UNDERSTANDING ETRA-MARITAL AFFAIRS.
One day, I got into a bus and sat next to a lady who was speaking on phone. She was speaking in low tones and immediately I sat, she looked at me, then there was silence. She responded to my greeting with tears rolling down her cheeks. I looked at her wondering what was happening. I let her cry while I nursed my curiosity. Then she turned to me and said sorry for being in that state. I encouraged her to let it all out and even added that it was healthy to do so. She cried for at least fifteen minutes and then fell asleep. After a whole hour, she woke up and I decided to engage her. It is at this point that Joy narrated her story to me.
“I married Tim and we have had a brilliant marriage for eleven years. Tim is a pleasant man, responsible, loving and a great father. I have always felt so blessed to be married to Tim and since our marriage was every person’s envy, I was confident sharing tips to help other ladies on how to make their marriage work. We have four children together and the last born twins are two years. For the 11 years of our marriage, I was confident that we were beyond infidelity issues since we were so happy with each other. We both run a family business which we started from scratch. It has grown and through it, we have built a home and bought several properties together. Three months ago (prior to our encounter), Tim made some business decisions that cost the business losses in tunes of millions. We have been stuck as a marriage and are trying to figure a way out of this financial situation so as to rebuild the business. Tim has become sad, moody and unappreciative of anything I do for him. Sometimes I have blamed him because I feel he pushed his way with this business decision even when it felt it wouldn’t work. Two months after the losses, I picked Tim’s phone when I heard the tone of so many incoming WhatsApp messages. I realized they were from the company’s secretary. I decided to go through them since Tim was in a meeting for two hours. On opening the messages, I realized they were photos from a business trip they had had together. What however, caught my eyes were several messages by the secretary thanking him for being her soulmate, and the only man who ever got into her private space. The secretary knew that Tim was going for a meeting. She didn’t anticipate I’d accompany my husband and I guess that’s why she had the confidence to send the messages then. When I followed the photos and messages, I was convinced that my husband was having an affair with the secretary. I was shocked beyond words. I did not know what to do. I called Tim’s sister who came immediately, read the texts and after letting me cry, she devised a plan for me to chat the lady. I asked her (impersonating Tim) that we meet for lunch in a certain hotel and later have a good time, something she agreed to very quickly. When my sister in law and I arrived at the hotel, we threatened to call police on her if she lied to us. She got so shaken and told us the truth, confirming my worst fears. It all started with her listening to him share the fears of losing his business and family. Sympathizing with him, she begun comforting and helping him realize that he had what it takes to bring the business up.” said Joy.
Joy was very disappointed with the husband, the secretary and everyone else. She could not forgive herself for not being able to see the secretary’s intentions way before. She felt naked and ashamed because the husband had chosen the secretary over her. She felt resentment and bitterness towards both the husband and the secretary for betraying her. When she felt angry at herself for feeling all these feelings. I assured her that it was normal to feel that way and that it was okay to experience that pain. Within the course of our travel that took 10 hours, Joy asked most questions that are constantly raised by people who have experienced betrayal through extramarital affair. Below i list some of them.
Is it true that extramarital affairs occur when the marriage partner fails to do their part?
Extra marital affair, just like domestic violence is not caused by what one’s spouse did or did not do. You will realize that most of the people involved in extra marital affairs will assign it to what their spouses did. This is far from the truth. Extra marital affair is caused by something within the person and mostly something they themselves are unconscious of. To avoid responsibility for their behavior (infidelity), they shift blame on the partner. If you are supporting someone who has been betrayed by a partner through extra marital affair, then avoid offering them solutions such as being romantic, improving their sex, being a submissive wife, being a loving husband, asking them what they have not done that may have led their partner into extramarital affair, etc. This does not help. It only makes the person who has been betrayed more wounded.
A healthy spouse will express their dissatisfaction and communicate their needs and expectations in a way that their partner can understand without hurting them. In healthy marriages conflicts are resolved using productive methods that leave the partner feeling listened to and understood.
What is an extramarital affair?
While there is not one correct definition of extra marital affair, it can be summarized using these four patterns;
- A person is emotionally connected to another person who is not their spouse.
- There is secrecy- one would never want their spouse to know the fine details of this relationship.
- It gives you a high- leaves you feeling elated and alive.
- When you think about the person you are having an extramarital affair with, you get a sense of conflict within yourself, and continuously feel confused as to who between your spouse and the other need to be attended to first.
If a relationship meets the four, then it qualifies for extramarital affair.
Commonly used ways that enhance affairs/ infidelity
- Use of dating apps when already in marriage.
- Watching pornography
- Use of nudes
What causes extra marital affairs?
Childhood unhealed experiences.
