Affairs: A Guide to Working Through the Repercussions of Infidelityby Emily M. Brown
"Emily Brown has written a must-read book for anyone going through the searing pain of infidelity. First she deciphers the five types of affairs, then she gives clear step-by-step procedures to help both partners deal with it and even grow from it. It's a real achievement."
A Wonderfully Supportive Guide from an Internationally Recognized Authority on Affairs
"Emily Brown has written a must-read book for anyone going through the searing pain of infidelity. First she deciphers the five types of affairs, then she gives clear step-by-step procedures to help both partners deal with it and even grow from it. It's a real achievement." --Marguerite Kelly, syndicated columnist, The Family Almanac and author, Marguerite Kelly's Family Almanac
"Finally, a book on affairs that pulls no punches!. . . . It's the book I'll put at the top of my list to recommend to both professionals and to husbands, wives, and lovers. Highly recommended."-Isolina Ricci, author, Mom's House, Dad's House: The Complete Guide for Parents Who Are Separated, Divorced, or Remarried
"Finally, a book on affairs that pulls no punches!. . . . It's the book I'll put at the top of my list to recommAnd to both professionals and to husbands, wives, and lovers. Highly recommended." Isolina Ricci, author, Mom's House, Dad's House: The Complete Guide for Parents Who Are Separated, Divorced, or Remarried
"Brown, a very well known expert in helping couples and professionals understand and handle affairs, provides important insight and tools for couples who want to overcome the betrayals associated with affairs and to 'fight for their marriage.'" Howard Markman, coauthor, Fighting for Your Marriage
"Emily Brown could be a lifesaver to anyone who's been touched by the trauma of an affair. She is an expert with new insights who writes beautifully." Jana Bommersbach, columnist, Phoenix Magazine and commentator, Good Morning Arizona
"Clearly written, without psychological jargon or obscure concepts, it will help couples to develop the unique solutions they need for their problems." Telmo M. Baptista, Faculty of Psychology and Education, University of Lisbon, Portugal and president, Portuguese Association for Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies
- Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
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Read an Excerpt
The Five Types of Affairs
Affairs are never foreign, but as with our local
rivers, they vary in their origins and destinations.
Affairs are powerful and primal. Any betrayal raises questions about trust and the values we live by, but sexual betrayals strike deep emotional chords having to do with love and abandonment, thrilling fantasies and worst fears, and our own dark side and that of our partner. Because the emotions roused by an affair are so primal, it is difficult to understand what an affair really means.
Different affairs mean different things. They' re never just about sex! They're not about loving or not loving your spouse! They're about finding a way to feel alive in the face of discomfort or pain, or when you don't know how to get a handle on what's going on with you or your marriage.
Our sexuality gives us a way of communicating at an intimate level. We can use sex to let our partner know we care, to feel close, to express passion and any number of other things. We can also use sex to send messages about issues other than sex or intimacy. This is the nature of affairs. They send a message about pain and discomfort.
Many husbands and wives don't know how to get below the surface to what's driving or disturbing them. Each is desperately searching for a way out of the pain and confusion. When words and understanding aren't available, spouses resort to more primitive and therefore more passionate means of speaking about their wounds. Each type of affair protects againsta particular type of pain. The pain may be related to fears of conflict or of intimacy, to feeling empty at the core, to being torn between shoulds and wants, or to trepidation about endings. Affairs send a message to a partner about the pain, although it is a message that a partner has trouble decoding.
Affair patterns are much like dances. In some dances both partners execute the same steps, while in others each partner has a different but reciprocal set of steps. So it is with affairs. In some types of affairs the patterns of the husband and wife are similar, in others the patterns differbut always they are reciprocal. It is the pattern of behavior between the husband and wife that indicates the type of affair, not just the behavior of the partner having the affair.
Laurie's affair is a way of letting her husband know how dissatisfied she is. Ken's affair indicates that he is torn within himself between taking care of others and taking care of himself. Paula's affair means she is leaving her marriage. Your affair or your partner's may be different from any of theseand it doesn't have to mean divorce! It does mean there is a problema problem that goes deeper than the affair.
When you don't understand the message it is tempting to get into blaming or fixingor both. Understanding the meaning of the affair in your life will help you make sane decisions during this crazy time. Understanding the affair means becoming aware of who you really are. Resolving the affair means making conscious choices about how you live your life.
The guidelines presented here suggest positive paths through the pain and anger and bewilderment that accompany an extramarital affair. They are based on my work with thousands of people who have successfully faced an affair and struggled through to a new understanding of themselves and their marriage. This book will help you talk about what has happened, work through your pain, resist impulsive actions that you might regret, and move toward healing and forgiveness. Along the way you will explore a variety of issues that need to be resolved. Reading this book may help you salvage your relationship, or it may help you end your marriage with dignity. At the very least, it can help you reclaim your selfessential if you don't want to repeat this painful experience in the future.
