There are a myriad of ways people will “explain” why they have gone outside the boundaries of their committed relationships. People often wonder if cheating happens because of sexual boredom or frustration. My experience is that healthy people don’t act on boredom or urges to experience more thrills by cheating on their mate. They find ways that don’t violate their relationships or their partners trust to meet their innate tendency toward higher intensity stimulation. Here are some issues that I see presented in the couples coming to my practice that contribute to the occurrence of emotional and/or sexual affairs: When the condition has not been effectively diagnosed and treated, couples often repot certain themes and recurrent stressors that seem to be based on the biological and emotional components of this disorder, including:
- Emotional Problems: Trying to meet unmet (underlying healthy) needs in a dysfunctional way. For example, Wanting to feel something you haven’t been feeling or think you can’t feel with your current partner (as in, “I can’t be myself”), a felt lack of closeness or intimacy, partners not being emotionally attuned to each other, a lack of self-awareness, a lack of ability to self soothe and cope with feelings of anger, resentment, frustration, loneliness, or, excessive low self esteem (“I’ve never felt attractive”).
- Psychological Issues: a.) Being compartmentalized -(sharing different “parts” of oneself with different people, and an inability to share all of yourself with 1 person ). This is very common with people who have suffered trauma or who grew up in families where it was not really safe to share your real self with. b) Narcissism – feeling over entitled and demanding, self-absorbed and a tendency to exploit (use) others. These are very common personality traits in people who have sex addictions.
- Unresolved History: a) Incest/Sexual Abuse – having learned to live a double life, survivors of incest often do not have healthy boundaries, and can struggle with how and when to say “no.” b) Distorted Relational Beliefs learned from dysfunctional family experiences and culture. For example, if someone grew up watching Mom cheat on a seemingly powerless Dad, that has an impact on what is seemingly “normal,” on what the expectations should be for marriage.
- Disconnection and Avoidance: a.) Being overscheduled & overburdened. A relationship where partners are disengaged from one another creates vulnerability. For example, living separately, having made great personal strides (& not “knowing” each other anymore, like attending college, having a spiritual awakening, becoming sober, etc.). b.) A lack of sexual satisfaction. People may avoid these issues for many, many years, out of anxiety and a lack of hope. Eventually, people may start to fantasize, and act on the fantasies, that it simply will not “work” between them. c.) Sometimes addictions –be it pornography, alcohol/drugs, or work- go hand-in-hand with affairs. Addictions can contribute to disconnection, as they are not only an escape from people’s emotional distress, but can also be a way to exit from a relationship.
Tips For Recovery
- All contact with the lover must stop. Often this causes grief and anxiety for the person who was having the affair, and they need increased support from a counselor or group to help them through this period of mourning.
- The single best indicator of whether a relationship can survive infidelity is how much empathy the unfaithful partner shows for the pain they have caused when the betrayed spouse gets emotional and starts “acting crazy.”
- Accept and prepare for that fact that monogamy, like many other kinds of emotional wounds, is an issue that is never settled “once and for all.”
There are many wonderful resources for people struggling with sex addictions, including informative websites, 12 step groups like:
SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous) – http://www.sexaa.org
COSA (for partners of sex addicts) – http://www.coslaa.org
RCA (Recovering Couples Anonymous) – http://www.recovering-couples.org
SASH (Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health) – http://www.sash.net
To assess the level of your problems with sex and love, visit: http://www.sexhelp.com
After the Affair: How to Build Trust and Love Again by Julia Cole
Tempted Women: The Passion, the Peril and the Agony of Female Infidelity by Carol Botwin
His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage by Willard F. Harley