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More on Infidelity and How It Happens

Dr. Shirley Glass has recently published a book called “Not Just Friends”. On her website, Glass notes: “At least one or both parties in 50 percent of all couples, married and living together, straight and gay, will break their vows of sexual or emotional exclusivity during the lifetime of the relationship.”

A recent article in Psychology Today (July/August 2012 issue) spurred me to look more deeply into the issue of infidelity. The article also quotes Glass’s 1985 study which demonstrated, ironically, that many of the men and women engaging in infidelity rated their marriages as “happy”.It is certainly a myth that being happily married prevents feelings of intense romantic love for someone else.

Shirley Glass, an expert on the topic of infidelity, notes that: “From 1982 to 1990, 38 percent of unfaithful wives in my clinical practice were involved with someone from work. From 1991 to 2000, the number of women’s work affairs increased to 50 percent. Men also are having most of their affairs with people from their workplace. Among the 350 couples I have treated, approximately 62 percent of unfaithful men met their affair partners at work.”

Psychologist Barry McCarthy indicates that affairs may be multidimensional and have multiple causes. The tendency after an affair has been discovered is for spouses to look back and see their marriage as having been flawed all along. But getting stuck on the relationship’s flaws can mistakenly encourage couples to get psychologically stuck on betrayal and blame. The way to get unstuck is to accept it has occurred and to try to learn from it, to get understanding about how the choice was made and how to share about extramarital interests in future.

The journey can be long and hard. Whether or not couples decide to seek counselling, it can help to know this.

I know in my work with couples, it is often the man who has most difficulty tolerating the emotional volatility associated with his transgressions. He says he’s sorry and expects her to be able to move on.

Considering the woman, she might say she wants to know “everything” about the affair, but this is a no-win. She’s either get more angry or more resentful and this can fuel another fight. More often than not, she just wants to know she’s important enough to him to re-commit to sharing his feelings with her again.

Given the way most men have been raised, he is the rational, stiff upper-lip, cool-calm-and-collected one. While the man is sitting there saying it’s over and he’ll never do it again, he might sound logical – after all, it hurt both of them deeply – she doesn’t believe him and cries. The betrayal has cut too deep. She needs time to overcome the pain and, to do this, Glass suggests, she needs answers.

Consistent with this logical-emotional dichotomy between men and women, a well-known psychologist John Gray has penned Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. But it’s not quite that simple. Sometimes, the woman is actually the more rational of the two, saying we need to process this and he’s tearfully begging her forgiveness. She’s sitting there saying to him, “Get a grip! I need you to be able to cope so you can give me the answers I need”.

The Psychology Today article points to separate friendship networks, living in large cities, and workplaces – especially those at a distance from the married couple’s place of residence, as raising the risk of affairs because of the increased anonymity. But a larger factor could be hormones.

A recent Swedish study of over 500 men found that variations in a gene that codes for a hormone called “vasopressin”. Men with a variation of the gene scored significantly lower on a questionnaire that measured Partner Bonding, had twice as many marital crises in the past year, and were more likely to be involved in outside relationships. In animals, as in humans, vasopressin and its close relative oxytocin are being found to drive feelings of love and affection.

Whether the evolutionary drive for men to spread their genes is key or women benefit from having a “back-up” while the “regular guy” is away working, most can easily imagine the passionate thrill associated with having an affair. But is it worth it?

Fortunately, not all couples I see are dealing with this issue, but to those who are I often recommend the book Getting Past the Affair. Not so much about the past as about the present, the book promotes recognizing the emotional impacts, making no immediate decisions about the future, and for the cheating partner to hear the impacts – no matter how uncomfortable it is. Another key step is exploring how the choice to have the affair was made and what contributed to it. Glass would add that the traumatized partner needs to hear answers as well.

For more information, see http://www.shirleyglass.com  and http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080902161213.htm