First, we're going to look at the different types of affairs and what they mean. Then we will focus on dos and don'ts for getting you through the crisis of disclosure in one piece. Next is examining each step along the path ahead of you: the pain, the opportunities, the traps, the decision points, and ways to achieve resolution and forgiveness. We'll also explore how you can help your children through this crisis, ways to deal with the reactions of your friends and relatives, motivations of unmarried third parties, and considerations when violence is a possibility.
As you read about the five types of affairs, see if you can identify which of the following patterns fits your situation.
The Conflict Avoidance Affair
You know the Conflict Avoidersthey're that nice couple up the street who never fight. In reality they're terrified to be anything but nice for fear that conflict will lead to abandonment or losing control. They don't have a way to stand up to each other when there's a problem, so they can't resolve their differences and the marriage erodes.
Profile of Conflict Avoiders
Either the husband or the wife is having an affair, not both.
The spouse who is having the affair feels guilty.
The affair usually comes within the first ten or so years of the marriage.
The affair is short-lived.
Both spouses tend to be overly nice and helpful, whether they feel like it or not.
Irritation is expressed, but open conflict is avoided. When differences surface, the subject is dropped and the issue is left unresolved.
Valued elements of the marriage have been eroding because of
the couple's inability to discuss and resolve their differences.
The pair are often seen by their friends as a model couple.
Stresses such as pregnancy and the arrival of children,
combined with the inability to discuss differences, have
shifted the focus away from the husband-wife relationship.
The Origins of Conflict Avoidance Affairs
We learn about close relationships early in life from our families. We learn whether it is safe to be emotionally vulnerable, whether to accommodate, to fight or to flee, whether feelings are valued or feared, how honest to be, and what to hide. We bring these patterns to our relationships. These patterns can keep us unaware of our own feelings and motivations. Whatever we're unaware of in ourselves provides fertile ground for an affair.
Laurie, twenty-eight, and Arthur, thirty-five, have been married for five years. Laurie learned early in life to avoid conflict. Her mom always cautioned her, "Don't be so selfish. Just overlook it. Your sister didn't mean it, so you don't need to get so upset." Laurie's family has a "nice" facade, but inside the tension is high because issues get buried instead of being resolved. In a sense, members of families like Laurie's are handicapped when it comes to handling differences of opinion.
Laurie married Arthur because she saw him as strong and self-assured. These days she resents his dominance. Arthur was originally attracted by Laurie's desire to please him, but now he is frustrated by her unwillingness to tell him what she wants.
Laurie confides to her friend, "Arthur is a really good person, and I don't want to upset him over every little thing. It's really not that important." But she mopes around. Arthur tells his racquetball partner, "I don't know what's gotten into hermaybe it's just a female thingI can't get a word out of her!" At home he is impatient and quick with his decisions, seldom checking with Laurie any more.
Both of them are resentful, but both suppress their feelings because as kids they learned, "Don't say anything that you wouldn't want said to you," and "Real men don't get petty." Neither knows how to talk about anger or pain and they are afraid that saying the wrong thing will stir up trouble. Besides, if something was really off base, wouldn't the other say so? They continue their dance of pleasantries and ignore their growing feelings of discomfort.
Laurie and Arthur are classic Conflict Avoiders. It is not that they never feel angry or annoyed, but they always let the issue drop so as to avoid any open conflict. Moreover, they don't know how to share their uncomfortable feelings with each otherand they don't realize that it is important to do so. Both need a way to reach the other. Laurie gets Arthur's attention when he picks up the phone, overhears Laurie's conversation with Brad, and discovers she is having an affair.
Are You and Your Partner Conflict Avoiders?
If you are like Laurie and Arthur, you don't like to argue, so you go out of your way to accommodate each other, even though you can get very annoyed. Not fighting is a source of pride: you can rise above the "small stuff"; you can protect your spouse from any unnecessary pain. Of course a lot of things don't get discussed, but you tell yourself, "They're not important, I can put them behind me. I'll do whatever's necessary to keep things running smoothly." Meanwhile all the little "unimportant" stuff accumulates, weighing you down as you worry alone.
You are probably in the first ten or so years of your marriage. You care about your spouse, but you feel frustrated by the loss of romance and the dailyness that has set in. Since the baby came, it's been rough. No time for romantic dinners, for leisurely sex, or even taking a shower in peace. Dissatisfaction hovers like a low gray cloud, but you push it into the background. You believe in marriage. And you don't know what else to do!
