Why Do People Have Affairs?
Few things are as heart-rending as discovering that your partner has been conducting a sexual or emotional affair behind your back. It’s a special kind of grief that rivals a loss—because this grief is personal. You feel personally betrayed and utterly inadequate.
If you were in the dark about the affair, you’re probably feeling gobsmacked, sucker-punched, devastated, irate, or a dizzying sense of panic.
If you knew about or suspected the affair… you’re probably not feeling much better. If anything, you may have allowed yourself sufficient time to become numb.
If you were the unfaithful party—chances are—that this moment is no walk in the park for you either. Most people don’t derive a sense of pleasure from hurting someone else. And sometimes (as cliché as it sounds): cheating really isn’t about them; it’s about you. Emotional wounds, low self-esteem, or feeling unloved in your primary relationship are all powerful ingredients for bad relationship decisions that you’ll regret later on.
So… if cheating is so devastating to everyone involved… then, why do people do it?
Out of the mouths of the unfaithful, studies reveal that partners cheat for 10 of the following common reasons:
- Emotional Dissatisfaction: A deficiency of intimacy in the primary relationship (feeling unwanted, undesirable, or ignored; to correct an emotional “power” imbalance between partners in the primary relationship; feeling “stuck” in a failing relationship and desiring an exit strategy; the primary relationship is/was characterized by high conflict)
- Sexual Dissatisfaction: Lack of sexual fulfillment in the primary relationship (infrequency of sexual intercourse, lack of variety in love-making, divergent sexual desires, or difficulties achieving orgasm with the primary partner)
- Sexual Excitement: Seeking out novel sexual experiences or exploring sensual curiosities; deriving a sense of euphoria from engaging in extramarital encounters
- Sexual Gratification: Wanting to feel wanted, attractive, or desirable, solely as an ego booster
- Sexual Addiction: A compulsive urge to engage in available sexual encounters despite the negative consequences that each conquest will entail; may occur simultaneously with a Substance Abuse Disorder
- Low Self-Esteem: To curb feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy; to soothe a persistent fear of abandonment or insert emotional distance between yourself and the primary partner (the “hurt them—before they can hurt you” strategy)
- Sexual or Emotional Trauma: As a coping mechanism to alleviate unpleasant emotions resulting from childhood or adulthood sexual assault and/or emotional abuse
- Revenge: To equal the playing field or seek vengeance against a partner who cheated on you previously
- Love: Falling in love with someone else or out of love with the primary partner
What Constitutes “Infidelity”?
This answer may vary considerably from couple to couple; however, infidelity is always the series of acts—whether emotional or sexual—that violate the definitions of romantic or sexual exclusivity for each couple. Partners may not always agree about which deeds constitute infidelity. For example: Is watching pornography permissible in your relationship? Is it ok to kiss same sex or opposite sex friends when emotional connections are not involved… but alcohol is? Is fantasizing about other people—co-workers, celebrities, etc.—allowed in your relationship? Although these are fine points that every couple should discuss, common categories of infidelity often include:
- One-Night Stands: A moment of drunken weakness or a planned one-time sexual encounter; repeated one-night stands with different partners, etc.
- Ongoing Sexual Affairs: Engaging in multiple, extramarital encounters with the same person—in the absence of emotional ties
- Emotional Infidelity: Falling in love or becoming infatuated with another person outside of the primary relationship (without actually committing an act of sexual infidelity); allowing yourself to fantasize about this person; or sharing intimate aspects about yourself or private details of your primary relationship with this accessory person
- Online Affairs: Conducting an emotional affair over the internet (which may or may not subsequently develop into a sexual affair); participating in sexually explicit acts with this person online (including cybersex, webcam sex, or exchanging risqué photos, etc.)
- Secondary Relationships: An ongoing romantic affair that entails both sexual AND emotional infidelity
- Other “Violations”: Everyone has a different definition of what constitutes “cheating” in the context of their relationship. For some people, this definition may be expanded to include “unconventional” forms of cheating, such as: watching pornography, masturbating to fantasies of other people, engaging in solo fetishes or paraphilias, etc.
How Can Therapy & Counseling For Infidelity & Affairs Help Me?
So, you cheated on your partner or discovered that your partner has cheated on you: What comes next?
Sometimes the biggest challenge is finding out what move is right for you. If you committed an act of infidelity that you regret, should you inform your partner? If your partner has cheated on you, should you attempt to salvage the relationship or sever emotional ties?
Counseling for infidelity can help you arrive at these answers, with introspection and gentle (meaning: non-pushy!!!) guidance. Although infidelity recovery is a complex topic, common goals of therapy may include:
- Revealing The Affair: Working up the courage to inform a partner about an act of infidelity
- Difficult Decisions: Choosing whether a relationship is salvageable when confronted with a partner’s sexual or emotional transgression
- Identifying Problems: Allowing each partner to articulate why they believe the act of infidelity occurred – what are the significant issues (such as sexual dissatisfaction or emotional disconnect) that contributed to the affair?
- Healing: Recovering from the emotional trauma of infidelity—the overpowering emotions of betrayal, inadequacy, worthlessness, shame, jealousy, anger, depression, or panic
- Mental Health: Receiving treatment for related mental health challenges: sexual addictions, substance abuse disorders, childhood and adulthood sexual or emotional abuse, low self-esteem, a fear of abandonment, or codependency
- Implementing A Plan For Moving forward: Ensuring that infidelity doesn’t reoccur and identifying strategies for enhancing the bond between partners (developing common interests, carving out time for sexual intimacy, correcting sources of power disparity in the relationship)
- Rebounding In The Bedroom: Learning how to enjoy sex with your partner once again after the trauma of the infidelity subsides