Yesterday, a friend of mine discovered that his wife had been having an affair for 2 months.
I reached out to support him and he wrote to me back saying that he didn’t understand why it had happened. He wrote:
Thank you for your support. I feel like shit.
I don’t understand why it happened. We had some usual routine problems, but nothing big enough to trigger her cheating for 2 months.
She says she’s sorry, that she was stupid and didn’t value what she had… all that crap.
I’ve decided to divorce and move on with my life.
You can feel the grief and hurt in his words, especially in his decision to divorce.
Having been on both sides of the cheating fence myself (the cheater and the cheated on), I’d like to offer my thoughts on why good people cheat and how to affair-proof your marriage or relationship.
WHY AFFAIRS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE…
Firstly, let’s be clear about one thing: Nobody gets into a relationship with the intention of cheating.
There are as many reasons why people have affairs as there are ways to say I love you. As a relationship coach, some of the most common I hear are:
- I was bored in my marriage. I needed variety. My affair was exciting.
- I got married young, so missed out on many life experiences. My affair was my way of experiencing the variety life has to offer without leaving my marriage.
- I didn't feel appreciated. My secret lover thought I was amazing. It felt so good to be seen that way.
- I was trapped in a marriage where I didn't feel attracted to my partner anymore. My affair was my way out.
THE REAL REASON PEOPLE CHEAT
Whatever the stated reason, in my opinion the real reason people cheat is because one of their basic NEEDS is not being met in their relationship.
…and the cheater goes outside the relationship to meet that unmet need.
Of course, you can’t expect your relationship to meet all your needs. That would be naïve.
However, you can expect it to meet a special type of need I call relationship needs.
These are needs that can’t be met by friends or family and that you want to have met by your partner e.g. like sexual needs, intimacy needs, and emotional connection needs.
When our relationship needs continually go unmet, an affair can be our way of getting them met – albeit a less than an optimal one.
Without a doubt, the optimal way to deal with an unmet need is to talk about it honestly with your partner and then figure out a way to get your unmet need met.
For many of us though, talking about our unmet needs is scary. We’re afraid of upsetting or hurting our partner.
Perhaps worse still, we’re afraid of discovering that our partner doesn’t want to meet our need, so instead of standing up for our need being met, we say nothing and pretend “everything’s fine.”
And that’s the time when the possibility of an affair becomes more real.
“I didn’t see it coming…”
The words that stood out as naïve in my friend’s email above were:
“I don’t understand why it happened. We had some usual routine problems, but nothing big enough to trigger her cheating for 2 months. “
Unmet needs that go unmet for an extended period of time do become a BIG deal to us.
For example, imagine you’re thirsty and you need water. You can survive a few hours without meeting that need, but after 12 hours without water you’ll begin dehydrating and desperately seeking water. After 2 days, you’ll do almost ANYTHING to get water.
Is it BAD that you’ll do almost anything to get water?
No. It’s a human survival instinct.
In a long term relationship, any need that goes unmet for an extended period will find a way of being met – even if outside the relationship.
So, for example, let’s say you’re a woman who has a secret need to feel sexually desired by your man. When you first met, the sex was red HOT, but after 5 years together it’s become hum-drum.
You’re dying for him to passionately ravish you like a wild man, but all he seems to want to do have his orgasm and roll over to sleep.
After a few years of that, you’re out with the girls one night when a cute guy at the bar looks at you with a fiery passion in his eyes...
He wants you. You can feel his desire.
Half an hour later you’re making out in the restroom and an hour later you’re back at his place.
You feel awful the next day as the shame and guilt set in, so you justify it by saying to yourself, “I deserved that. No one will find out. I won’t do it again.”
But before you know it you’ve found an excuse to be back in the “cute guy’s” bed because he makes you feel so good and fulfills your need to feel desired.
And so your affair begins…
MY #1 WAY TO AFFAIR-PROOF YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Affairs don’t happen by accident. They can be prevented.
Here is my strategy...