The Intimacy Avoidance Affair
Intimacy Avoiders are couples who are frightened of intimacy, of being emotionally vulnerable, so they keep the barriers high between them. Fighting is one barrier; affairs are another. The emotional connection between the spouses is through frequent and intense battles, usually verbal and sometimes accentuated by slamming doors or other dramatic actions. In some cases these fights escalate into physical violence. These couples are the mirror opposite of the Conflict Avoidersit's fight instead of flight. Although any kind of affair indicates some problem with intimacy, with these couples, intimacy is the issue.
Profile of Intimacy Avoiders
Both partners fear intimacy, and set up barriers to keep from feeling too close.
The spouses confuse closeness with feeling trapped.
The couple gets into frequent escalating fights, with a lot of blaming and fault-finding.
The fights are intense.
The emotional connection between the partners is through fighting.
Often both partners are having affairs.
The partners are usually in their twenties and thirties and have been married less than six years before the first affair, or they are in the early years of a subsequent marriage.
The affair is of relatively brief duration.
The affair is not kept secret for long.
Each spouse grew up in a family that was disorganized or chaotic, possibly with an alcoholic or abusive parent.
The Origins of Intimacy Avoidance Affairs
Colleen has been married to Will for five years now. Colleen responded to Will's recent affair with one of her own. In Colleen's family, fighting was the usual mode for approaching differences. Her mother is an alcoholic who alternated between rage and affection throughout Colleen's childhood. Her father's frequent verbal harangues toward her mother were interspersed with "kiss and make up" periods. He finally gave up and left the family when Colleen was fourteen, leaving her to deal from day to day with her mother's alternating moods. Colleen left home as soon as her younger sister was sixteen and could drive.
Disorganization was the modus operandi for Will's family. Little planning was done, routine tasks were skipped, and decisions were postponed for a better day. Whenever problems developed, there was an emotional explosion. Will learned to keep his distance and to fend for himself.
When Colleen and Will met, she was twenty-two and he was twenty-seven. He was drawn to her lively personality. She was attracted to his independence. They married five months after meeting. The first few months of marriage went reasonably well, but as they settled in they developed a pattern of snapping quickly, making accusations, and arguing frequently. They justified their attacks on each other, neither realizing that their real fear was of being vulnerable because it was so identified with pain.
After one of their bigger fights, Will went to the health club to work off his anger. He confided his discontent to a woman there and began an affair with her that night. Within six weeks he had "accidentally" left enough clues that Colleen discovered the affair. When she confronted Will, he admitted to the affair, but blamed Colleen, "I wouldn't need to look elsewhere if you weren't always attacking me." Colleen was furious and a blow-out fight followed. In the next few days, all her friends heard the details of what had happened as Colleen recruited them to take her side. Will told Colleen that she was being unreasonable, "It wasn't that big a deal." A bit later Colleen told herself, "What's good for one is good for the other. I'll show him how this really feels."
Even though Colleen and Will are fighting about his affair, they are still focused on each other. The affair is a way of communicating with each other, and not a relationship in and of itself. Will's message to Colleen is "back off." In a sense, he is acting on behalf of Colleen as well, since neither of them can tolerate being too close. Now, of course, Colleen's worst fears about intimacy are reinforced. Her retaliatory affair is an effort to avoid old feelings of abandonment, but it serves to reactivate Will's old fears. Their arguments increase and are focused on the affairs.
As things get out of hand, Colleen and Will get frightened and reach out to make peace with each other. They have a wonderfully intense sexual reconciliation and decide they will let the past be the past. They put their nagging fears aside in the interest of making things work. Their doubts come out as criticism of the other about little matters, another distancing technique. When they begin to feel uncomfortably close again, one or the other will provoke another fight. This cycle may lead to another affair. Colleen and Will are not consciously aware that these are distancing maneuvers, and they would tell you that they love each other and want to be close.
Colleen and Will have a lot of work to do if they are going to create an emotionally safe and loving marriage. They bring a lot of energy to the task, but they will need to redirect their energy from fighting to talking about how they really feel. They need to understand and talk about why intimacy is so scary for each of them and learn gradually how to risk being emotionally vulnerable with each other. Although they fight, they have no idea how to fight effectively. Learning the art of negotiation and developing healthy ways of moving closer and apart will be another part of the work ahead. If they are willing to do this work, they have the potential for constructing a marriage that is more intimate and less conflictual.
Are You and Your Partner Intimacy Avoiders?
