Why Do People Have Affairs?
Experiencing infidelity in a relationship can be hurtful and damaging and the immediate response after discovering a partner’s affair is usually a combination of disbelief, anger, sadness and grief.
One client of mine, a woman in her 30s, discovered that her husband had an affair with a colleague when he was overseas attending a conference. She only found out when she went through his phone messages after he came back. He didn’t deny it, explaining it was “only a fling” that “just happened”. This was the first time he had cheated on his wife and he believed telling her would only upset her.
Another client, a man who had been with his wife for over 22 years and had two teenagers, hated his job, had to work long hours, his sex life with his wife was almost non-existent and he had been feeling depressed for quite a while. He had just turned 50 and started asking himself, “Is this all there is?” For quite a while he had been friendly with a woman at work. They sometimes went out for lunch and he felt that he could talk about anything with her; he felt understood.
He came to see me because he realised he was close to falling in love with her and didn’t know what to do. He felt very guilty even thinking about having an affair. His wife would probably divorce him if she found out and the children would be devastated.
People usually don’t have affairs with the intention of hurting their partner, but the result is mostly extremely painful. The reality is that staying faithful to one person in a relationship can be difficult and challenging. However, a large percentage of affairs are not just about sex. Both men and women often start affairs because they don’t feel appreciated by their partners; they feel neglected or ignored and may crave intimacy. They enjoy the feeling of being wanted, needed and desired, and often are looking more for an emotional connection rather than just a sexual one.
So why do people have affairs? When people feel trapped in a routine, when there isn’t much joy and fun anymore in a relationship, an affair can be an escape. Romance in the relationship may be missing. Many believe that women often complain about lack of romance, but men feel it too. Men don’t like their once sexy lover turning into a nagging wife. Women often feel criticised, undervalued or just lonely or bored.
Nowadays, some therapists believe that there are times when an affair can actually rescue a marriage or relationship and can even make it stronger. Starting to understand an affair and how it happened can help provide clarity and give answers to the many questions a couple may feel are still unanswered.
This is not about assigning blame, but a time to deconstruct the affair and find out where the roots of the infidelity started, so they can make decisions on how their relationship can go forward.