In my last blog article, “Infidelity- Is it the Problem or the Message?,” I talked about a particular client whose infidelity was speaking to me about his yearning for freedom. It was not the marriage that was enslaving him, but rather it was his imagination and his own projections of his wife controlling him like his mother. His infidelities were immature ways to taste some freedom that a more mature man may be able to carve out within a healthy marriage. What are some other messages I have received in my therapy sessions from people who have been unfaithful?
1) “I need affirmation.” Some “betrayers” experience underlying feelings of unworthiness, inadequacy and/or inferiority. Spouses do not always offer praise and adulation. There are times when a spouse who has negative self beliefs will seek out another person who makes that partner feel “good enough.” If a person outside the relationship smiles, complements or stroked this partner’s ego, that could be the beginning of an extramarital relationship.
2) “I am angry.” Some people act out their feelings toward their partner by cheating. Instead of communicating directly and asserting oneself, this person will unconsciously punish their partner by cheating on him or her.
3) “I am ambivalent about the relationship.” Ambivalence is actually a normal way to feel about our committed relationship. There can be a part of us that wants to be married or committed and another part that has fantasies of being single, dating or with someone else that has different qualities. Mature couples can embrace their healthy ambivalence and communicate to each other openly. Less mature partners may indirectly communicate by having an affair.
4) “I’m afraid of abandonment.” There are spouses who fear abandonment and who unconsciously protect themselves from this potential loss by sabotaging the relationship and having an affair. It’s as if they do not want to put all their eggs in one basket; the affair is a hedge against loss.
5) “I don’t deserve my partner.” This is another way people unconsciously sabotage relationships. It is as if they are acting out the belief that they don’t deserve their partner by doing things that make it appear that they actually don’t deserve their partner.
6) “I want to be out of this commitment.” I have seen people who have affairs rather than make the mature decision to break up first.
7) “I am anxious and soothe myself through sex.” These are the sex addicts who use sex to escape their feelings and alleviate their stress.
What I often help people do is decipher the message of the affair. Once we understand the message, we can look at possible solutions that make sense. If the betrayed partner is willing to give the betrayer another chance, they can find more mature ways of communicating and heal their relationship.