers how often this week you’ve cheated on your husband?”
Research does suggest, however, that 40-50% of husbands and 30-40% of wives cheat on their marriage vows at some time or another. Most of these affairs are never detected. And no marriage, it seems, is immune!
Julia Hartley Moore – in ‘Infidelity: Exploding The Myths’ – writes: “It doesn’t matter how rich, beautiful, powerful, successful or intelligent you are – infidelity doesn’t care. Infidelity doesn’t discriminate. Infidelity couldn’t care where you live, what you drive, what career path you’ve chosen, what religion you practise, what your ethnic background is, what gender you are, what your sexual preference is, or what political affiliations you have.
“It can strike at any time with a force so powerful that it renders you incapable of functioning on all cylinders. It contaminates your waking thoughts and makes sleep impossible …”
Staggering stuff, huh!
Okay, many of these affairs are one-offs … almost-accidents … never-to-be-repeateds. But what drives so many people to betray their one-and-only?
BIG RISKS – SMALL REWARDS
The late Frank Pittman, author and psychiatrist, helped countless people clean up the emotional mess left after affairs. And in his book, ‘Private Lies’, he wrote, “I never cease to wonder at the naivety of people. Unfaithfulness always causes all manner of problems, some immediate, some generations later. You’d think people would know that by now. Yet, every time people are unfaithful and all hell breaks loose, they look so surprised!”
If YOU’RE chosen to be an affair–partner, said Pittman, it’s not a compliment. “Affair choices are usually far more neurotic than marriage choices! And affair partners aren’t chosen because they’re the winners of some sex contest. They’re chosen because they’re DIFFERENT – that’s all!”
The man with the glamorous wife is drawn to a sock-darning homebody. The woman with the hard-working hubby is dazzled by a flashy playboy. And when a tearful spouse asks, “What could he possibly see in her?” – the answer is most likely, “Nothing that makes her any better than you. She’s justdifferent!”
The grim truth is that many affairs turn out bad for just about everyone. Sooner or later, the affair reaches a crisis and collapses … leaving two or more casualties.
“So WHY,” asked Pittman, “would otherwise sane people – people who buy insurance, stop for traffic lights, brush their teeth – why would people risk everything for a furtive moment of sex?”
It’s tempting to clutch at glib answers, but unfaithfulness is complex. And it comes in all shapes and sizes …
1. ACCIDENTAL AFFAIRS
Most people don’t go looking for an affair. It just kinda sneaks up on them. Warning flags get ignored, lines they wouldn’t normally cross get blurred, and before they know it they’re CAUGHT!
If you’ve stumbled into an accidental affair, you probably feel uncomfortable. You probably realise (once the excitement’s worn off) that you’re not ‘in love’ with your affair partner. Sure, your marriage has had its ups and down – but that doesn’t mean you want to chuck it in.
Maria couldn’t believe what she’d got herself into: “I’d become friendly with Noel, playing sport. It all seemed quite innocent. But three years later we suddenly discovered our feelings went deeper than we ever wanted them to.
“Eventually, we went too far – and that was it. We stopped, because it was kinda frightening. Neither of us wanted our marriages to fail. But it was an emotional upheaval, hard to get back on an even keel. My husband went berserk when I told him! I felt he should have been more understanding.
“No way do I want my marriage to fall apart. I don’t want to end up on my own with the kids …”
Maria shouldn’t have been surprised at her husband’s reaction. Yes, confessing an accidental affair is sometimes the safest route and the surest way to ‘nip it in the bud’. But dropping this bombshell – “I’ve been cheating on you!” – will always cause a crisis. Which is why most cheaters are VERY reluctant to confess.
Two quick warnings:
1. IF YOU CONFESS, TAKE FULL RESPONSIBILITY: Don’t try and shift the blame or justify your unfaithfulness. Sure, it takes two people to grow a good relationship. Sure, your partner does things that annoy you. Sure, you’ll be tempted to say your marriage isn’t so hot … it’s really not your fault … you were led astray … if only we …
The fact is, you CHEATED! And until you face that honestly, you’re going to keep screwing things up.
