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The Problem with Affairs

Let me set aside for the moment the obvious problem, that you promised yourself and your spouse, your family and friends, and perhaps even God you'd stay faithful. This seems to come up a lot more after the fall than while standing on the edge of the cliff contemplating letting an affair happen.

No, the problem with affairs is that their temptation is so one dimensional.

In a marriage, your relationship is about sex and vacations and income and taking out the trash. It's about what's good for your children, how you'll manage your retirement, and getting through chemo. It's about memories and growth you're proud of and business failures you're not. It's about the help your spouse gives your mother and your friendship with your sister-in-law. It's about date night and separate hobbies and the things you always do together.

An affair is almost always about just the one thing that feels missing from all that.

Sometimes it's about feeling more alive because you're offered support in taking a risk. Or it might be about a listening, caring ear for your troubles when your husband or wife is too busy to listen. It might be an offer of sex when your spouse is too depressed to enjoy it or too tired to be creative after all these years. It might be about setting aside your role as a mother or breadwinner for a few hours to become the center of someone else's world for an hour.

The resentment that grows on unwarranted expectations is what eats away at a marriage. And along comes the temptation of an affair, with all the excitement of a new relationship but -- because we're married -- only one expectation. If it fills out that one dent in the sphere that is our marriage relationship, it's heavenly. It starts us rolling right along again. Until...

And there's the problem. You don't need to go looking for an affair. You just need to grow enough resentment to slide into one when temptation strikes. All anyone needs to offer is to fill out that one dent, to provide that one thing you need while the rest of your life (with your wife or husband) proceeds as always.

And then the expectations of the affair grow. Yours. The other party's. Even if it was a one night stand, if you got away with it and you're not in a fight to save your marriage and your lifestyle and your kids' lifestyle, the expectations grow: you begin to expect someone else will offer you another one-night stand. Or your one-night stand flatters you by expecting more nights with you.

And with each unmet expectation (especially the sneaky expectation that your spouse and your lover will actually love you at the same time and not resent getting only a fraction of a partner or the other surprise expectation that someone who chose an affair with a married person actually desires or can handle a full-time relationship with you), you grow more resentful. More unhappy. And further emotionally from your spouse, further from fixing that one dent in your nice, full, round sphere of a life partnership.

So what can you do instead when temptation strikes?

If you long for someone to encourage you to take more risks, you can join Toastmasters or a ski club or take flying lessons.

If you need a listening ear, you can find a therapist, a hotline, or someone who lives alone and longs for some company (but not an affair).

If you want more sex from a depressed partner, you can drag your partner out to do anything fun or helpful to others that requires a bit of exercise, hire a cognitive behavioral therapist for marriage counseling that includes learning all their techniques for countering depression, or offer to cook healthier meals while you read up on some new things to try as soon as your husband's or wife's libido begins to return.

If you long to set aside a taxing role and be the center of someone's world again, you can find a way to find a willing volunteer or two to fill in for the two of you while you take a mini-vacation together. Turn off your cell phones, designate a relative to handle family emergencies, forbid any mention of your daily lives, and do something that brings out the best in both of you.

But don't involve someone else in your marriage -- not their sexually transmitted diseases, not their sperm or their eggs, not their unprofessional advice that just increases your expectations and resentment, not their secrets, not their inability to keep your secrets, not their expectations or their personality disorders.

If your marriage isn't happy, lean in toward your spouse. Or if there's no love left, get out, build yourself a happy life, and offer someone new the whole you, not just one needy bit of you. Because you're a much, much better lover (and spouse) when you're happy and whole. And you're the only one who can do this for you.

Comments

I love this!

One thing I'd add is that it's extremely confusing/challenging for someone considering an affair to fairly compare their spouse/partner with the new person they're interested in because that new interest literally drugs them with happy chemicals! I think that's why people who start affairs so often say they feel "alive", and that their marriages were "dead". Endorphins are pretty exciting, and steering away from them is a tough battle that many lose. Additionally, if someone has even a moderate level of chemical depression, they are self-medicating with the affair, since the endorphins temporarily lift them out of the depression. Seems like depressed people tend to blame their partners for their depression because it's hard to face that it's being generated from inside themselves, so when a new person enters their life and lifts up their endorphins, they temporarily feel like maybe they aren't depressed anymore, like they finally have found a solution. Of course once that initial chemical high from the new relationship wears off, which I understand can take up to 18 months, they've messed up a marriage and usually feel really ashamed, plus the new relationship doesn't feel so exciting anymore.
Why do I know all this? I was there! (Long story)

That's a great point, Rita. So true.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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