If you're an Intimacy Avoider, you fear closeness more than conflict. You want intimacy, but it's just too scary. In the past, letting your guard down resulted in feeling trapped, getting hurt, or even being abandoned. When random life events don't provide a buffer, you find other means to protect yourself. Fighting is your first line of defense when your partner is getting too close. These fights are emotionally intense. It's as if all the emotions between you and your spouse are invested in fighting. And the fights never get settled, so it's easy to pick up again whenever you need to.
Your fights are about anything and everything. Anybody who is present and willing will get drawn into your fight. You ask your friends to take sides or to proclaim that you are right. Having an affair escalates the fight. Then you and your spouse fight about the affair. Your partner may retaliate with an affair. The emotional intensity of your fights increases and even though you're exhausted, you can't let go. Your emotional connection is through the fighting.
Neither of you really likes to fight. Below the surface is a great deal of pain and fear. Each of you wants the other to say "I really want to be with you," but when things are going well, you get scared. So both of you thrust and parry, back off, and then threaten with someone or something else. Your affair is a great buffer. At the same time you remain connected to your partner by the push-pull of the conflict.
The Sexual Addiction Affair
Sexual Addicts use sex over and over again to numb their inner pain and fill up the emptiness inside, much as alcoholics use alcohol. Among married people, men are sexual addicts more often than women. Many wives will tolerate a sexually addicted spouse but husbands generally will not. With Conflict Avoiders and Intimacy Avoiders, both partners have similar styles of interaction. With Sexual Addiction, each spouse has a different role: one engages in the addictive behavior, while the other enables that behavior. For each, their role provides a way to avoid pain and emptiness.
Profile of Sexual Addicts
The Sexual Addict has had twenty-five, fifty, or more affairs.
The seduction is as important as the affair, if not more so.
The Sexual Addict has little, if any, relationship with the affair partner.
The Sexual Addict turns to sex when feeling lonely, empty, in pain, or otherwise uncomfortable.
The Sexual Addict denies that the behavior is a problem, even though shame may be experienced after the sexual encounter.
A predictable cycle of behavior repeats from one sexual encounter to the next.
Addiction to another escape, such as alcohol or pornography, is part of the pattern.
The Sexual Addict doesn't bother hiding the sexual behavior.
Profile of Sexual Addicts' Spouses
The spouse puts up with the Sexual Addict's behavior.
The spouse presents a brave face to the outside world.
The partners live rather separate lives.
The spouse makes it easy for the Sexual Addict to pursue sexual conquests because the spouse is willing to carry responsibility that isn't his or hers.
The Origins of Sexual Addiction
Sexual addiction is often viewed as a joke, as a ridiculous idea, or as nonexistent. It is seen as an excuse to be promiscuous, or dismissed with the idea that the addict is "oversexed." But sexual addiction is real. It is not about sex, however, nor is it about romantic love. Charlotte Kasl, a psychologist, says, "Sexually addicted adults are essentially children hiding out in grown-up bodies, hungrily seeking parents to love them unconditionally." Sexual addiction becomes understandable when we realize it results from severe abuse or neglect in early childhood, which has left the addict with painful wounds and an empty feeling inside. Sex becomes a way of anesthetizing the pain or of filling the emptiness, at least for a brief moment. Sexual addiction can take many forms, but our focus here is on the compulsive use of affairs.
Ed's family background is a common one among sexual addicts. Ed is forty-four and has been married to Michelle for twenty years. Ed's mother was the dominant influence in the family, since his father was seldom home. She turned to Ed, the youngest of her three sons, for companionship. She indulged Ed but the price she exacted was constant attention to her needs and her feelings. She was somewhat seductive in her physical affection, touching and hugging Ed and flirting with him as one would with a lover. Ed liked being her favorite, although he often felt confused. As a teen, he was revved up sexually by some of his mother's seductive behavior. He turned his sexual energy toward the females he met, enjoying the excitement of the chase and the seduction, but never wanting a serious relationship with them. Ed has continued his pattern of seduction through his courtship and marriage, until now.
Michelle alternates between covering up for Ed and badgering him in an effort to get him to change his ways. She works at keeping up a respectable facade, pretends that Ed's irregular hours are because of his work, and stays busy with the kids so that she doesn't have to feel. Her mother did much the same with her father's drinking.
Jean also uses sex to escape from her pain and emptiness, but her background is a bit different. She was sexually abused as a very young child by her mother's boyfriend. Jean's mother refused to listen to Jean or to see Jean's obvious fright. Jean was so traumatized that her unconscious mind has repressed the memory. She evolved into a sad and lonely child who was afraid of people. When Jean left home at the age of nineteen she began pursuing men and seducing them. It was almost as if she was recreating the very situation that had traumatized her as a child. She was ashamed but felt powerless to change her behavior.
