Affairs, Infidelity & Getting Caught Stepping Out: Is it just the sex?

affairs,infidelity,causes of infidelity,adultery,cheating,extramarital affairs

Affairs & Infidelity are rarely as simple as someone was good while the other was bad. This is too simplistic an explanation but we all love it because it’s easier to digest,rather than the difficult truths underneath. We love the simplicity of being judgmental or of gossip; someone is the martyr and the other is Darth Vader.

Most often the complicatedness can be brought out in treatment. Many couples admit sex disappeared a long time ago & they don’t talk about it. Sex 10 times or less a year is considered non-sexual.

Estrogen is not fierce like testosterone. Estrogen allows sexual libido to flat line or be ignored. Testosterone demands attention.

Affairs as a repeated pattern are about disdain & disrespect. One problem with swinging (yes, this flash from the 1970’s has returned) is that the exciting, new third-party can become more interesting & engaging than the original, primary relationship. For swinging to work the primary relationship must continue to be respected as being primary.

Too often, I hear young women comment “If my husband has an affair, we are so over.” Affairs are a complicated story and usually both people play a part. The non affair person’s percentage of the problem may be far smaller: 15% to 40%. It is crucial to address the problems that have eroded the infrastructure of the relationship.

* People are hungry & get their needs met, even if they have to go sideways.

* People do not honestly dialogue about what’s missing in the relationship. They pretend it’s ok, when it’s not.

* No single relationship can meet all of anyone’s needs, nor should it.

* If life brought someone the affair & they were not out hunting for it, this is different.

* Infidelity is complicated with many layers. Self-righteousness by the non affair partner can erase important work that needs to be done.

* It is almost always true that the partner who did not have the affair is more angry at the 3rd party (think Elizabeth Edwards) than they are at their partner, who committed the wrong doing. This too often leads to ignoring the problems in the original relationship (i.e I’m afraid of her so I don’t talk about what’s real).

The partner who had the affair has to do serious self-examination. I highly recommend Not Just Friends by Shirley Glass as a tool for deeper exploration. She suggests these 10 Questions be answered by the person who had the affair:
1. What did you say to yourself that gave you permission to get involved?
2. After the first time you had sex, did you feel guilty?
3. How could it go on so long if you knew it was wrong?
4. Did you think about me at all?
5. What did you share about us? (Rhoda note: Did you tell her specifics of your unhappiness & not me?)
6. Did you talk about love or a future together?
7. What did you see in the affair partner?
8. What did you like about yourself in the affair? How were you different?
9. Were there previous infidelities or opportunities & how was this time similar or different?
10. Did you have unprotected sex?

These are great questions that can trigger more authentic conversation. Just like AA asks that the non drinking partner to go to Al Anon to look at their part in the problems, try not to be so defensive & angry that it’s impossible to talk about the hard truths underneath. If you have been wronged, think of this as an opportunity to rebuild an honest future, no longer avoiding hard things.


The Good Wife Season Finale & the Test of Love

What is Love?, The Good Wife, Alicia Florrick, Respect , Friendship

The Good Wife is currently the best drama on t.v. I’m not sure why so many more women watch than men. I suspect women watch it because the female characters are complex & three dimensional. Women are important and have an impact in their roles as lawyers, wives, grandmothers & bosses.

The best moment in the season finale was not Alicia & Will about to consummate their relationship. The best moment took place when Kalinda was in bed. Kalinda is bisexual, and often has sex on a one night stand basis. She has massive trust issues and we don’t know the why.

When Kalinda is in bed, she finds out the woman has married since they last met. Kalinda changes her mind about pursuing a sexual encounter because the woman is married. Why does this matter some may ask?

Not because she decided to follow the 10 commandments, but because she has allowed her friendship with Alicia to matter. Kalinda has learned how much pain, Alicia was in because her husband had casual sex with other women. She has paid the price of lost friendship with Alicia because there was a one night stand with Alicia’s husband.

Betrayal is a huge theme of this show. Alicia is untrusting also, and to see her stop sharing & shut out Kalinda was painful. We know this is her best friend whom she trusted more than her husband.