2. IF YOU CONFESS, DON’T EXPECT TO JUST KISS-&-MAKE-UP: When unfaithfulness is admitted (or found out), your relationship suffers a massive loss of trust. Yes, it’s possible for two people to survive. And occasionally – where the cheater resists the urge to blame, and the betrayed partner resists the urge to punish – it can lead to an even stronger marriage.
But rebuilding that trust can take many, many years. As Ruth discovered …
“Three years ago we went to this party. I was pregnant at the time, and drove home early. I found out later that Brian had a one-night-stand. He didn’t actually tell me. I discovered it – the proverbial letter in his bag.
“I was devastated – it was an awful shock. If we hadn’t had a baby, I would’ve left him. We had several very difficult months while I tried to figure out what to do.
“In the end I decided to stick with him. And I’m glad. It’s taken us three years, but you DO begin to trust again. Early on, whenever Brian was home late or having drinks with friends, I’d be paranoid. I’d question him as soon as he got in the door. It was really bad. But gradually I began to believe it had been a one-off mistake.
“He’s had to think seriously about what’s at stake if he ever did it again: another one-night-stand would bring everything crashing down! There’s still a nagging doubt there sometimes, but I’m nowhere near as suspicious as I was. And that memory is a little less painful.”
2. ROMANTIC AFFAIRS
People choose to get married because they’ve fallen head-over-heels in love. It’s passionate, intoxicating, and oh-so-wonderful. Which is the way love should stay forever – right?
Sorry, no! In one giddy, unguarded moment it’s awfully easy to lose the plot! A babe rides into town, your paths cross, your eyes lock, and those churning adolescent emotions come bubbling up again.
“Wow – I’d forgotten how GOOD this feels!”
Those feelings, however, are addictive. Kate told us how it happened to her and a married man:
“I met Pete through friends. He was married, and I was single. We had an affair for about four months before Pete decided he just couldn’t do this behind his wife’s back. So he broke off our relationship. I got hysterical and cried, but I accepted that.
“However, two weeks later we ran into each other again, and he decided to leave her for me. We’ve been living together now for about a year.
“His wife took it badly at first. I know she loved Pete, and I’m sure she’s still hurting. I don’t condone what we did. We upset a lot of people, and broke his wife’s heart. But Pete and I are totally committed, and we love each other dearly.
“Back when we had our affair, he told me there was nothing wrong with the marriage. But he’s since said he probably should never have married her. I could’ve walked away for the sake of not hurting anybody. But sometimes in life you’ve got to put yourself first, don’t you?”
We’re constantly primed by the media to sympathise with the cheating couple – have you noticed? Everybody, it seems, loves a lover! But in real life, it’s sheer HELL for the people left behind by this great passion … and agony for the kids whose home’s being torn apart!
Think how it feels if you’re the one being cheated-on. Your partner once loved YOU like this. But now you’re history … a reject … a cast-off! As Paul discovered:
“Kate could’ve been talking about my partner and me. I didn’t have a clue anything was wrong. She just came home one night and said, “I don’t want to live with you anymore!”
“It took me ages to find out about the other guy, at which point I cracked. We split-up two weeks after our first anniversary. It wasn’t just me and my partner – another relationship was destroyed as well: her new boyfriend walked out on his wife and child!
“I’m angry because Kate seems to think she’s so wonderfully in love. But I was on the receiving end, and I know it hurts like hell!”
The victim of a romantic affair feels gutted, grief-stricken, and often accepts the blame: “It must be my fault – why else would she stray?” Their self-esteem in tatters, some victims will even pretend it never happened – allowing the cheating to continue.
Kate, on the other hand, doesn’t know (yet!) that the fireworks often fizzle. The grass may be greener on the other side of the fence, but you still have to mow it!
Kate may soon come back to earth with a thud. Because, frankly, the odds aren’t good:
- only a handful (about 10%) of cheaters who leave a marriage end up marrying their new lover;
- about 75% of couples who marry after an affair end up, themselves, in divorce – often as a result of another affair. As Julia Hartley Moore points out, “If they’ll do it WITH you, they’ll do it TO you!”
- cheaters occasionally return to their original partner (if he or she is still interested), once the affair has run out of steam.