When she got involved with Gary, who was crazy about her, she decided that marriage might dispel her need to be seductive. It hasn't helpedin fact, Jean is having a harder time suppressing her shame but she can't stop seducing the men who come her way. She worries about AIDS but continues behavior that she knows may destroy her marriage or her physical self.
Both Ed and Jean are Sexual Addicts. What they have in common is parents who paid no attention to their needs because they were so needy themselves. Neither Ed nor Jean got the nurturing care that allowed them to grow into secure adults. Ed got the message as a child that the way to get love is to be sexual. Jean is searching for someone to love her, and feels that sex is the necessary medium of exchange. For both Ed and Jean, sex, love, and pain have become intertwined and confused.
Is Sexual Addiction an Issue for You and Your Partner?
When you are addicted to affairs, you are obsessed with sexual conquests. You are unable to stop, even when your behavior is producing severe problems for you and may be life-threatening. You use sex as a brief fix for your pain and your shame. The high never lasts very long so you keep looking for the next fix, just like an alcoholic focuses on the next drink. Everything else comes second. You're so preoccupied that you don't take precautions against AIDS or other diseases.
If you are the spouse of someone who is a Sexual Addict, you go to great lengths to hide the addiction from others. Essentially you put up with your spouse's behavior, although you're on a crusade for him or her to change in some ways. By focusing on your spouse, you don't have to face your own issuesissues that are just as painful as the addict's.
The biggest difficulty for addicts and their spouses is the denial and the hiding, with the end result that you don't get the help you need to change. Both of you run the risk of continuing the cycle of compulsive sex (the addictive behavior) countered by efforts to manage it (enabling behavior) to fill your emptiness and avoid your pain. Because the roots of sexual addiction go so deep, both of you will need help in addressing your issues. This is not a do-it-yourself project. With help, it is possible to learn new patterns and to stop addictive and enabling behaviors.
The Split Self Affair
For Split Selves, the affair is about being fed up with doing marriage "right." Both you and your spouse have sacrificed your own feelings and needs to take care of others and the deprivation has been chilling. You're sick of it! The affair begins when someone comes along that stirs the vestiges of life in one of the partners. The affair is serious, long-term, and passionate. Once fully involved, the betraying partner struggles to decide between the spouse and the affair partner. Most often this is a man's affair, but more women than before are having these affairs.
This kind of affair is often regarded as a midlife crisis, but it is much more. The roots go back to pressures in childhood to meet the needs of others and put aside your own needs. In contrast, a midlife crisis is situational and develops with the awareness of time passing and things undone. Affairs during a midlife crisis are more likely to be Exit Affairs (see next section).
Profile of Split Selves
Both partners have devoted themselves to doing what others want, especially what they think their family and children want.
The couple has probably been married twenty years or more (although the discomfort comes sooner in some marriages).
The couple has tried to build the right structure for their family.
The partners are regarded as responsible and dependable by friends and colleagues.
Each spouse views the other as controlling or demanding.
As a child, neither partner was free to pursue their own needs and feelings, although they do not regard that as an important factor.
At least one of the partners is depressed, and often both.
As the Betraying Spouse in a Split Self Affair
You feel torn between your spouse and your affair partner, and you are trying to decide which one of them is right for you.
You may have separated from your spouse but you missed your family and moved back in, only to find that you again want to leave.
You are seeking passion in your life.
The Origins of Split Self Affairs
Ken, at forty-eight, has been having an affair for three years with Jill, who is thirty-one. He and his wife Phyllis, who is forty-seven, never dealt with a previous brief affair he had seven years into the marriage. Ken's affair with Jill is serious. His prior attempts to end it have failed, and for the past year and a half, the affair has proceeded parallel to the marriage. Ken doesn't flaunt his involvement with Jill, and for the most part makes some effort to be careful about where they go so that they don't bump into Phyllis. For her part, Phyllis tries to pretend that Jill doesn't exist. This time Phyllis can't put blinders on because Ken is about to move out again to be with Jill. He moved out once before, but missed his family and returned home.
Ken is troubled by his dishonesty and the burden of his double life. A classic "nice guy," he knows he is being anything but nice. He keeps attempting to decide which woman is the right woman for him, but his answer keeps switching back and forth. He has decided that what he needs to do now is act: "I just haven't been decisive enough. Moving in with Jill is the step I need to take. I'm sorry that Phyllis is hurtI really don't want to hurt her, but this will be better for all of us."