Kalinda believes their friendship is over and she has suffered from the loss. She honors & respects Alicia enough to be open to learning an important lesson. Affairs with married partners, no matter how brief or casual hurt other people. She is changed and will be different because she believes now, that it matters.

This is the true test of love and respect. I will grow to be a better person and I will allow you to influence me. Ultimately, that’s what love is all about.

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend time with my daughter & her husband for a week of vacation. I really had great pleasure watching them as a couple. My daughter is very careful & her husband has this lovely, restless energy. He can persuade her to say yes more than anybody I have ever experienced. She built a sand castle & jumped with him in the waves because it meant so much to him. These are things she avoided even in childhood. Love has changed her.

That’s what true love means, growing to have more range & embracing new parts of who you are. Learning & Growing is the essence of relationships.

Infidelity & Complicatedness

Infidelity is never a simple matter. Brothers & Sisters has done a good job of illustrating this in last night’s show “Resolved” aired 11/07/10.  Too many people simplify affairs into bad guy/good guy. Yes, Scotty admits he was WRONG in capital letters and he has a story to tell about what was missing for him on the opening night of his restaurant.

When people are in love it’s very hard to talk and have any impact, whether you’re a parent, a friend or a therapist. The brain’s very chemistry makes those in love lost, foolish and sparklingly happy. Couples counseling doesn’t work when either person is in love with somebody else. Infidelity does not make any logical sense. What matters is that there is some way that the person having the extramarital affair feels different in their life.

Scotty was not in love but he was hungry for nourishment. Hunger doesn’t mean an infidelity is ok. Infidelity is betrayal. Hunger does mean there is an underlying story or context to the hunger. Something was missing. Scotty often refers to Kevin as taking up all the air in the room with his demands fueled by anxiety. At the end of the episode Scotty is able to talk to Kevin about this problem in their marriage. Kevin is lacking awareness about his contribution to the problem because Scotty didn’t risk telling him to begin with. Now they have an opportunity to grow and learn from their mistakes, though Scotty has more to own up to!

It’s usually more than feeling sexy and attractive to someone else. If you are having an affair, ask yourself how you are different with the new person. One woman answered “playful, adventuresome and spontaneous.” Who wouldn’t want to be those things again? Learn from it and find those qualities at home with your partner.

It’s easy to get lost in the routine of raising a family. It can be the most important task of your life but it doesn’t mean you want to lose track of your adventuresome self.

If you are smitten with someone else you can learn from it. Sometimes something is missing and you don’t know what it is. You don’t have to act out sexually to find it. You do have to think about it, preferably before the affair starts.

Intimacy may be missing. Intimacy is sharing who you are with each other along with the richness of being real. If you’ve swallowed anger over your partner spending too much time playing computer games or looking at computer porn or being away from home too much then the distance doubles and triples until you notice someone else. Intimacy can be repaired even if it’s been neglected. It can’t be repaired if you’re being nourished by someone else. Read the quote by Nora on this blog post that defines commitment eloquently:

Infidelity doesn’t have to be a dead-end. Infidelity can be a door opening into understanding yourself and each other.

Broken Hearts, Breaking Up & The Brain

Breaking Up, Broken Heart, Heartbreak & Addiction

Broken Up or Cocaine Addict?

The brain is where it’s at in terms of making psychotherapy more effective. Brain research is so exciting it’s almost enough to make me want to start my career over again. One of the most difficult things I encounter is when someone has been rejected in love. No one wants to accept the harsh reality they are now alone, again. Obsessing fills their head like an ice-cube tray with too much water on the delicate trip to the freezer. The one with the broken heart makes calls that go unanswered, sends long-winded emails that are not likely to be read or even does drive bys. Their mind is clenched only in how to bring the loved one back.