Some romantics learn from this experience. Others, sadly, don’t. They go on-hold, waiting for the next babe to ride into town so they can ‘fall in love’ all over again …
Says Peggy Vaughan, founder of the ‘Beyond Affairs Network’: “The chance of finding a soul-mate through an affair is even less likely than winning Lotto – and a whole lot more expensive!”
3. PLAYBOY AFFAIRS
Playboys want sex. But not just sex – they want a regular change of sexual partners. According to Frank Pittman, “They like women the way a fox likes chickens!”
The playboy assumes he’s the envy of all men (and most women) … that all men are like him (or would be if they could). He’s usually highly competitive, driven to prove his manhood – and women are prizes to be won, comforts to be available whenever needed.
(Men, in times past, had more opportunities to cheat – and fewer women fitted this category. But baby-boom playgirls are fast catching up – scoring their own serial affairs. A playgirl’s search is for variety and romantic highs, more than prizes to be won. And their behaviour is sometimes linked to something in their past: sexual abuse, for example; or a playboy-father; or an empty marriage. Some women use sex to punish men: like breaking off an affair with a married man, just as his divorce comes through – the perfect revenge!)
A playboy’s worst fear is being controlled by a woman. His wife is someone to be escaped from – and so, eventually, is the woman he’s having the affair with.
Sounds like playboys should be easy to resist – right? But usually they’re pleasant, charming and very flattering … and women fall for them like flies!
Jane and her mum and grandma endured a long line of playboys:
“My grandmother turned a blind-eye to my grandfather’s affairs. And my mother closed her eyes to the philandering my dad got up to. I was 20 before I finally said, ‘Hey, enough’s enough!’
“The most overwhelming emotion I suffered – it’s not nice to admit this – is that I wanted to do somebody harm. I remember one night Dad was going out with one of his ‘ladies’ – and I stuck drawing pins into the sheepskin rug on the seat cover. I don’t think they went through … but I was hoping like hell they would!
“I once asked Mum, ‘How can you put up with this?’ And she said, ‘Well, the same thing happened to my parents, but they stayed together. And I’m determined we will. He’ll grow out of it.’
“It just seems to go on, from generation to generation. I now have a daughter who’s been exposed to somebody being in her father’s bedroom while I was away on a business trip. I wonder what permanent damage has been done to her?”
4. MARRIAGE ‘DEALS’
Many – probably most – affairs begin as accidents. Some stop there (often without the betrayed partner ever finding out). Others turn into rampaging romances or playboy flings. But sometimes the affair becomes a regular part of an unhappy home, where the partners limp along, bound by some sort of unspoken agreement:
- If one isn’t interested in sex, the other looks for intimacy elsewhere. He/she doesn’t want to split, and doesn’t want fireworks – just a quiet, convenient compromise.
- Someone else may make no secret of being ‘unhappily married’ – just keeps shopping around for someone more suitable. But never to the point of separation.
- Another partner may play ‘nurse’ – sticking with an alcoholic, depressed or ill-tempered spouse, while engaging in a careful affair (usually about friendship more than sex).
- Other times, it’s the problem-partner who indulges in an occasional fling. Or the jealous-partner who seeks a revenge-affair. Or a ‘swinger’ set-up, where both partners try extra sex!
What these ‘deals’ have in common is that both partners know about it – or suspect it. Nobody pretends it’s ideal, but they choose to put up with each other rather than walk out.
Unhappy marriages, however, are never solved by affairs. The problem just lurks in the background – because neither partner will risk honesty, care or closeness.
PICKING UP THE PIECES
Are you trying to recover from your partner’s affair? Does anyone else know? Are your friends telling you to leave – or “Kick him/her out!”? Are you wondering if you can ever forgive, ever start again?
It’s not just the sex, eh. It’s all the deceit that went with it. The cloak-&-dagger stuff – hidden messages, furtive meetings, close-calls, cover-ups, the risk of STDs – that was going on right under your nose!
Peggy Vaughan has a warning for you: trust cannot be rebuilt without some clear changes-in-behaviour by your offending partner:
- he/she must be willing to answer your questions
- he/she must hang in there while you deal with the understandable emotions
- he/she must demonstrate a fresh commitment to your relationship by severing all contact with the lover.
