It’s so frequently debated. What causes an affair? There are many books, articles, opinions about what causes an affair. All over the web. Too many people just want to say that anyone that cheats is merely a “jerk,” or a “slut”, a horrible person, through and through, selfish and uncaring without a shred of character and integrity. But that’s too simple and does not fit most people that have affairs. GOOD people. MORAL people still find themselves caught up in an affair. So isn’t it smart to find out why, except for the truly mentally ill, that normal, average people who never envisioned themselves in an affair do so?
IN GENERAL, THE OVERWHELMING REASON FOR MOST AFFAIRS IS THAT THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG IN THE PRIMARY RELATIONSHIP! The affair is “symptom”, not “cause” of marital breakdown. Critical emotional needs aren’t being met, which creates a dangerous vacuum where an affair can become possible, even for people that never imagined that they could ever do that! It’s so very simple in most cases not only to diagnose why an affair happened, but to “affair-proof” a marriage or relationship. Simple concepts, yet powerful.
I realize that’s difficult for some betrayed spouses to accept (and I see it all the time in blogs), because it requires them to look in the mirror and take at least some responsibility for causing the environment within which an affair was able to occur, but it’s reality and it must be accepted.
Are there some men and women who will cheat no matter what because that’s who they are? Yup. There are. Some who have affairs — especially those that have multiple affairs –generally indicates some personal problems with the person having affairs. Some are addicted to love, sex or self-affirmation. Often there is a family history of affairs often by the same sex parent and it is a “tradition“ accepted within the family. With some, there is a feeling of entitlement with little regard for the spouse’s feelings. The causes of multiple affairs are much more complicated. Some people are just plain mentally ill! And some cultures condone cheating (not this one). And some people have “revenge affairs”. But these are the exceptions, not the rule.
So why does this happen, except for those I referenced above?
According to one psychologist, “in most marriages, the breakdown is not only one spouse’s fault. Rather, the causes appear to be a constellation of general life experiences. Many times, the faithful spouse is inappropriately blamed (especially if it is the wife) for “pushing” the infidel into the affair. Though, I have seen cases where that was true, most of the time it’s a gradual distancing between both partners that lies at the root.”
For men, the felt need is often loss of playfulness, a lack of flirtation, and an absence of adoration or respect from the wife. For women, it’s typically the loss of tenderness, care, and concern expressed by the husband. Since most of us marry to “get more” of our new spouse—more time together, more fun together, more lovemaking—you can see where disappointment can enter the picture.
• Most infidelity is about what we call “the five A’s in nurturance” — accommodation, affirmation, adoration, affection, and appreciation. It’s that whole package of emotional nurturance and care, and that’s what happens in marriages. We get so busy we stop taking care of each other. We get so busy, we stop having fun with each other, and that sets the stage, and — boom — people are in trouble. (E.g., if you’re not providing these in your relationship, your partner is vulnerable to an affair. They may not have one, but it’s usually the reasons why it occurs). To me, this is the best explanation — I truly felt like my marriage was devoid of most of this. I felt unwanted, unappreciated, undesired. And not understood. My OW swooped and made me feel ALL those. Is it any wonder why the affair became so alluring?
Often the failure of men and women to meet each other’s needs is due to a lack of knowledge rather than a selfish unwillingness to be considerate. Meeting these needs is critically important because in marriages that fail to meet needs, it is striking and alarming how consistently married people seek to satisfy their unmet needs through an extramarital affair. If any of a spouse’s five basic needs goes unmet, that spouse becomes vulnerable to the temptation of an affair.
And it usually comes down to this. Dr. W. Harley is a pretty smart guy. Written a bunch of books. Videos. Has a website. He lists five primary needs for a man and five primary needs for a women in his book His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage. He believes that unmet needs, by either partner, are a primary cause of extramarital affairs. He has also found that people wander into these affairs with astonishing regularity, in spite of whatever strong moral or religious convictions they may hold. A lack of fulfillment in one of these basic emotional areas creates a dangerous vacuum in a person’s life. And, unfortunately, many will eventually fill that need outside of marriage.
The following is one person’s attempt to summarize Harley’s comments. There are 10 critical emotional needs. He has his readers group them in their “top 5”. Below shows the ones most typical for women and men. That being said, it won’t necessarily represent any one person’s list.
Preventing Adultery: Her Needs (Most Typical)
First, let’s look at the five needs of a wife. The first need is for affection. To most women affection symbolizes security, protection, comfort, and approval. When a husband shows his wife affection, he sends the following messages: (1) I’ll take care of you and protect you; (2) I’m concerned about the problems you face, and I am with you; (3) I think you’ve done a good job, and I’m so proud of you.
Men need to understand how strongly women need these affirmations. For the typical wife, there can hardly be enough of them. A hug can communicate all of the affirmations of the previous paragraph. But, affection can be shown in many ways such as: kisses, cards, flowers, dinners out, opening the car door, holding hands, walks after dinner, back rubs, phone calls–there are a thousand ways to say “I love you.” From a woman’s point of view, affection is the essential cement of her relationship with a man.
