Understanding the “Why” Behind Affairs and Infidelity
When infidelity occurs in a relationship – whether it’s the sharing of a bed with someone who isn’t their spouse, or developing an inappropriate emotional connection with a colleague or an online liaison – it undermines the trust that has been built in the relationship, sometimes to the point of no recovery.When a couple has had their relationship rocked by infidelity, a multitude of thoughts and emotions rage and swirl through their hearts and minds, especially the partner who was cheated on.
Several questions come to mind – “Who was the affair with?”; “How long has it been going on for?”; “Is it over or were you just caught red-handed?”; “Do you love the person you had the affair with?”; “Do you still love me and our family?”, and so many more.
It’s likely that one of the more pressing questions is “Why?” It can take many forms, including “Why did you do this?” or “Why did you look to someone other than me to give you what you needed?” These are very painful questions to ask but asking them and answering them honestly can give the couple insight into their relationship as well as the mindset of the straying partner.
Asking the “why” type of questions and seeking to understand what happened is not an attempt at excusing the behavior but at exposing the dynamics of the marriage and providing avenues to explore for strengthening the relationship against future shocks. Done well, understanding why the breach in your relationship occurred is an empowering step towards rebuilding on a surer footing than before.
The Importance of Knowing Why Infidelity and Affairs Happen
Each couple, each relationship is different. The factors that lie behind infidelity can be complicated and stem from issues that may have plagued the relationship for a while. In other cases, the path toward infidelity is brief and not related to any problem within the relationship at all. Exploring the “why” of infidelity is therefore important for both parties.
The spouse who had the affair needs to understand what, if anything, they were lacking within the relationship, and therefore what they were looking to receive from the affair. Being candid about what one needed, whether those needs were communicated clearly and were left unmet or ignored helps the couple to understand where any gaps are in the relationship. It also exposes one’s expectations and what they feel entitled to, rightly or not.
The partner who was cheated on needs to understand what needs their partner may have had that were not met within the relationship and where the breakdown occurred and how to possibly move forward. It’s also an opportunity to explore if they want to meet that need, and how they could go about that.
In other words, knowing what happened and why allows the couple to become aware of the issues at stake and to chart a course forward – together, with a relationship that has clearer lines of communication and a sturdier foundation, or apart if that is what they decide.
With that in mind, what are some of the common reasons why people have affairs?
Common Reasons Why People Commit Infidelity
In any situation, there may be one or several reasons behind a partner cheating. Some of these are more long-term concerns that take time to develop till they come to a head, others are less so. The availability of opportunities to cheat, especially in our internet age of anonymity, can easily exacerbate these and facilitate infidelity.
Breakdown of communication
One reason behind infidelity is a breakdown of communication. The lifeblood of a good relationship is the couple having clear lines of communication. This is how they make their needs known to one another, they express concerns and desires. When communication breaks down, it affects other aspects of the relationship.
The breakdown in communication can occur due to a variety of reasons – not feeling heard, not feeling respected, valuable, or safe within the relationship. All of these can lead to the couple not having a space to hear, understand, and meet one another’s needs. If the couple has problems but does not have the skill to communicate what they feel and work out a solution, the disconnect can lead to frustration – one easy outlet for frustration is an affair.
Lack of affection
The warm feelings that ought to exist between a couple help to ease potential frictions and keep the couple invested in their relationship. Feeling cherished, desired, and appreciated are important needs that should be met within the relationship. Sometimes the other spouse does not have the toolset to communicate these well, and the neglected spouse seeks to have their need met elsewhere.
Lack of physical intimacyThe lack of physical intimacy in a relationship can result from several causes. An accident may make one unable to perform sexually. Taking certain medications or undergoing mental health problems such as depression may depress the libido. When a couple stops having sex, that does not mean that the desire for sexual intimacy, and physical intimacy in general, evaporates and goes away for both partners.
A frustrated partner may look to pornography or another person with whom to have sexual relations. The easy availability of online hook-ups and escorts means that sexual frustration can be dealt with much easier by looking outside the marriage.
Loss of emotional connection
A couple can grow apart over time. As we get absorbed in our lives – work, children, keeping up mortgage and other payments – it’s easy for a couple to lose one another in the shuffle.
The couple’s goals change, who they are as individuals change, and without checking in with one another it’s easy to simply live alongside one another than live with each other. That lost emotional connection creates an opening for someone else, such as a colleague, to become a shoulder to lean on.
Other Reasons Why People Cheat
The above reasons usually explain why people have affairs. In some cases, people in happy relationships may still be found unfaithful, and this is not because of a deficit in their relationship.
This of course can be confusing because our usual understanding of infidelity is that it results from a lack, from something missing in the primary relationship. Some authors, including Esther Perel, note that in certain instances, infidelity occurs for other reasons. These may include:
The attractive and seductive nature of transgression: Crossing certain lines to obtain forbidden fruit. The book of Proverbs speaks about this when talking of adultery. The lie that we buy into is that somehow forbidden fruit is sweeter and more satisfying than what is allowed to us.
Self-exploration: The desire to know yourself better, including emotions that you have never felt or experienced, can be a draw for someone to want to have an affair. The routines of life, including a couple’s sex lives, may bring one partner to have an affair to experience something different.
The draw of a life not lived: For those that married young and felt like they never lived their own life, or for those who are getting older, the life not lived becomes an attractive option. Wistfulness and the desire to do things one did not do before, or to reconnect with an old flame to explore what might have been, can lead someone down the path of infidelity. With social media platforms, finding and contacting those old flames has never been easier, and many affairs are born of this.
These other reasons, including psychological issues such as sex addiction, personality disorders or childhood trauma may have a hand in why one partner cheats. Knowing these reasons does not excuse bad behavior, but it certainly illuminates it. The pain of being cheated on does not diminish simply because there is an explanation for it, but it is better to have information than not.
Understanding why infidelity occurred helps the couple understand what occurred, and hopefully what can be done better in the future. Some needs may have been left uncommunicated. People cannot read minds, and to expect them to meet needs that are not expressed is an impossible standard.
Other needs may have been expressed, but the other partner cannot meet them for one reason or another. The couple needs to work out a solution that works for them both. Marriage is hard work, and it requires a couple to face issues head-on, instead of running away from them and finding relief in infidelity.
Nurturing a relationship requires commitment and good communication, and infidelity does not mean the end of the relationship. It is possible for a couple that has been rocked by infidelity to work through the underlying issues and emerge on the other side stronger than ever.
“Divorce”, Courtesy of Stevepb, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Leaf Heart”, Courtesy of Modman, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Folded Hands”, Courtesy of Reenablack, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Engaged”, Courtesy of Heather Mount, Unsplash.com, CC0 License