Freud, the father of psychology puts emphasis on the causes of adult behavior being childhood experiences that we are not aware of (unconscious material). This unconscious material even if we do not remember or are not aware of cause disturbances to us. For purposes of better understanding, let me give examples (These examples are not issues handled in therapy, they are stories shared with consent from the owners)
Person A is a lady who grew up without a father’s love. The father, though present at home was an alcoholic who spent most of the evening enjoying his drink and as a result they did not connect emotionally. When she was an adult, she found it difficult to connect with men because she would not trust any of them to be there for her. She finally found a good man and decided to get married but the first question she asked the man was, will you be there for us? Do you take alcohol? Will you bring alcohol home? Asking these questions were informed by her own experiences as a child, experiences that had created the void within. She explains that within the first years of her marriage, she expected him to buy her small gifts at least daily, even if something as small as a sweet or banana. She wanted him to praise and notice all things she did well. She wanted him to offer her comfort and be the one to cheer her. This went on until the husband pointed out that she had wanted him to be her father by doing all those things. That is the burden a daddy takes on his little girls. When the husband pointed this out, she felt unloved. With all the internal conflicts within, needs not met and feeling unloved, she confided in an older male in the office who she would find time to talk to everyday. This man was filling the fathers void. This relationship with the older colleague went on for 7 months and at the end she ended up feeling more connected to this person than the husband even if there was no sex. When the colleague went on leave, she could not bear it and that is when she realized that she was in love with him and he was okay with it. She started her own journey of self-healing when she realized she has this void to fill up in her. It was not what the husband did or didn’t do to her.
Person B is Tim in the story shared above. Tim had lost his mother when he was three years and no one explained to Tim what happened. All he noticed was the mother was not present for some days. He was told she is in hospital then later she went to heaven. What followed was large masses of people lowering the mother to the grave. That left Tim very devastated with many unanswered questions. When he made loses in millions, it triggered the previous loss of a mother. It brought the mother’s void all over again. He started to long for his mother. He thought that if she were there, she would listen to him and comfort him, and not just assure him he would be fine, but show him how to be fine. If Tim was conscious of what was happening to him, he would have asked Joy to be there for him and support him. He would have cited that he felt overwhelmed because this loss reminded him of his mother who he had not grieved. But just like many human beings, he could not connect. He turned to the secretary who listened and was there for him. He mentioned that his relationship with the secretary did not start as an affair. It begun as someone who listened without blaming him, someone he felt was there for him, almost like a mother would. It moved to feeling cared for, comforted, loved and surrounded and this brought him overwhelming support. When they went on the business trip, he felt the void while alone and that is how he walked into the secretary’s room. The extramarital affair was not because Joy blamed him few times (genuine partner in marriage will experience that from time to time), but because Tim faced some huge loses and in the middle of it all, the person who comforted and filled his void of the mother.
Loss that one has not fully grieve over. It may be death or any other life crisis.
Loss of anything valuable is very damaging to an individual. Research has shown that, loss destabilizes a human being and affects their daily routine. Loss especially through death leaves a huge void in human beings. It is true that people who have experienced loss in the last few months, or many years and, have not been able to grieve are usually very vulnerable. Vulnerable individuals are prone to extramarital affairs because the people who they get involved with bring them the long awaited comfort and make them feel alive. (evident in Tim’s case). An extramarital affair for short moments seem to be bringing the long awaited joy after a season of emptiness. The joy of extramarital affair however does not last. Again, one may ask what makes it difficult to receive the comfort from loved ones like their spouses? The answer is, their spouses may also be affected by that same loss and may not support them as they need, since they need support too. Does it mean that all people experiencing loss then, will have an extramarital affair? Answer is no. It depends with individual capabilities, the information they have about loss, available support from healthy individuals and presence of other past loses that one was not able to grieve.
Unresolved issues in marriage.
The reason why it is important to resolve issues and have a healthy marriage is that, it offers emotional connection which is core need to all human race. Emotional connection is like a protective wall around a couple. Emotionally connected couple can easily spot an extramarital affair from a distance. It sounds simple right? Well, my experience in marriage counseling has taught me that emotional connection is not that simple. Emotional connection was learnt first when we were children. If you look back into your young days, mostly six years and below and you do not remember having play time, sense of belonging, having great friendship with both parents or at least one, then you probably never learnt how to connect emotionally. Some couples I meet share their love stories demonstrated by how most of the time, they are together, they pick and drop each other, meet for lunch together, meet friends together, rarely disagree etc. The picture is of really close and admirable couple, right? Most of the time, that may not even be healthy, it is unhealthy connection (enmeshment) and with time, it highly suffocates. The other extreme is the kind that do not feel connected, they feel like strangers, they are not friends anymore, they do not love each other anymore, these also are unhealthy (distanced). Both the enmeshed and the distanced are highly prone to extramarital affairs.
What is healthy emotional connection? It is where a couple has a healthy relationship with self and with each other such that there is respect and trust, they can communicate openly and effectively, they can be vulnerable with each other with no shame, there is a sense of belonging and they feel the need for each other. One can be away without suspicion and be near without suffocation. This one, is what makes a partner chose one another even when there are very many others who look better than their partners. The openness helps them spot an extramarital affair from a distance because they help each other run the journey together.
Is every one prone to extra marital affair?
Yes, every single human being is prone to infidelity. This is because we all have some inadequacies from within and we all suffer life crisis from time to time.
Every human being who imagine they cannot be involved in affairs, whether in marriage or single is very self-deceiving and can easily get to that point. Knowing that being human makes you prone to affairs then helps you take the necessary steps and measures to deliberately keep away from affairs.
Watch out for part 2.
By Joan Kirera-family therapist. For more visit www.joankirera.com