The second need is conversation. Wives need their husbands to talk to them and to listen to them; they need lots of two-way conversation. In their dating life prior to marriage, most couples spent time time showing each other affection and talking. This shouldn’t be dropped after the wedding. When two people get married, each partner has a right to expect the same loving care and attention that prevailed during courtship to continue after the wedding. The man who takes time to talk to a woman will have an inside track to her heart.
The third need is honesty and openness. A wife needs to trust her husband totally. A sense of security is the common thread woven through all of a woman’s five basic needs. If a husband does not keep up honest and open communication with his wife, he undermines her trust and eventually destroys her security. To feel secure, a wife must trust her husband to give her accurate information about his past, the present, and the future. If she can’t trust the signals he sends, she has no foundation on which to build a solid relationship. Instead of adjusting to him, she always feels off balance; instead of growing toward him, she grows away from him.
Financial commitment is a fourth need a wife experiences. She needs enough money to live comfortably: she needs financial support. No matter how successful a career a woman might have, she usually wants her husband to earn enough money to allow her to feel supported and to feel cared for.
The fifth need is family commitment. A wife needs her husband to be a good father and have a family commitment. The vast majority of women who get married have a powerful instinct to create a home and have children. Above all, wives want their husbands to take a leadership role in the family and to commit themselves to the moral and educational development of their children.
Preventing Adultery: His Needs (Most Typical)
Now, let’s look at the five needs husbands have. The first is sexual fulfillment. The typical wife doesn’t understand her husband’s deep need for sex anymore than the typical husband understands his wife’s deep need for affection. But these two ingredients can work very closely together in a happy, fulfilled marriage. Sex can come naturally and often, if there is enough affection.
The second need for a man is recreational companionship. He needs her to be his playmate. It is not uncommon for women, when they are single, to join men in pursuing their interests. They find themselves hunting, fishing, playing football, and watching sports and movies they would never have chosen on their own.
After marriage wives often try to interest their husbands in activities more to their own liking. If their attempts fail, they may encourage their husbands to continue their recreational activities without them. But this option is very dangerous to a marriage, because men place surprising importance on having their wives as recreational companions. Among the five basic male needs, spending recreational time with his wife is second only to sex for the typical husband.
A husband’s third need is an attractive spouse. A man needs a wife who looks good to him. Dr. Harley states that in sexual relationships most men find it nearly impossible to appreciate a woman for her inner qualities alone–there must be more. A man’s need for physical attractiveness in a mate is profound.
The fourth need for a man is domestic support. He needs peace and quiet. So deep is a husband’s need for domestic support from his wife that he often fantasizes about how she will greet him lovingly and pleasantly at the door, about well-behaved children who likewise act glad to see him and welcome him to the comfort of a well-maintained home.
The fantasy continues as his wife urges him to sit down and relax before taking part in a tasty dinner. Later the family goes out for an evening stroll, and he returns to put the children to bed with no hassle or fuss. Then he and his wife relax, talk together, and perhaps watch a little television until they retire at a reasonable hour to love each other. Wives may chuckle at this scenario, but this vision is quite common in the fantasy lives of many men. The male need for his wife to “take care of things”–especially him–is widespread, persistent, and deep.
The fifth need is admiration. He needs her to be proud of him. Wives need to learn how to express the admiration they already feel for their husbands instead of pressuring them to greater achievements. Honest admiration is a great motivator for men. When a woman tells a man she thinks he’s wonderful, that inspires him to achieve more. He sees himself capable of handling new responsibilities and perfecting skills far above those of his present level.
If any of a spouse’s five basic needs go unmet, that person becomes vulnerable to the temptation of an affair. Therefore, the best way to prevent adultery is to meet the needs of your spouse and make your marriage strong.
Affairs are not usually about sex, unless “sexual fulfillment” is an important, but unmet need in a marriage. Infidelity is not usually about opportunity. So when someone tells you, “Oh, we had the perfect marriage!”, they weren’t really looking very hard. When they place blame away from themselves and all on the cheating partner, it’s usually out of denial. Defensiveness. Wanting to play the victim, which is power in a relationship. But it’s just not accurate. Hollywood aside, most men don’t have affairs merely because someone cute offered them. No, it’s because they were starving at home.
This is NOT an excuse for affairs. If you think I am excusing them, read my other main posts in my blog. Cheating is never justified!! BUT these are the reasons why people –even good and moral people — find themselves in affairs. Isn’t it better to find out why your partner had one as much as you wish to pound and blame them instead? Is recovery your goal or merely punishment and “victimhood” semi-permanently?
You decide. Marriages recovery from this and actually thrive. But it takes recognition of mutual fault in the deterioration of the marriage. It takes work. Character. Humility. And vulnerability.
But it can be done. So why not arm yourself with facts, instead of just emotion?
- Ten Tips to Help Protect Your Marriage Against Adultery / Extramarital Affairs – (tip #8) (unwalled.wordpress.com)