Why Do Affairs Happen
Divorce and Infidelity: Why Do Affairs Happen?
One of the biggest causes of marital breakups is infidelity; in most parts of the world infidelity is widespread and, among some social classes, even expected. Surveys on the topic are notoriously unreliable, but in the United States it’s estimated that from 30 to 45 percent of all married men have had extramarital sexual liaisons, and from 20 to 38 percent of married women have. Not all affairs lead to divorce — in fact, an affair can bring a marriage closer together — so, if one wants to save one’s marriage, it’s important to understand why the affair happened.
“Boredom” with one’s marriage is a commonly given reason for an affair. Every marriage settles into a routine; sometimes, a husband or wife might come to believe that the routine means that the magic has disappeared from the marriage. Sometimes, sex become routine and more infrequent; meaningful conversations also fall off, becoming more difficult to initiate and sustain. There doesn’t seem to be anything else to talk about beyond the mundane details of daily life.
However, this kind of “boredom” doesn’t mean that couple have lost interest in each other or stopped loving each other. There are hundreds of books and websites devoted to the topic of putting the excitement back into one’s marriage; the first thing you both need to realize is that it takes work and commitment. The magic that came so naturally in the early part of your relationship does not last, at least not as effortlessly as before; you and your spouse will need to remind yourselves what it was that drew you together in the first place and make conscious gestures in that direction again.
If one of you has been having an affair, that might be a perfect opportunity to actually get your marriage back on track. You will both want to understand what led one (or both) of you to stray, and the inevitable dialogue that will arise between the two of you will enable you to talk honestly about your marriage, perhaps more honestly than ever before. The conversations will be difficult, but they may allow you and your spouse to reach a deeper level of understanding of each other. Hopefully, you will learn how to take better care of each other, how not to take each other for granted, and how to move forward with your marriage.
An affair can also arise from a marriage in which in which there is great disparity between the two partners in terms of status — usually job status. Perhaps one spouse has a high-ranking and responsible position that requires extensive travel and contact with interesting, influential people on a regular basis, while the other spouse stays at home. The spouse with position perhaps begins to think that he (or she) deserves it all, including the glamour of an extramarital fling. This doesn’t mean the end of a marriage — usually, the straying spouse, deep down, never intended to jeopardize the marriage at all. He we perhaps temporarily blinded by his own status and susceptible to all the temptations that come with it.
Affairs can also simply be manifestations of mid-life crises. Especially if one’s marriage has become dull and the sex has become routine, one might begin to feel that one is running out of time. When we’re in our twenties, we feel immortal, but when we hit 45 or 50, mortality is a very real prospect. In another ten or twenty years we won’t be as vigorous or healthy, or as attractive to the opposite sex. Fear of aging — and of losing sexual appeal — can prompt destructive and impulsive behavior.
Various vulnerabilities can make one susceptible to an affair. Personal stress over finances, job security, illness in the family, or problems with children can make one needy for affirmation. When we’re under pressure, we want someone to pay attention to us, and if our spouse is distracted or unresponsive, we might so elsewhere. Our environment can also render us vulnerable; if we see friends or work colleagues having affairs and, from our superficial vantage point, “getting away with it,” we may feel our own attitude shifting; having an affair might come to seem acceptable. Again, such an affair is no reason to destroy a marriage; the husband and wife need to talk more honestly about their needs. And an affair is a good starting point for that.
At the same time, nobody — not even the most loving of spouses — can meet all of another person’s needs. Needs are changing all the time, and we are often embarrassed to talk about them; and some needs are just plain unreasonable or unfair. If your spouse is having an affair, don’t put the blame squarely on yourself for being inadequate in some way. Sure, we can all improve the ways in which we relate to others, how we show affection and love, even to people we’ve been married to for thirty years. But if your spouse is having an affair, doesn’t that show some weakness, come character flaw, on his part (or her part) too? He needs to make a pretty big adjustment, too, in how to respond appropriately, if he sincerely wants to save his marriage.
An affair doesn’t mean that a marriage is over. Nor does it mean that the marriage is necessarily a bad one. If the marriage is worth saving — and in most cases it is — then try to find the genuine reason for the affair and try to adjust how you and your spouse respond to each other. If you’re having trouble talking about it, find a good marriage counselor to help you both communicate with each other. If you start with the assumption that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with your marriage, then you’re heading in the right direction.