Phyllis is panicked. Even though she has worked in recent years, her life has revolved around taking care of her family, especially her children. She is angry, upset, depressed, and hoping against hope that Ken will come to his senses. The idea of being totally alone frightens her to the core. She does everything she can think of to influence Ken to stay: sending him cards at his office, losing weight, asking him to tell her what he would like her to do, and trying to predict and meet every possible need of his. Ken feels pressured and backs further away.
For her part, Jill believes that Phyllis is a demanding and uncaring wife and that Ken and Phyllis have no real life together. She doesn't understand why it is taking Ken so long to leave Phyllis for good. She has given Ken a two-week deadline to make a decision.
Ken is an only child, with older parents. His mother was sick and increasingly confined to bed from the time Ken was seven. Ken did much of the daily caretaking of his mother in his off-school hours, and as long as he could do something to make her feel better he didn't worry too much. He suppressed any resentment at having to sacrifice his interests, and over time he learned not to pay attention to any desires that might conflict with his mother's needs. As a husband he continued along the same path, doing what Phyllis wanted and trying to make things work the way he believed they should. Over time his sacrifices have become heavy, and the long-desired rewards have not been forthcoming. Now he is torn: he wants to leave the marriage, but he can't leave without somehow taking care of Phyllis first.
Phyllis grew up in the shadow of a mother whose constant message was that Phyllis couldn't please her. Phyllis certainly tried! She takes the same approach with others, for fear of being found wanting. She has tried to "do family" as she thinks family should be done, with the goal of pleasing Ken. She is just as split as Ken between doing it right and paying attention to her own needs. Both step back from disclosing their real selves, at the same time taking refuge in the fantasy of being made whole by another.
The route for Ken and Phyllis is going to be a rough one, and their marriage may or may not survive. Both of them, however, can survive as individuals. If they are willing to learn how to pay attention to their feelings as well as to their thoughts, they can thrive as individuals, in or out of the marriage.
Are You and Your Spouse Split Selves?
As marital partners, both of you have worked hard, often for years, to build the right structure for your marriage. You've devoted yourselves to doing a good job whether it is at work, at home, in the community, or with your children. You take pride in doing things the right way, by the book. Your need to look good so as to avoid rejection leads you to tell each other "white lies." Your internal battles over whether to attend to your own needs are ones you lose. You are discouraged and depressed. Your needs remain unmet, and you don't know what to do except to keep on doing the right thing.
At the same time you see yourself as strong, priding yourself on not burdening the other spouse with unnecessary emotional details. You will handle any problem yourself. Neither of you shares your needs and feelings with the other, making it impossible to build an intimate relationship. The accommodation that initially seemed helpful has grown into a poisonous situation in which each of you manipulates the other in a manner that is superficially nice but dishonest and controlling. Deep down you withhold, refusing to risk emotionally with a spouse who is so controlling. Often, one of you has turned to the children, the other to an affair.
You were not looking for an affair but the years of not attending to your own feelings made you a prime candidate. You are charmed and excited when a friendship with a colleague begins to blossom. You have been starving emotionallynot so much by your spouse's doing as by your self-imposed emotional diet, and you leap at the feast, although not without a sense of betraying a trust. You and your colleague become seriously involved. It gets confused as you try to decide which one is the right partner for you. You don't really want to leave your spouse. Having family is very important. You certainly don't want to end the affair, although you think you should. You approach the problem rationally, "trying to make the right decision."
If you are like Ken, you probably feel upset, angry, troubled, and afraid, and you get on your own back for feeling that way. However, an element of hope for a different future parallels your powerlessness. If you are in Phyllis's shoes you are terrified. For both of you, life as you have known it is ending, and change lies ahead. If you are in Jill's position, you are in a competition that you can lose even if you win. Each of you will need help in reclaiming and understanding the parts of your self that you sacrificed so long ago.
An Exit Affair is the vehicle for ending the marriagenot the reason. This is the kind of affair that a spouse launches when the marriage is deteriorating and it is unclear whether or how to end it. The affair provides the justification to leave. At the very least, the affair distracts the leaver from the pain in the marriage and the guilt for leaving.
Profile of Exit Affairs
The affair is a way of sliding out the door.
The couple's style of relating to each other is to duck difficult issues and avoid conflict.
Body language and behavior shows that the leaver is moving away from the spouse.
The marriage is usually of less than twelve years' duration.
Both spouses use the affair as the reason the marriage is ending.
Both spouses have unfinished business about loss and endings.
