I never thought I’d tackle this post. First of all, if I could answer this question with certainty, I certainly would not be teaching middle school math; I’d be taking over Oprah’s spot. The reasons people stray in their marriages are as varied and complex as marriage itself. Past, present and personality weaving together to create a perfect storm. To add to the complexity, the reasons people cheat are rarely the reasons they say they cheat. You are much more likely to hear excuses or blame because the truth takes bravery and insight along with a willingness to then divulge the understanding that was reached.
So, without further ado, here are the patterns I have seen emerge. We’ll start with the simplest.
The Bad Decision
This is the “it just happened” infidelity, although that excuse makes my skin crawl. This is the affair born of bad decisions that may or may not have other co-existing causes. There is no magic in a wedding band that suddenly causes all others of the opposite sex to be invisible. We all meet people that we find attractive and that awaken that little spark. But you always have a choice. Long before anything happens, you can make the decision to walk away. The earlier the better. The closer you get to flame, the more difficult it becomes to leave. You may get to a point where your body has the best of you, but you can choose to use your brain before then.
The Need for Physical Connection
A marriage where the partners have different sexual needs is certainly a struggle. In this type of affair, one (or both) of the partners are craving more physical intimacy and they look outside the marriage to sate their appetites. My frustration with this type (and the affair described below), is that so often the straying partner is helping to create the desert at home by turning his or attentions away. This reason is also used as an excuse for infidelity and can even be created by the straying partner as a way for them to reconcile their decisions within their own mind. After all, it’s easy to claim a sexless marriage and difficult to refute unless you never close your blinds.
The Need for Emotional Connection
Two has the potential to be lonelier than one can ever be. There is no worse feeling that being with someone and yet feeling invisible. People can change and grow apart. In this type of affair, the straying partner is seeking responsiveness and demonstrative affection from another. They describe their marriage as “dead” and want to feel alive. I get it, but there are other options than an affair. Please, seek them out first.
The Need for Approval
This is often the affair of the narcissist. They are typically brief and in succession, a new partner replacing the former before he or she gets to know too much. This straying partner is driven by the need to be idolized, which is a trademark of early romance that fades as time reveals more about the person.
The Need for Stimulation
Affairs can be rewarding; there is a rush from the newness that is amplified by the necessary intrigue. Some people are wired to need more stimulation. These are your daredevils and stockbrokers. Others train themselves to need an increasing amount of stimulation, such as in the case of addiction. Their threshold for stimulation is set higher than a “normal” life can fulfill and so they are always seeking their next reward. I believe this is why there is a connection between Twitter use and affairs.
The Snipe Hunt for Happiness
I find this the saddest reason for infidelity. In this case, a person is truly unhappy and, rather than address the issue internally where it resides, they begin a snipe hunt for happiness, looking for it in external things and often, people. This affair is not driven by something missing in the marriage; it’s powered by something missing in the person. And, what makes it sad to me is that while they are on a winless quest for happiness, they steal joy from others along the way.
Many affairs can be described by more than one of the reasons above. After all, we’re all human with our complexities and fallibilities. Affairs happen. But maybe if we can understand more of why they do we can stop them before they start or learn from them once they do.
And, for those of you who have been betrayed, here is some more information for you:
Classification of Infidelity – A look at he types of infidelity from the perspective of the betrayed.
Will I Ever Trust Again? – A perspective on how to learn to trust again after betrayal.
Of Horses and Zebras – A description of how betrayal changes your brain.
The Upside of Betrayal – Betrayal isn’t all bad. There are some positives. I promise.