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 me back saying that he didn’t understand why it had happened. He writes:
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’m bored in my marriage. I need variety. My affair is exciting.
- I got married young, so missed out on many life experiences. My affair is my way of experiencing the variety life has to offer without leaving my marriage.
- I don’t feel appreciated. My secret lover thinks I’m amazing. It feels so good.
- I’m trapped in a marriage where I don’t feel attracted to my partner anymore. My affair is my way out.
The real reason people cheat
Whatever the surface reason, 99% of the time, the real reason people cheat is because one of their basic NEEDS is going unmet in their relationship…
…and the cheater goes outside their 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 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 in your primary relationship e.g. like sexual needs, intimacy needs and emotional connection needs.
When our relationship needs continually go unmet in our relationship, an affair can be our way of getting them met – albeit a less than 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, let’s say you’re thirsty and you have a need for water. You can go a few hours without meeting that need and you’ll be fine. After 12 hours without water, you’ll begin dehydrating and desperately looking for ways to meet your need for 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.
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 fiery passion in his eyes. He wants you.
You can feel his desire between your thighs.
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 “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 and recovered from.
Here is my #1 strategy for helping couples recover from an affair and preventing it happening again:
Put Emotional Safety first
Create an environment in your relationship where you both feel safe enough to be completely honest with each other.
When you can share your deepest, most vulnerable thoughts and feelings with your partner knowing that they will be heard, respected and validated, you have a safe space in your relationship.
Doing this requires a level of maturity that many couples simply don’t have. That’s when it helps to get a relationship expert to help guide you.
Complete A Needs Inventory
Then, in this environment, complete an inventory of your emotional needs. This involves writing down all your needs and rating each need based on its importance to you.
Have your partner do this too and then sit together and share your needs with each other, particularly the relationship needs that are not being met.
Then (with your partner) brainstorm ways to get those needs met inside your relationship.
In the Love At First Fight coaching program, you’ll do 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 responsible for your partner’s affair (not to blame, but at cause).
An affair does not happen by accident!
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 co-created the environment in which an affair could grow.
You may not have been the one having the affair, but you certainly played a 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 responsibility for your partner having an affair squarely 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 responsible for what shows up in your life.
When you can see yourself 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.
And from the place of being empowered, you may also be able to see that…
An affair has its benefits to your relationship
If reading that makes you want to punch 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. In a healthy relationship, you’d learn to express an unmet need to your partner and figure out how to get it met together.
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