The Origins of Exit Affairs
Paula's Exit Affair with her old friend Brian began eight months ago. She arranged for Rob, her husband of six years, to find out by having a lengthy phone conversation with Brian when Rob was at home. When Rob picked up the phone to make a call, he ran headfirst into their affair. Furious, he faced Paula the moment she was off the phone and told her what he had heard. She responded, "I was going to tell you but I didn't know how.... You know we haven't been getting along for a long time.... I don't know. I didn't want you to find out this way." Rob, even more incensed, yelled, "How long has this been going on? I thought I could trust you but you're just a cheat! You've just been using me all along! I can't believe this! I'm not going to put up with this! You better believe I'm not going to put up with this!" Paula backed away, "I don't want to talk about this now when you're so angry." Rob continued yelling until Paula left the house on the pretext of going to the grocery store.
Paula and Rob's marriage is over. It was pretty well over before Brian came on the scene. Brian was just the last nail. For Paula, getting involved with Brian validated her tentative decision to leave Rob. It will be important for Paula and Rob to understand the unfinished business that led them to end their marriage with an affair rather than talking together about the decision to close the door.
Is the Affair in Your Life an Exit Affair?
If your marriage is ending with an Exit Affair, think of the affair as the route and not the reason the marriage is ending. Choosing an affair as your escape route probably means that endings are hard for you. With an affair you can avoid facing your disappointments or talking about the unraveling of your marriage. It seems easier to let the affair carry the weight. You tell yourself that your affair partner is your one true love and that you owe it to yourself to pursue true love. You overlook your history of marital problems and give the third party total responsibility for the split.
Hopefully, the affair will get your spouse to kick you out. For that to work, your spouse will have to know about your affair. So you arrange, without quite thinking about it, to have your spouse discover your affair. Strange hotel charges on the Visa bill, lots of lengthy long-distance calls charged to your personal cellular phone, or greeting cards with mushy notes that turn up in the pocket of your shirt are common forms of evidence. Your spouse, who probably suspects already, discovers the evidence and confronts you. There is a big fight, but you are not that much involved. You are focused on getting out. If your spouse doesn't kick you out, you're disappointed. Now you will have to do something yourself in order to leave.
If you're the dumped spouse you tell yourself, "It's not anything I did; if that S.O.B. hadn't come along and played to her ego, we'd still be happily married." You are furious and you may tell your spouse to get out. If your spouse readily accepts, you may have second thoughts as she prepares to go.
It is unlikely that you will put your marriage back together. What you will need to do is understand what each of you contributed to the collapse of your marriage and why one of you chose this particularly painful way of ending your marriage. Because separating takes so much energy, you may not get to work on understanding what has happened until later.
The Third Side of the Triangle
How does the third party fit into the picture? Viewed as home wreckers or worse, third parties are actually stepping into a gap in the marriage. The third party completes someone else's triangle as a way of acting out his or her own issues. Many third parties are married, and for them the affair can be viewed in the context of their own marriage. Other third parties are single. Specific reasons that singles choose to have an affair with a married person include a fear of intimacy or of being dependent, a feeling of inner emptiness, or the pursuit of the just-out-of-reach prize. Three affair patterns are common for singles: long-term serious affairs, low-demand affairs or brief affairs such as after separating, and compulsive sex.
Profile of Singles in Long-Term Serious Affairs
The single has been involved in the affair at least a yearprobably a number of years.
The affair partner is most likely to be a Split Self or possibly an Exiter.
The affair represents unfinished business with parents.
The single claims to be independent, but is really afraid of being dependent.
The single plans personal life around the married partner's schedule and needs.
Why Singles Choose Long-Term Serious Affairs
Gwen is a never-married woman whose unfinished business with her parents set the stage for her role as third party. Gwen, who is thirty-one, has been seriously involved with Hal, fifty-two and married, for the last few years. Gwen knows that Hal loves her and intends to end his marriage to be with her, but he is staying in the marriage right now because of his kids. She's waiting for their day to come.
She may not be so happy when it does. Her relationship with Hal would become less romantic, all the little daily annoyances would intrude, and her fear of being dependent will be greater. She's been deliberately but unconsciously picking unavailable men, unknowingly trying to work out old issues. As a kid, Gwen was caught in the web of her parents' marital problems, becoming the one her father turned to when he wanted emotional support. However, she didn't have him the way she needed him: as a father who set appropriate boundaries with her and as a man who modeled a strong relationship with her mother. She also lost out with her mother, who resented Gwen's closeness with her father. She learned to give up too much of her self to men, which is why she fears being dependent, and she doesn't trust women to be fair with her.
Is Yours a Long-Term Serious Affair?