There are no shortcuts, no less-painful ways to repair the bond that’s been broken. Your partner has betrayed you, and now must face those issues head-on – not burying them, lying or hoping you’ll ‘get over it’.
Lorraine, another cheated-on spouse, agrees: “It took a year to cut all contact with the other woman – including losing some friends and moving schools. And it took another year for my husband to finish telling the truth about the affair!
“It’s taken five years, really, to recover. Like a re-glued vase, our marriage is stronger than ever before. But the sad thing is, it can never be as beautiful as it was, back when we were so happy together.
“Affairs, unfortunately, are life-altering. For everybody involved …”
TO CHEAT OR NOT TO CHEAT?
That is the question. And even a happy marriage is no guarantee. You see, it’s not just about love or sex: it’s about erecting healthy boundaries in your relationships at work, at play, and with friends … it’s about saying NO to secrets, suggestions and lies … it’s about being honest with your partner.
For what it’s worth, here are a few SAFETY TIPS:
- Avoid getting emotionally intimate with anyone you’re not committed to.
- Resist the urge to rescue some unhappy soul who wants to pour out his/her heart.
- Recognise that work can be a danger zone – where practical, stay on opposite sides of the desk – and don’t take lunch or coffee breaks with the same person all the time.
- When travelling with a co-worker, meet in a room that’s open and public – not a room with a bed!
- Don’t allow old flames to re-ignite – think twice about reconnecting with a former lover – if you have to meet, invite your partner along, too.
- Don’t step over the line when you’re online – discuss Internet friendships with your partner, and show him/her your emails.
- Find a supportive social circle – surround yourself with friends who are happily married, and not into fooling around.
- Keep the home-fires burning – make sex special again – build real love, not ‘movie-love’ – help your partner feel secure, respected and loved.
INTIMACY. That’s the ‘something’ that can disappear if a marriage gets stuck in a rut. And that’s the ‘something’ people are often looking for when they have an affair.
But it doesn’t have to disappear. Intimacy can so easily be kept alive … a vital ingredient in a growing marriage … if two people will just make the effort.
Just Friends … or More Than Just Friends?
LOTS OF PLATONIC friendships become emotional affairs. Men and women slide too easily across the boundaries that used to keep them faithful – sharing intimacies once reserved for a husband or wife.
How can you tell when your friendship – or your partner’s friendship – is heading down that slippery slope?
Well, answer YES or NO to the following questions – and see how you score:
- Do you confide more with your friend than with your partner about how your day went? Y/N
- Do you talk about your marriage details or difficulties with your friend, but not with your partner? Y/N
- Are you open with your partner about how far your friendship goes? Y/N
- Would you be happy to have your partner listen in to conversations with your friend? Y/N
- Would you feel comfortable if your partner saw a video of you and your friend together? Y/N
- Are you aware of sexual undercurrents in this friendship? Y/N
- Do you and your friend touch differently when you’re alone than when others are around? Y/N
- Are you in love with your friend? Y/N
- Give yourself 1 point for each ‘YES’ to questions 1,2,6,7,8 – and 1 point for each ‘NO’ to questions 3,4,5.
- If you scored 0 (or close to it), you’re just friends.
- If you scored 3 or more, you’re in the danger-zone.
- If you scored 7-8, you’re having an emotional affair – you’re cheating!
Now, don’t panic: there’s nothing wrong with a little ATTRACTION! Feeling attracted to someone else is not a crime – it’s simply a sign you’re still breathing! And being in love or being married doesn’t make you immune from such feelings. But the call you’ve got to make is whether you’ll flirt and fantasise and PURSUE those feelings – or not.
And, while we’re on the subject: there’s nothing wrong with a little JEALOUSY! If your partner feels uneasy about your friendship … complains that “you’re acting a bit strange” or “you talk about him/her all the time” … or worries that your friend “fancies you” – it might mean that your partner’s not paranoid: just more in-tune than you are.
Do you want to avoid getting too-close-for-comfort?
- Be ALERT enough to spot the red flags.
- Be SMART enough to know where the line is that separates a healthy friendship from something more intense.
- Be HUMBLE enough to pull back before you get in too deep: “This far – no further!”
Keepers of the Vine