Now we have more understanding about why this mindset is so hard to change and the strange behaviors are not surprising. Researchers from Stony Brook University are able to explain what makes broken hearts so unbearable. Brain images clearly show a link between “romantic rejection and a cocaine craving”. So breaking up is like giving up cocaine in the brain. Follow this link to read more details:

Powerful desires eat up the best of who we are and leave us in a helpless puddle of stupidity. Acceptance of how things really are is something that trickles in very slowly over time. It’s exciting that there is evidence that the kooky things we do make sense somehow. There wouldn’t be so many love songs about breaking up if the writers hadn’t found ways to be creative with their own obsessing. There is relief in recognizing that we are hardwired to be human and therefore foolish.

Real Love is About Paying Attention

The most authentic love story I’ve read in a long time is Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips. It tells the love story of Lark, half-sister of Termite, who has hydrocephalus (a condition of fluid in the brain which enlarges the head). In the backdrop are three more unusual love stories:

1. Lark and Termite’s mother Lola, who loves a soldier 9 years younger than her who is in the Korean War

2. Lola’s love for her sister Nonie, which is not returned. It is Nonie who ends up takeing care of Lark and Termite

3. Nonie’s love of Charlie, who betrayed her with Lola. Though Charlie betrayed her, he always loves Nonie, he just can’t crawl out from under manipulation by Lola because he learned it from his mother. This relationship has a lot to teach those who are so angry and unforgiving of affairs that happen. The story of an affair is often complicated.

The characters are impeccably drawn and so are so three-dimensional, you close the book with all of them etched in your heart.

It is the love of Lark and Termite that takes your breath away. Termite’s exquisite sense of listening means he knows her deeply and Lark knows through oh-so-careful attention how vibration and sounds make Termite happy. Lark is so clear in her knowing love, “someone might think he’s talking but he’s saying his version of the plates stacked against one another, the plastic chairs scraping, our footsteps, the wheels of his own chair turning as I push it inside.” There are lots of lovely descriptions of how they know and love each other through carefully paying attention. It is deeply moving to become a part of their love story through reading . Even the ending couldn’t be a more perfect, heroic action because of their love and the beginning of a new, fourth love story also starts at the same time. The ending was glorious and resonated deeply with me. I suspect it will stay with me for the rest of my life.

This is what love is about, knowing and attending to each other deeply. There is so much surface valued in our culture, I find it frightening. Lust and attraction are an important part of loving which this book is also about. There is a depth to love that so many young people miss out on because they’re like cows grazing in a field. Depth of love and attention requires time, authenticity and risking profound connection instead of running away from the possibility.

Misguided Jenny Sanford & the Comfort of Blame

First Lady Jenny Sanford said:alg_sanford_split

“Of course I’m not saying that Mark is gay. But he may as well be. The moral decay in this country has claimed another victim and this time it was my family. Our marriage was perfect until these laws started passing around the country. Clearly the slow dissolution of the sanctity of marriage in America seeped into Mark’s psyche until he no longer felt compelled to abide by our vows.”

This is a clear example of the comfort blame offers. Gay Marriage becomes a convenient scapegoat for their problems. It’s certainly a lot easier than looking at yourself and trying to find the 10%-20% part you may have played in this sad state of affairs. Problems in a marriage are always contributed to by BOTH people. Does the person who has the affair have 80%-90% of the responsibility because they did not address the problems with their partner and went looking for a soul mate? Yes! The fact he describes the other woman as a soul mate is indicative of missing intimacy. Why is it easier for him to talk to television cameras than his wife? Jenny deserves sympathy because the spotlight on her pain makes this especially unbearable. Gay Marriage has nothing to do with her problems with her husband. It’s all about them, no one else. Blame is really unbecoming and not useful.

How do you forgive somebody who’s soul mate is someone else? (My daughter wisely asks.)

Too Many Silent Men & the Price Couples Pay

There’s an old joke that women like silent men because they think they’re listening. My experience is that the opposite is true. When men are silent about their wants everyone suffers.

Women are often able to talk to their girlfriends about everything and anything (Sex in the City is evidence of this.)IMG_0519 Often men don’t have the same level of intimacy with their golf buddies or rotary friends.