Single women, more than single men, are willing to be the third party in a long-term serious affair, usually picking an older man in a Split Self marriage. If you step into this role it is because something about your affair partner represents your unfinished business. His romanticism coupled with his inability to make too many demands may link to your desire to be loved and cared for without becoming dependent. These affairs last for years, even until death. He plans to leave his wife, but he doesn't. When you've built your life around him, you wait it out, living a life together that parallels his life with his wife. You see his marriage as the obstacle to your happiness and unconsciously overlook the protection it provides against giving up too much of yourself. You think of yourself as independent, but in truth, you're afraid of being dependent.
Your work will be to understand why you're choosing to limit yourself, to examine whether you're on a track that will work for you, and to decide whether you want to make changes in your life.
Singles in Other Types of Affairs
Other affair patterns among single males and females are low-demand affairs or a series of brief affairs or one-night stands. Low-demand affairs that singles choose after separation or divorce provide attention and affection without having to make a commitment during the vulnerable period that follows separation. These affairs also incorporate an element of the testing that adolescents do to determine their attractiveness and social competence. Once you're beyond the worst of the grieving and have your feet on the ground again, you will be able to look around for someone who is unmarried and available for a more complete relationship.
Other singles choose low-demand affairs with married people because of heavy career demands or simply because they prefer a low-maintenance relationship and don't want the risks of deep emotional involvement or the obligations of commitment. Usually this pattern is tied to concerns about the cost of emotional ties or to doubts about the ability to develop a good relationship. Judy described feeling more secure with someone who is married because, "He can't abandon me, because he's not free to really be with me."
A series of one-night stands or brief affairs that is driven by the need to fill up an inner emptiness or numb inner pain means that sexual addiction is at the heart of the problem. The pattern here is much the same as the for the married Sexual Addict. However, the single Sexual Addict has fewer anchors in the world. Getting help is going to be essential to addressing your pain and changing your pattern of behavior.
What about affairs that are not acted upon sexually? Are they really affairs or are they only friendships? These relationships should be considered as affairs when they consume energy that would more appropriately be going into the marriage. These relationships have a sexual current, even if sexual activity (intercourse, oral sex, fondling, kissing, and so on) is not involved. Sometimes these are affairs-in-the-makingwith the affair partners moving toward physically consummating their relationship. In other cases the sexual current is sufficient for the moment.
The Internet affair is becoming a classic nonsexual affair. On the Internet, without objective data, it is easy to let one's fantasies run loose and wild, to imagine the Internet partner in idealized formand even to present an overly idealized picture of oneself. Eric spent time every evening on the Net, chatting with Lianne. To Eric, she became a wondrous creature: sensitive, understanding, intelligent, gifted, and probably gorgeous as well. Her responses indicated that she really cared about him. Eric became determined to meet her, although he didn't know quite how he would manage that. His wife, Gayle, was already upset with the amount of time he was spending on the Net and was apprehensive about his Net relationship with Lianne.
Many Internet romances culminate in a meeting. Some turn into full-fledged affairs, others lead to shock as the fantasy crumbles in the face of reality. Internet romances, even those that remain "virtual romances," can be categorized as one of the five types of affairs, according to the underlying motivations for the affair. Eric and Gayle were Conflict Avoidersneither of them had been talking to each other about what was bothering them. Nonsexual affairs can also be categorized according to the underlying motivations.
In many cases the marital partner overlooks the seriousness of their mate's nonsexual affair because it is nonsexual, even though a sexual undercurrent may be evident. At this point the idea of an affair can still be rationalized away. The marital partner would do well to pay attention to two common danger signals: when your spouse is spending more discretionary time with the affair partner than with you, and when your spouse's primary confidant is the affair partner and not you. If either of these patterns is present, get help now, before the nonsexual affair becomes a sexual affair. Gayle's insistence on getting marital counseling derailed Eric's plan to meet Lianne in person.
No matter how it looks to the outsider, husbands and wives don't enjoy betraying each other. They want to be loyal and trusting. When they are not, they are upset with themselves. Underlying the betrayal of the affair are the ghosts of past family problems having to do with pain, abuse, fear, abandonment and loss. This is true for third parties as well as for couples. The challenge is to identify and understand your affair pattern, and to rebuild on firmer ground, individually or as a couple. It will take time and effort and a certain amount of courage, but it is possible to resolve the problems that led to the affair. It is up to you to make a choice about whether you want to make the investment. If you decide to tackle your issues, subsequent chapters will give you guidance for doing so.
Meet the Author
EMILY M. BROWN, LCSW, MSW, is the founder and director of the Key Bridge Therapy and Mediation Center in Arlington, VA. She is the author of Patterns of Infidelity and Their Treatment and a noted international expert on the issue of affairs. Brown has appeared as a guest on numerous radio and television talk shows including Oprah, The Today Show, and National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation.
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