PRIORITIZE EMOTIONAL SAFETY
Create an environment in your relationship where you both feel safe enough to be completely honest with each other.
In this safe space, you can talk about your needs honestly. You can share your deepest, most vulnerable thoughts and feelings with your partner knowing that they will be heard, respected and validated.
Then, going outside your relationship to get your needs met is unnecessary and counter-productive.
SHARE YOUR RELATIONSHIP NEEDS AND MEET YOUR PARTNER'S NEEDS
Take some time to write down your relationship needs. Rate each need (on a scale of 1 to 10) based on its importance. Then rank your needs in order of importance.
Have your partner do this too.
Now sit together and share your needs with each other.
Discuss the needs that are not being met and brainstorm ways to get those needs met inside your relationship.
In my online relationship repair program, you’ll complete a “Needs, Wants and Requirements exercise” to help you both identify your unmet needs, your secret wants and your non-negotiable relationship requirements. You can check out the program here.
When you’re able to be completely honest with each other and you're both getting your needs met, the chances of an affair happening in your relationship are slim to none.
AN EMPOWERED TAKE ON AFFAIRS
Because my primary interest is personal growth, my perspective as a relationship educator and coach is skewed towards finding the hidden growth opportunity inside an affair.
In order to take advantage of that golden opportunity to grow, you have to be able to see yourself as being partly responsible for having created the environment that allowed your partner’s affair to happen.
Stay with me here...
AN AFFAIR DOES NOT HAPPEN BY ACCIDENT!
Just like the health of a plant is dependent on the soil it grows in, so the health of your relationship is dependent on the environment you both co-create for your relationship to grow in.
An affair is something that emerges over time as the result of the environment the two of you co-create together.
The space you co-create can PULL an affair into existence or PULL a lifetime of fulfillment into existence. I know I’m getting existential, so let me land the plane.
If your relationship manifests an affair, both of you are responsible for having co-created the environment in which the affair could grow.
You probably weren't aware of it at the time, and you may not have been the one having the affair, but you played some part in creating an environment in your relationship that invited your affair.
It’s your affair because even if your partner cheated, the problem affects both of you.
To cement this idea, consider this metaphor:
If the two of you were in a business partnership and your partner didn’t pay the tax bill, the tax man would hold both of you responsible for the outstanding payment. It would be just as much your problem as your partner’s.
I’m planting the accountability for your partner having an affair in both of your courts.
As I see it, the most empowering way to approach anything in life is from the perspective that you are accountable (which is different from "you are to blame") for what shows up in your life.
When you can see yourself as being at the source of your partner having an affair, then you also have the control to do something about it.
When you blame your partner for having an affair, you become the innocent victim of your circumstance…
…and an innocent victim has a lot less power than someone in the driver’s seat of their life.
Personally, I prefer being empowered over being a victim.
AN AFFAIR HAS ITS BENEFITS TO YOUR RELATIONSHIP
If reading that makes you want to slap me in the face, I completely understand.
However, if you’re open and willing to forgive each other, an affair can have many hidden benefits to your relationship:
- It acts as a wake-up call; forcing you to deal with issues you were previously ignoring or unaware of
- It can be an opportunity to create deeper intimacy and connection between you
- It can be an opportunity to finally get your unmet emotional and sexual needs met by your partner
- In healing your relationship from the affair, you’ll have to grow (a lot) – and that’s always a positive thing
Obviously, I’m not suggesting having an affair to get these benefits.
I want to leave you with this quote as food for thought.
“Three months ago, if you asked me, I would have told you that if you really loved someone, you’d let them go.
But now I look at you, and I dreamed about Maggie, and I see that I’ve been wrong.
If you really love someone, Allie, I think you have to take them back.”
- Jodi Picoult, Mercy
It you’re both ready to heal your relationship from an affair and you want a helping hand, it would be my privilege to support you in this worthy and noble cause. Just get in touch with me here to see if we’re a fit for relationship coaching together.