I’ve had several experiences where a woman arrives wanting a bigger home and after the man is invited to be truthful he reluctantly admits he thinks economically it’s a bad idea. There have been at least three occassions where the couple did not return to therapy after the man shared an honest opinion. There was an episode of Friday Night Lights where the central couple of the show went through the same buy-a-house dilemna only they listened to each other. The wife didn’t want to be dismissed, she wanted to be taken seriously and then she was able to listen to the practical “No” from her partner. I loved that it could be different on T.V.

Too often men don’t say what they really want and don’t want. Then the couple ends up in divorce or separation negotiations or the man has an affair. It’s very sad to listen to a man say he’s scared of his wife (or vice versa) and then they go on to list all the things that they’ve swallowed. “I don’t want to always go on vacation with your family.” “I want money to go towards a new car not a new sofa.” “I want to have fun, our routine is stifling.” “I want to be respected when I express my ideas.” etc. etc.

Trouble in relationships is always about both people. Men are silent and women make up how to fill in the blanks. He must feel _______ and then women get in the habit of telling men how they feel. Something I’ve heard thousands of times is “Don’t tell me how I feel.” Assumptions are lethal to all relationships. I often teach women to ask men more questions and work to interrupt a waterfall of statements and conclusions. Men (& Women) keep silent; to go along, show love, not rock the boat, because talking is painful and avoiding is easier.There are always a myriad of reasons to deflect discomfort in the short run which creates huge long term problems. One test of an honest, healthy relationship is that there is always room for disagreement. There must be room for two opinions because there will always be differences. Acknowledging differences offers a richness of perspective because two points of view have merit.

If a woman has high expectations and builds her idea of life without input from a partner…..she will be left high and dry. If you assume your sex life naturally fades away and since he’s not talking about it, it must be o.k. You are Wrong. Most Men are very grounded in an active sex life, they feel close because of sex. Women can too easily let go of sex as being important. Men allow this to happen with their silence.

Men want sex. Men want their opinion to count. Men want to feel respected. Men want to feel they have equal power instead of just being along for the ride. Men must learn to speak up before it’s too late and they’re ready to leave or have affairs. Women and Men partnered with silent men need to ask questions and listen to disagreement. You may really be wrong about what’s important to your silent partner.

What compounds the silence is when men give up. They give up and decide it’s not worth it to fight for what they want. Then they show up in therapy when it’s too late. One of the hardest things I face is when a couple comes in and one partner knows in their heart it’s too late. That point of no return makes me feel like a eunuch, because I have no magic.

Young Chinese Eunuch

Young Chinese Eunuch

Couples & Anger: Two Choices Revealed in Two Movies

2183534870100383Anger is a tricky business. Anger is important to adolescents because it creates distance and a sense of power when they are frustrated by parents. Anger is an important tool when used constructively. Anger is about making room for the differences. When anger is ugly it erases people and the differences. In general, truth is always in between people. Rarely if ever, does one person have a corner on the market. Anger is used to blame someone else and avoid. Anger is used to deflect responsibility. Anger is used to manipulate. Anger can be used abusively. Anger can be used to totally derail truth.

For someone unfamiliar with anger it can be important to learn to establish their voice. Martin Luther King used anger in a peaceful, yet powerful way to address racism. Too many of us are to familiar with anger as a habit.Too many find it too easy to use which comes from an “over inflated sense of self” (as told to Steve Wynn by the Dali Lama revealed in 60 Minutes interview 4/12/09).

Anger is most often a tool to deflect and avoid your own pain. A kid picks on somebody at school because their Mom is an absent alcoholic. They’re unaware that they’re making themselves feel better by making somebody else feel bad. The essence of prejudice is a false superior anger towards the “other” because someone is insecure. We pick people apart in our head because of our own insecurities. Young men are too easily embroiled in anger through the age of 25 because of testosterone highs.

Everybody loves blame. Blame is convenient. Blame is comforting. Blame is all too easy and seldom accurate. The opposite of blame is to examine the complexity of what has happened. It is worth repeating, truth lies in between people.

Both men and women dump their anger out too easily or swallow too much of their anger in silent resentments. Just like sex can make you feel good fast so can anger. Just as lust can lead to bad choices in a partner; adrenaline can lead to bad choices in dumping anger.  We treasure the unfair lopsidedness of either the blame and dump or silent resentments that build piles of distance. Too many partners have a habit of unspoken resentments which means the other partner literally does not know who you are. It is your responsibility to define who you are and what you want. The other person not guessing accurately has nothing to do with love.

