A short while ago I received a private message on Facebook asking if I could write a blog on affairs. The woman said her partner had an ‘emotional affair’. By this she meant it was an affair that did not end up with her partner and the other woman having sex. She was very devastated when she found out.
The topic of affairs and cheating can open up a whole lot of stuff for possibly for a lot of people. I have clients whose partners have had one or more affairs where there has been extra-marital sex, some with the opposite sex, some with the same sex, and they are still together. There are clients whose partners have accused them of having affairs when they have been faithful. And of course clients where a partner had an affair and it has completely destroyed the relationship and the marriage.
You maybe aware of people who have ‘open’ relationships where it is ok for each partner to make love or have sex with other people. There is wife swapping, swinging parties, f..k buddies and the list goes on.
So what is it about affairs that can at times can cause so much pain for some and for others little of no pain?
Affairs and cheating are a symptom of underlying relationship issues. It is most often the tip of an iceberg that at least one person in the relationship is not willing to look at.
As I begin thinking about affairs, it brought back a flood of memories. So here is my personal experience with affairs.
My Cheating Partner. In one relationship my partner and I were going through a bit of a rough time. She goes away on a holiday to Bali with some friends and when she gets back tells me she had an affair. Because we are having relationship issues, we had not made love for a while and she tells me that she met someone she was attracted to and slept with him. She felt desired and reconnected with her sexual energy that had been missing between us. That sucks for me and is very painful to hear, but I appreciate her honesty. I still love her and on some level understand. To me our relationship is more important than the one affair she had on holidays. Our relationship improved for a while, but we part ways for a number of reasons, one of which is I have a bit more personal growth to go through. Back then I was pretty selfish and more focused on my career and again neglected her.
In My Marriage.
After a few years, my wife and I were having some challenges in our marriage. So she asks for some time out and we separate. She tells me that marriage is over. I still have strong feelings for her and still love her deeply, and feel she still loves me. Because she said it was over and final, I try to move on. Since we are separated, I figured that for me to make it final, if I slept with someone else that it would signal to me the marriage is over. So I do. I am attracted to someone that I had met at the gym, go over to her place and make love. But, I still have strong feelings for my wife, and it definitely is not over. I feel crappy for doing this.
A few months later we were back together.
Second Separation. About a year later we separate again. This time I allow about 6 months to pass and I remember clearly picking my wife and kids up from the airport and her telling me again our marriage was definitely over. This time I start a relationship with someone I met in the company I am working for. I tell my wife I am in a relationship. After a about a month or so of dating we begin sleeping together. I occasionally stay over at her place. One night as we make love, we orgasm together. She says that she had never experienced this before with a partner and it is very special for her.
Two nights later my wife comes over to my place to drop some mail off. She is stressed so I give her a massage like I used to do. Sparks fly and our relationship reignites. Part of me is totally surprised as she had been adamant that our marriage is over. Clearly it isn’t.
It is now rather awkward, and after the high of the couple of nights before with my girlfriend, I have a choice to make. And I chose my wife and kids. To say my girlfriend is pissed when I tell here is understatement. I had believed my wife when she said it was over, even though I felt it wasn’t. I went with my head and not my heart.
Final Separation. Then about 8 months later I am asked to leave the marriage and someone my wife had met at a counselling course she was doing moves into the family home. He is going through his own messy separation. This really messes me up big time. I still have strong feelings for her. This time there is a feeling of finality. I sink into depression, helpless, feeling like I had no choice and that I have lost everything in the world that is important to me. My wife, my kids, the home we had created, and the future of growing old together.
To be fair, my wife said that living with me, is like living under a dark cloud most of the time, I would be stressed, moody, down, possibly depressed and angry at times. I am doing some personal work with counsellors, some personal development courses that are helping with anger and other issues. But something is still missing. I am not able to make the changes to make our marriage work.
So why do people cheat and have affairs? The simplest answer is they are getting some needs met outside the relationship, that for whatever reason are not being met in the relationship.
Different types of affairs.
Some people have affairs and let their partner know. This is usually an attempt to get them to wake up and win them back. Unconsciously saying “If you don’t pay me attention, I can find others that will”. Often this creates a lot of pain and can backfire.
Some have affairs simply to get their sexual needs met. They still love their wife/husband and family, and see that it is ok to have sex with someone else. They view sex and love as two different things. Again this really messes with their partner, as often their partner does not understand this viewpoint.
I met a guy who had a partner and he and his mates felt it was ok to ‘experience’ sex with others. Through one of the relaionhship models I use, I am pretty sure that his partner does not hold the same view.
Some have affairs to get revenge because they have been hurt. This is will create even more pain in a relationship.
As I said earlier, at the end of the day people have affairs to get needs met that are not being met in their own relationship. This may be hard for some to understand, it is nether right or wrong. It simply is what it is. Needs are being met at the time, and that it is likely to cause someone a lot of hurt and pain.
The real damage comes when cheating and affairs are judged and a blame game is played. When people are in pain and emotions are high, the are likely to be operating in fight and flight mode. It is what we do with this that will ultimately determine the outcome. Sometimes we f..k up. It can be a cry for help, it can be an opportunity to get stuff on the table to work through. Or people may see no other option but to leave.
Affairs don’t destroy relationships. What they do is craete pain and damage respect and trust. Especially when people hide the affair and deny it, only to be found out. It is the damage in the areas of respect and trust that ultimately can ruin a relationship. Specially since ‘Trust’ is extremely important to partners and relationships.
One of my clients wife cheated, and broke the trust. Even though they got back together, he could never forgive or come to terms with the trust that was broken. He chose to hang on to the anger, the pain and the hurt. Until, no matter what the partner did, it ended up the only option was to end the marriage.
There can be also real damage done with ‘emotional affairs’. When emotional support can not be found inside a relationship and it is found with someone else. There can be a communication breakdown and if a sympathetic ear and heart is found in the opposite sex, then an emotional connection can shift away from a partner. Love may still exist, but the partner can still feel that something is missing. Again this is likely to create broken trust and respect issues.
Part of how to address this and start to reconnect is to acknowledge simply what has happened. To get clear on what the priorities are. What the needs are. When there are kids involved, I will always ask how important is your family to you? How important are your kids to you? Is there love still in the relationship? Are you prepared to really work at rebuilding your relationship?
It’s not affairs that ruin relationships, it is how the affair is handled. With hurt, pain and emotions running high, it is good to engage an external expert to help to become more objective and create a safe environment to work through issues to gain clarity on what is really important and get clear on what needs to be done to move forward.
Affairs can really challenge all significant areas of a relationship. Affairs can provide a huge opportunity to get real, to really connect and get really clear on each others needs.
In my marriage, love was not enough. We did not have the right skills and support to work things through. Even though we were both on the same spiritual path and working on personal development, we were still trying to fix things ourselves and it didn’t work. We were not able to clearly communicate our feelings and needs. We were caught up in our own stuff and baggage and not able to find a clear way forward. And the only option my wife saw was to end the marriage. My pattern was to stick at it like my parents had done. We simply were not able to break through to a level where we express at a deeper level what we needed and to really understand each other.
This is the number one reason I do what I do. I knew there was an answer out there to understand relationships, how they work. I always believe there are more options available to create better relationships.
Here’s to more happy, loving, and fulfilling relationships. Until next time.
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