Monday, May 18, 2009

Surviving Infidelity: Why Do Affairs Start?

When you're in a marriage struggling to survive infidelity, it might seem odd to think about why affairs start in the first place. But this is an important part of surviving infidelity. Knowing how affairs start gives you the understanding to know how to put your marriage back together - especially if your cheating spouse isn't on board with the idea yet.

Most of think that affairs begin when some dashing young man or slinky, beautiful woman enters our spouse's life. We conjure up images of seduction, intrigue, and mystery; we think the other person could have any partner he or she wants, but has targeted your spouse.

In reality, it's rarely - if ever - how it works. The "other person" is far more likely to be an old friend, a co-worker, or a friend-of a friend than a dashing Cassanova.

And most of the time, things don't start out with the intention of igniting an affair. Quite the contrary, an affair usually starts innocently - a water cooler conversation, a lunch break, a walk down to the corner Starbucks for coffee. No big deal - friends, even those of the opposite sex, do all of those things every day without ending up in an affair.

So why do these friendships sometimes evolve into affairs?

This is not going to be pleasant to hear... but most affairs start because one spouse feels that he or she is not having a need met by the other spouse. This doesn't necessarily mean a sexual need (although this can certainly be the case) - more often, it's a more emotional need. Your spouse may feel like her opinions are not being valued, or that he is not being listened to. Another person fills that need, however innocently, and that sows the seed for misplaced affection.

You may be saying to yourself, "I listen to my husband", or "I value my wife's opinion". I don't doubt that in your eyes, this is true. There is an old saying that in marriage, there are three sides to every story - his side, her side, and the truth. Your spouse may not be entirely accurate in what he or she feels... but the important thing here is that it is what he or she feels. The truth doesn't really matter that much. Not right now, anyway.

So the feeling (perception) becomes reality for your spouse... and he or she harbors resentment that eventually leads to being open to an affair.

Now, you might think I'm saying that the affair is all your fault. That's not the case at all. See, because you likely think you are meeting your spouse's needs, there is another facet to the problem. Your spouse, although his or her need was not being met, failed to adequately communicate this need. Your spouse probably didn't want to hurt your feelings, or wanted to believe it was no big deal, or didn't want to "rock the boat"... but the end result was that you didn't have the full opportunity to learn to meet that need.

Both you and your spouse had a hand in the circumstances that led to the affair - I've never seen a relationship where both partners weren't partially to blame. And at the core of the problem is the failure of both partners to be blatantly honest with one another.

What would have happened if your spouse had been honest with you about the aspect of your marriage that wasn't fulfilling? Would you have ignored it? Probably not. On the flip side, do you always make an honest effort to find and correct issues that can lead to marriage problems (including infidelity)? Doubtful. Few of us are that relationship-savvy.

So why is all of this important to successfully coping with infidelity? In short, it's because if you want to have any hope of surviving infidelity, you are going to have to change the "honesty" dynamic in your marriage. You are going to have to demonstrate that change is possible, particularly if your spouse has given up on your relationship.

Showing that change is possible, and that you are willing to learn to meet your spouse's needs, makes the strength and importance of the affair simply fade away. If you can fulfill your spouse's needs, why would he or she need the "other person" any longer?

The "honesty" dynamic will also need to change because you're going to build a relationship that is stronger and more fulfilling than ever before. It's not enough to just put things back the way they were... to get back your unfaithful wife or cheating husband, you're going to need to show that the two of you can reach a new level of happiness. And transparency and honesty are the keys to that happiness.

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