There are two movies that reveal the two different paths that unhappy couples can pursue. One is a forgotten gem from 1999, Walk On The Moon. Diane Lane plays Pearl a wife who has an affair in the 1960’s and she repairs her marriage with Liev Schreiber. The final scene of the movie is full of grace in their dance on the porch. She dials the radio to his old fashioned music to acknowledge him and he dials it to her hippie music and dances awkwardly and endearingly with her. His dance is tangible evidence that he has learned the hard way about her.

Revolutionary Road (both book & movie) is about the most terrible result when someone allows themselves to be invisible and the fury that builds from unexpressed wants. There is an ugliness to their fighting that happens in many marriages. In the book it is clear both Frank and April Wheeler (played by Winslet & DiCaprio) contribute to their vast misery and they pour alcohol onto the flames of anger. Both are self-indulgent in blaming the other and it’s painful to watch because they don’t solve anything. Watch both these movies because every couple has both options.

Affairs & What’s Missing from Elizabeth Edwards Viewpoint

 It’s a terrible thing to battle breast cancer, the discovery of your husband’s affair and the possibility the child is his all at the same time. It’s a lot to pile on any one person, so I hesitate to add to the pile, but nowhere do I see any recognition by Elizabeth that she may have had a part in what happened.

Unfortunately affairs are ordinary. Atwood and Schwartz in the Feb.2002 Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy estimate 50-60% of married men and 45-55% of married women have affairs. Affairs are most often symptoms that something is missing in the primary relationship. It is disingenuous of Elizabeth Edwards to not even consider that she has any responsibility except to forgive. Her husband was involved with someone for an entire year! In the Oprah interview she says “If you take that piece out (cheating) I have a perfect marriage.” This is a very superficial understanding of what has happened. It wasn’t a one night stand which was the first lie John Edwards told his wife. Is Elizabeth so consumed with pretending/denial that she really doesn’t understand that he may have been unhappy even though she was happy? Two people in a relationship can have two different experiences that’s why talking, talking and talking about hard things is so essential. It doesn’t surprise me anymore when men acknowledge they are afraid of their wives. Is John afraid of telling her the truth or does he know she doesn’t want to know? Is he upset she gained weight? Elizabeth worried about this in the Oprah interview but didn’t seem to have asked John if it was true. Had their sex life disappeared while campaigning? There are endless possibilities and perhaps her part is only 15-25% but 0% is something I have never seen in over 30 years of working with couples. Did they lose their emotional connection and start taking each other for granted. Did Elizabeth seem boring after 30 years of marriage compared to an independent film director? The point of all these questions we’ll never have answers to, is that it’s not the entire picture to blame John and Rielle. I’m suggesting that Elizabeth needs to look more deeply inward and claim ownership of her 15-25%. Trust can only be restored on honest dialogue about what’s been missing in the marriage prior to the affair.

If you want to prevent affairs in your own relationship use your anniversary as a report card and honestly dialogue about the drawbacks and how to make things better. Affairs are a complicated business and usually it’s a dance that all three people participate in. While John got carried away with his own ego needs it is important to remember that affairs don’t happen to the completely innocent.

Elizabeth’s position of being more angry at the other woman than at John is an ordinary reaction. It is always easier to assign blame to the person you don’t live with. While it is ordinary and very human it is another way to deflect the harsher reality. Again, her belief that establishing paternity to the baby “doesn’t change anything” is evidence of erasing another complex reality. Denial is the most powerful force in the universe. Denial is more powerful than love. Denial most likely offers relief to Elizabeth. She has suffered the worst thing that can happen; the death of a child. It is impossible to rebuild an authentic marriage on a boat load of denial. Affairs can be a crisis that turns into the opportunity to rebuild the infrastructure of a marriage for the long haul. Both people can learn, grow and change for the better. Simply returning to the past is unlikely to be satisfying for anybody.