Why Is Your Spouse Having An Affair?
“Why is my husband having an affair?” “Why is my wife having an affair?”
Beyond the painful sting of learning that your spouse is having an affair is the nagging question, “Why?”
“Why would my husband cheat on me?” “Why would my wife cheat on me?”
That is often the first question that someone will ask on a coaching call with one of the coaches on my staff. This question comes from the shock of such betrayal where your mind tries to make sense of the matter.
There are several reasons why someone might have an affair and often times knowing the “why” is a key to understanding what is actually going on.
Rarely does a straying spouse know exactly what is going on themselves because they have usually been caught up in the feelings and emotions of an affair (often called limerence). Something that can begin to turn someone around who is entangled in an affair is for them to ask themselves the question, “What do I want?”
This can tell us a lot about what the future might hold for someone in an affair. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to convince the straying spouse to go through such internal work.
You see, often times the spouse having an affair doesn’t even know for sure why they are having the affair. He or she might have a reason that they tell themselves or have told you if you have confronted them, but that isn’t always the true reason that they are having the affair at all!
Consider this: After countless coaching sessions with spouses who are being cheated on as well as sessions with the spouse who is having the affair, an important theme has emerged that often serves to confuse the person having the affair. That theme is that, when presented with some basic questions, the affair makes less sense rationally than it does emotionally to the one having it.
For example, the basic question, “Why are you having the affair?” and “What do you want?”
Surely someone willing to end a marriage, breakup a family, and divide wealth would have a good reason and yet, many times, near the end of a coaching session with someone having an affair, it becomes clear to both the client and the coach that the reason for the affair and what they want from it isn’t as clear cut as he/she originally thought.
However, if the spouse being left makes an effort to convince the straying spouse to reconsider, it can often be met with anger and can push them closer to their lover. This doesn’t mean that no attempt should be made to bring certain details to their attention, but doing so under the right structure is important and that is where one of our coaches can be a tremendous help.
The reason they have gotten to this point is that their reason for having the affair becomes a foregone conclusion in the mind of the one having it. Sure, there might be days when the difficulty of the affair, the stress of covering it up, and the social pressure to stay in the marriage can cause the straying spouse to reconsider their reasoning, but usually such an inquisition or personal inventory stops at a basic and untested answer – “Because I love _______ and because my spouse has treated me poorly.”
It sounds like a reasonable answer, but begs additional and important questions to truly get to the heart of the reason.
- Did your spouse’s poor treatment of you cause you to love your affair partner?
- If your spouse stopped treating you poorly and you got everything that you wanted in a marriage, would you want to stop the affair and commit to your spouse or still be with the lover?
- If you have children, is being with your affair partner worth seeing your children half the time or less than you have been? What do you think leaving your spouse will do to your relationship with your children when they realize that you chose to see them half as much as you could?
These questions are just the beginning of inspecting the heart of someone having an affair. These are likely questions that haven’t been thought through or only have in part.
Through their own answers, a spouse having an affair can learn a lot about themselves and what they really want. They even learn more when I ask them to place themselves on the following four-quadrant model that I call, “The Affair Quadrant.” Here it is below:
Where on this quadrant would someone be who is having an affair and wanting to leave their spouse to go be with their affair partner?
If they are escaping what they see as a negative situation which could be sexual rejection, constant bickering, a spouse who has let themselves go to extreme levels, abuse, neglect, one sidedness or other mistreatments, then the spouse having the affair would see themselves as existing in the top left square on the diagram that says “Escape Negative.”
Sometimes a spouse is having an affair as purely an escape. This is the case if the person wants to be with someone and merely sees the affair partner as a place filler or someone to be with. In which case, they aren’t really going to a positive but only escaping a perceived negative in their spouse. That would appear on the diagram as follows:
If they also feel that the affair partner is wonderful and has many positives, the person having the affair may feel that he/she has left a negative situation to go to a positive one and could be placed on the quadrant by two connected dots going from the top left to the top right like so:
Such a situation is more difficult to reunite simply because the added motivation of the affair partner being seen as having his/her positives that would be desirable even if a negative situation wasn’t being escaped.
The Case of a Good Marriage
The next scenario that we will consider is when someone meets another person and develops a romantic connection with that person but is not in what they perceive to be a negative situation with the marriage. You might ask why someone would have an affair even if they didn’t see their marriage as negative and that is a good question. The answer can range from a bit complex to simple.
The simple answer can be that the person is a limerence addict and wants the excitement of a new relationship and a new person. This is often without them fulling understanding their own motivations beyond simply that they want to be in the new relationship instead of their marriage (or are unsure).
The more complex answer can be that the differences in the looks, behavior, and situation of the affair partner intrigued the straying spouse to the point that a relationship developed – sometimes even unintentionally.
Sometimes when that happens, the straying spouse will rewrite history and view the marriage they want to leave as being negative. They might even claim that they were never in love with their spouse and that they have never in their life felt the way they feel about the lover. This is a classic sign of a limerence relationship.
In this case, the straying spouse is in the following situation on the diagram:
The next scenario we will discuss that can occur is when the straying spouse feels that their marriage was negative and they want out. This puts them in a place where they want someone to go to from the marriage, similar to the first diagram listed.
However, the affair partner didn’t actually provide many positives if any. The desire to escape a negative situation can cause the straying spouse to project positives onto the affair partner and to mentally create a positive in both the person and the situation.
This is often quite confusing because the affair partner could be significantly less physically attractive than the spouse and less emotionally attractive as well. This situation would appear on the diagram as follows:
When the affair partner is merely a projected positive and is equal to or surpasses the negative of the marriage, it often takes time for the straying spouse to realize such a thing. Limerence is often fueled by the desire to escape the marriage into the arms of someone who will provide the fulfillment that was not provided in the marriage and the comfort for what has been experienced in the marriage. Such a scenario is often a romantic fantasy of someone in a troubled/difficult marriage.
Often times the affair partner will be seen as a “hero” of sorts even for very small positives concerning those things. The straying spouse can be fooled simply by the desire to escape the negatives of the marriage and wanting the affair partner to be the completion of it all with them being the fateful one for them or the one to finally show them what they have been missing. The fantasy is that the two people will ride off into the sunset as fate had it all along.
While none of these situations have a simple resolution, the most difficult situation of them all is the one where the spouse is escaping a negative marriage and going to a positive relationship with the affair partner. In this case, two convictions held by the straying spouse will need to be flipped or reversed with those being the perceived negativity of the marriage, the perceived positivity of the affair partner, and the perception of how life will be after the divorce – all three of which often turn out to be drastically different than what the straying spouse perceives.
Projections, while not easy to overcome, often can resolve with time but the resulting damage to the marriage may or may not leave room for a future. If your spouse is projecting, you will have little to no influence over them by insisting that it is, indeed, a project rather than reality. You can often feed limerence even further since such an accusation can cause an us-versus-the-world” mindset which can bring the straying spouse and the affair partner closer together.
If your marriage is in crisis, we suggest you get Coach Lee’s FREE Mini-Course To Save Your Marriage!
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