“I don’t know how it happened”
“I didn’t plan for this to happen”
“We were just good friends”
Yes, I’ve heard them all too. Often, in my office, invariably, one or more of those statements is offered in answer to the question, “Why did you cheat?”
Of course, those answers offer no explanation and definitely serve as little comfort if you are the faithful spouse.
Self-blame, partner blame, or relationship blame just don’t pass the muster for the kind of information necessary to explain why your marriage, and trust, has been so shockingly torn apart.
So how do you deal with this lack of solid answers to “why”?
If you’re like most people, you start filling in the blanks…and chances are, you’ve been misinformed.
Your Partner’s Infidelity Isn’t Always What You Think it Is
After an affair is revealed, it is perfectly normal to want to know why you were so terribly betrayed. So you start chasing the possibilities in your head. Is it because you stopped working out? Had they been faking happiness the entire marriage? Had they never really planned to be faithful or stay “together forever”?
Infidelity casts a harsh shadow on everything. Without knowing why your partner could choose something so devastating, the whole relationship can feel like a lie. Your partner’s insistence that they still love you feels very hard to believe. And the ideas you feed yourself about how you ended up in this place can start to feel true.
But hold on. Try to rein in your thoughts and take a deep breath. Your need for answers can make you susceptible to misinformation about the reason for infidelity. And you should know that misinformation about infidelity is everywhere.
Unfaithfulness is a hot topic in social circles, on talk shows, in blogs and self-help books. But very few of those sources are reliable and even fewer use actual data about cheating to inform their views.
The facts? In general, the cheating partner does not want to leave the marriage at all. A recent study shows that only 3% of those who divorce after an affair actually end up marrying their affair partner. Furthermore, the divorce rate for those who do marry their lovers is 75% with distrust being one of the main reasons for these divorces.
Surprised? It’s true. Partners who claim they want out don’t want out to be with the affair partner. Something else drove them to cheat. So, why? Why did they cheat? Why did he/she make the decision to cheat if things were great?
First, let’s discuss what generally does not cause infidelity
To start, let’s demystify some of those common beliefs about why people engage in extramarital affairs. Data does not support that people cheat because of the following:
1 Desire for a better-looking affair partner
The level of a partner’s attractiveness, by itself, is usually not reason enough to expect infidelity will occur.
2 Pathological sexual addiction
In truth, infidelity is prevalent in one of every 2.7 couples. Sex addiction is nowhere near that prevalent among married couples.
3 A need to get out of a bad marriage
While married people do divorce to exit a bad marriage, an affair is not a necessary precursor.
4 The betrayer’s damaged childhood or experience with infidelity in past relationships
Infidelity is not a behavior that is usually passed on this way.
5 The betrayer has a personality disorder such as narcissistic personality disorder.
As selfish and hurtful as the infidelity seems, personality disorders or some deeper pathology as the cause is rare.
So, what usually does lead to an affair?
Relationship experts Dr. John & Julie Gottman and Dr. Shirley Glass have done extensive scientific research on the “whys” behind infidelity.
They found that while neglect often leads to marital dissatisfaction, affairs usually result from avoidance. Avoidance of conflict and avoidance of self-disclosure. Essentially, unhappiness and disconnection are driven by a force of destructive, negative thinking that has no outlet.
Thoughts like “Why am I even in this marriage? Why isn’t my partner more loving or interested in me? Why can’t she laugh at my jokes? Why doesn’t he take me out more? Can take over the positives in your marriage. The path to infidelity looks like this:
Conflict avoidance creates misunderstanding and resentment
At first, you may have thought you were keeping the peace. Yet, conflict avoidance can quickly lead to lost opportunities to connect, work things out as a team, and reach mutually satisfying agreements. The process of healthy conflict, communication, and compromise is deeply unifying.
Avoiding self-disclosure creates distance
When you stop sharing negative feelings & needs, you start developing a habit of living with secrets. Soon, those secrets come between you. You drift apart, start making negative comparisons, and look to others to fulfill your relationship needs.
Dr. John Gottman explains it this way in his book “What Makes Love Last? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal”:
Factors increasing risks for infidelity are:
- Negative comparisons between your spouse and other, idealized people
- Consistently turning away or avoiding chances to connect with your partner
- Refusing to acknowledge or talk about feelings with your partner regarding your unhappiness.
Couples that confide unhappiness about the relationship to someone else instead of with each other are on a downward spiral toward infidelity.
Failure to create solid martial boundaries leads to crossed boundaries outside the marriage.
Dr. Shirley Glass talks about it in her book “Not Just Friends: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity” as the reversal of “walls & windows”, in which the unfaithful partner eventually crosses relationship boundaries emotionally and/or physically.
She explains a secure relationship as having metaphorical walls and windows. The wall that surrounds you and your partner are where choices are made to not share your relationship problems those who are not supportive of your relationship. The window is transparent, allowing you to share problems easily and openly. The walls and windows function as ways to remain honest, care for the relationship and deal with marital stresses in a healthy way.
Unfortunately, when a partner starts sharing relationship problems with an outsider and not their partner, a new wall is constructed between them and their partner. In addition, a window opens with the new person. That opening can eventually lead to an affair.
In other words, not creating adequate boundaries around the relationship for sharing deeper feelings and needs (including marital unhappiness) can push partners closer to other individuals. As a result, they will use secrecy and deception to hide their unfaithful involvement.
How can you keep an affair from happening?
Its vital that you and your partner understand what it takes to protect your marriage practically. The goal is to never get to a place where you stop sharing with each other. Never stop sharing what is working, what you appreciate, and what you would like to see change. My bonus guide, How to Affair-proof Your Relationship will provide effective help. Click here to get instant access.
You’ll learn :
- More about what causes infidelity
- Which next steps do the most good
- Actionable tips for securing and affair-proofing your relationship.
It is my hope the guide will help clear the way forward for a healthy happy relationship.
I do hope this information was helpful to you. So many betrayed partners wrestle with tough questions and regret in the aftermath of infidelity. I hope this and the free guide will help you and your partner move ahead productively at this difficult time.