There are many reasons why people have affairs.
There are many reasons why people have affairs. The most common are usually something along these lines:
- My partner doesn’t understand me
- The passion is gone
- I want someone who makes me feel alive again
- We have nothing in common
- My partner doesn’t want sex
- I need more excitement/variety
Followed by some explanation of why they are staying in the relationship to begin with, usually having to do with the kids.
But underlying the reasons above is a deeper issue, and that issue is pain. What all those reasons have in common is some variation of rejection, and this rejection is taking place in one of the areas where we are most vulnerable: the heart. The person we love (or loved at one time) has told us, either explicitly or through their behavior, that we are not good enough in some fundamental way.
It’s not likely that your partner comes straight out and says, “You aren’t good enough for me,” although that’s certainly one possibility. Much more likely is that you receive criticism over your clothing choices, advice on how to manage your career, disapproving looks or remarks about your parenting, “feedback” about your diet, and so on. Whether your partner is openly critical of your choices and behavior or is sending you disapproving glances, making subtle disapproving noises, or simply providing ongoing unsolicited advice and feedback, you are likely picking up the message that you are not measuring up. All of these behaviors are overt or subtle ways of criticizing another. Whenever we feel we must correct another person’s behavior, we are basically saying they aren’t doing something right. And whether or not we acknowledge that on the surface, underneath we all get that energetically.
Criticism is one of the deadliest of weapons in intimate relationships, and we humans are really good at picking it up, whether it is spoken or implied. For many of us, criticism triggers old wounds from childhood where we may have received messages that we weren’t good enough and were constantly being corrected. It’s common to experience a slight, real or perceived, as a massive rejection because of the magnifying effect of these old wounds. Then a very normal reaction is to attempt to defend ourselves.
The ways in which we defend are numerous. Some of us try to explain ourselves. Others withdraw. Still others fight back, or try to get even. And some of us utilize a complicated defense incorporating all of these approaches, abandoning one and moving to another in quick succession when the first doesn’t work the way we hoped. One of the last lines of defense is to give up and walk away (although some people drop bombs and walk away).
The sad news is that none of these defenses make the pain of rejection go away. They may distract us for a little while, but as soon as the intensity of the moment has died down, the pain will still be there. If we don’t find a way to address and heal that pain with our partner, our relationship is vulnerable, because it is very human to want to be free of pain, and many people think cheating is an easy way to escape. Except that affairs are really just the ultimate distraction, solving nothing and causing more pain in the end. No matter how many justifications and rationalizations you can come up with, there is lying, shame, and guilt involved, which multiplies the original pain.
Why not get to the root cause and eliminate the pain? There’s no guarantee that your current relationship is salvageable, but you have the ability to address and heal your pain directly. When you get out of pain, your interactions will change dramatically. It’s hard to say how that will impact the relationship dynamic until you experience it for yourself.