Attention — 02 November 2003
The state of the affairs

Jodie sensed something was wrong in her marriage though she could not
identify it at first. Bruno, her husband of twenty years, was acting
strangely, was uncharacteristically irritable, complaining about his
stressful life and being unavailable emotionally. It was only when he
initiated fights and left the home for extended periods of time, that
she began to suspect that he was leaving to find solace elsewhere. Jodie

confronted Bruno with her fears, only to the sounds of denial and
accusations that she was suspicious. Confirmation came with a late night
call from the other woman.

This scenario is a common one when a partner is having an affair.
Infidelity fosters lies, denials, accusation of the partner, and the
creation of discord at home to justify one’s interest outside the
relationship.

Research found that 70 percent of marriages experience at least one
affair. 60 percent of married men and 40 percent of married women have
affairs. In non-marital committed partners infidelity rates are even
higher.

Many people who have affairs are decent people in a state of
appreciation deficit. They desire more affection, attention, adulation
and approval than they are getting. Whatever “reasons” are given for
affairs, the common factor is the unmet need for sufficient validation.

Men state that they feel unappreciated for their efforts and are
unsuccessful in pleasing their partners. Women feel ignored, un-courted
and not listened- to enough. When men cease to feel that they are their
partners_ “heroes” and women lose their role of “pleasing sweethearts”,
both genders may become susceptible to the attentions of a third party.
Mates who feel cherished by each other seldom stray.
Emily Brown, a noted international expert on the issue of affairs,
states: “Affairs are not about loving or not loving your spouse, They
are never about sex! They’re about finding a way to feel alive in the
face of discomfort or pain.”
The third party often supplies, (temporarily), some of the needs the
spouse is lacking in his or her marriage. That reinforces the betraying
spouse’s false perception that his or her mate is either intentionally
withholding or is innately incapable of supplying the needed love. The
lover may reinforce these false beliefs by stating dismay at the
spouse’s lack of appreciation.

A marriage can never compete with an affair. The affair is a contract to
play and adulate each other. Marriage is a living contract which
entails, expectations, accountability and sharing the day to day tasks.
Affair lovers spend most of their time together in pleasurable
activities and exchanges of verbal praises. In committed unions the
children, chores and family demands drain the partners energy. Less is
left for play and loving moments. Affairs are unrealistically positive,
marriage spans the gamut of pain and pleasure.

It is no wonder then, that some are drawn to the magic of unconditional
appreciation. Often people do not decide to seek an extra-marital lover,
they are hungry for attention, vulnerable to gestures of appreciation
and gradually avail themselves to greater and deeper involvement.

Infidelity is not the behavioral evidence of a personality deficit,
character flaws, or moral ineptitude. It is the misguided, harmful, and
wrong avenue for personal need fulfillment. Affairs violate the basic
tenets of emotional and sexual commitments to the chosen and special
partner. Infidelity often causes devastating harm to the whole family.
Many couples break up after an affair is discovered. Blaming the
betrayed partner for the conduct of the betrayer only compounds the
damage to both.
The failure of those who have affairs is often in the lack of candor,
courage, self-respect and communication skills in approaching their
partners about their unmet needs. Some spouses say that they have tried
to communicate their distress to their mates- to no avail. This may be
true, which only underscores the communication failures of these partners.

As painful and profoundly traumatic as an affair is, it is possible to
recover from this crisis and create an opportunity for improving the
relationship. Jodie would have welcomed Bruno’s admission of his affair.
She was willing to forgive this transgression and avail herself to
couple’s counseling. Her pain was only exacerbated by the accusation
that she was baseless in her suspicions. Many couples recover from the
blows of betrayal to achieve an ultimately closer and healthier connection.
Please consider the following:

  • Marital unhappiness is a call for resolution not for an affair.
  • Your needs are valid. Ask for what you lack in the relationship.
  • You are entitled to ask for and expect to have your partner be
    receptive to helping meet your needs.
  • Affairs are destructive distractions- not resolutions to personal
    deprivations.
  • If you feel hindered or unsuccessful in conveying your needs to your
    partner- seek professional assistance.
  • If you are drawn to the attention of a third party  recognize your
    validation deficit. Find ways to regain your sense of self worth-healthily.
  • Once involved in an affair-end it, as hard as it may seem.
  • If confronted by your partner, tell the truth. Most forgiven betrayals
    occur after repentance and redress.
  • If your partner had an affair remember that it is not about you- it is
    his or her crisis of self worth not a character flaw.
  • As a betrayed partner all your feelings are valid and the pain
    merited. With time and forgiveness you too can be healed.
  • Undertake honest exchanges in which both of you can own up to your
    part in the crisis.

Restoring your trust and love is possible after the affair. It takes
time to process the pain, recover and restructure a relationship that
honors both of you.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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