Marital Infidelity…another look.

In the November 6, 2017 edition of Time, there is a book review by Belinda Luscombe. The review is entitled, Affairs are only human, which is no excuse to have one.  Ms. Luscombe reviews the book, The State of Affairs by controversial couple’s therapist and TED Talk star, Esther Perel.

Be aware, I did not read this book.  This blog is about some of the comments Ms. Luscombe made in her review about marriage and affairs. Also, be aware, my comments today are not intended to minimize the pain anyone has felt by an affair or to justify having an affair. After I read the review, I found myself thinking about Ms. Luscombe’s comments, over and over. I decided to share my thoughts.

Ms. Luscombe quotes the author: “Sometimes, when we seek the gaze of another, it’s not our partner we are turning away from, but the person WE have become.”

I find this comment to be so true from years in my office. The person who cheated commenting that their infidelity is not who they are, is not what they believe in. Yet, there they sit; “How could I have done this!” they say. I believe them. (Yes, I’m sure I’ve been duped at times.) The person’s comments speak to the unconscious ways we change as we age in marriage as we engage in our primary relationship, creating a life with another person, raising kids, responding to all the different challenges we face as we get older. Any married person will attest to the fact that when you say “I do!” you agree to a multitude of things you have no idea will occur. Likewise, most people say they know who they are and what they stand for.  Yet, a lot of people have affairs and I believe this is, in part, due to a loss of connect with who we TRULY are, what we are truly capable of (given the right circumstances). One of the reasons we lose this connection is because we WANT to live up to proper, mature behavior and we forget we are human and will fail at times. Our society only promotes being in control, in charge, perfect and socially appropriate. It DOESN’T promote acknowledging faults or failings, much less discussing or learning from them.

What can be done to address this?

1) Recognize you are not as invulnerable as you think!

2) Examine your life….on an ongoing basis. Think about how you act and how you SAY you’d act in such situations. Frequently, I will ask after someone admits to doing something childish or immature, “Is that the man/woman you want to be?” Often, the answer is no, and then the follow up is “What is the man/woman you want to be and how can you be that person the next time this situation occurs?”

3) Establish a support system, such as one or more confidential and mature individuals, you can talk to HONESTLY about your behavior, thoughts, impulses, etc. and get feedback from on your behavior. A therapist would also fit into this group. By using such, you can keep an eye on the person you are becoming and try, when necessary, to make changes to be the person you want to be.

Another point in the review: “The simple question at the heart of committing to somebody till death is whether you can value that person’s needs ahead of your own.  The answer is often no…. because we’re only human. But to love is to make the attempt.” I truly believe that; that to love someone one, truly love them, one must let them make the decisions they feel is best and in doing so, recognizing that such a decision could mean that they could/might leave us….causing us untold pain.

This “love” is NOT being “in love”, that initial phase of a relationship when you believe the other person is perfect and wonderful and you simply can’t live without them. The love that is being referred to above occurs when you resume living life with your partner and they still have their own hopes and dreams, beyond the relationship. The challenge in truly loving them means surrendering any holds you have on your loved one and letting them decide what is best to do with those dreams. This is why most movies, in the US, are about falling in love versus life thereafter.

The review ends with a poignant statement: “Perhaps the greatest value of Perel’s book is as an invitation to resist judging other couple’s marital car crashes. A failure of fidelity can be less an opportunity for gawking and more a chance to applaud those who spin out but decide to keep aiming for the checkered flag.” Interesting!