“Why do we cheat? And why do happy people cheat?” That’s how Esther Perel starts her Ted talk about infidelity. I have listened to it numerous times and asked myself the same question – WHY?
Was he unhappy in our marriage? Did he feel trapped? Did she seduce him? Did he fall in love? Did he not love me anymore? Why did it happen to us?
My biggest fear was that he fell in love but he denied it numerous times. I was surprised to hear that his predominant feeling right after the disclosure was… relief. Relief that it’s over, that it’s the end of the lies, that he didn’t need to act anymore. He got himself into a trap and couldn’t find a way out again. Turned out that confession and facing the truth opened the door into freedom again. It was scary and hurt like hell sometimes but it was the only way. “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
So why did he do it in the first place? We spent weeks and months trying to get to the bottom of it. We identified a few key reasons:
1. Lust – first and foremost on our list was lust fuelled by pornography addiction, kept in total secret and slowly getting out of control. He described his actions as “getting worse by degrees”. He knew that what he was doing was wrong, yet step by step was feeling braver to cross the lines. Again, in his own words – “You don’t even know when suddenly you are completely off the course”.
There were things he did even during the time of the affair that showed he was not in love but trapped in lust.
2. Stress – huge pressure at work and a lack of knowledge how to deal with it. Many times after coming home his mind would be spinning and he was snappy and angry. It took time every evening for him to cool down and even during holidays he wasn’t fully relaxed until a few days passed. We are working on it and I’m learning how to help. A few key methods: prayer, sport, time together, talking. There will always be pressures and stress, always more things to be done but when you stand together and commit everything to God you can conquer it.
3. Feeling of inadequacy – this came up a few times, a vague feeling of being a failure, of not measuring up, not achieving some goals. This wasn’t based on any real failure but rather on a lack of self esteem and a pressure from society to achieve and be successful. The affair provided an escape into an imaginary world, where he was someone else, no responsibility, stress or duties. Learning to live in thanksgiving for what we have and seeing that other people are not happier even if they seem more successful, helps.
4. Being ‘stuck in a rut’ in our marriage and not even realising it. It had crept upon us in between all the chores at home and in the office and although we took steps to keep our love alive still something new felt more alluring.
5. Midlife crisis – he laughed when I mentioned it the first time but stopped laughing when I found an article describing what goes on in the mind of someone going through it and it all fit perfectly. The following are some of the common symptoms of midlife crisis taken from http://divorcesupport.about.com/od/isdivorcethesolution/f/midlifecrisis.htm :
– Unhappiness with life and the lifestyle that may have provided them with happiness for many years
– Boredom with people and things that may have been of interest to them before.
– Feeling a need for adventure and change.
– Questioning the choices, they have made in their lives and the validity of decisions they made years before.
– Confusion about who they are and where they are going.
– Anger at their spouse and blame for feeling tied down.
– Unable to make decisions about where they want to go with their life.
– Doubt that they ever loved their spouse and resentment over the marriage.
– A desire for a new and passionate, intimate relationship.
Much could be written about each of those points. Sometimes just realising what is going on and naming your problems is a big help, other times you might need the help of a professional therapist to guide you to what lies at the root of it all. It is useful to know that we often confuse our need to run away from our spouses with wanting to run away from ourselves and from what we have become.
At last I finished reading Jane Eyre. For most of the book I thought Ana’s love of it came from identifying with the main character – Jane, and to some extent I am sure she did. Maybe that’s why she panicked and became jealous when Charlie employed a new girl whose name was almost identical to Jane Eyre, fearing she would take her place, but there was more to it. The book compares real, deep love with a marriage for practical purposes. When I got to that point I had to put the book down and cry. I saw how she really believed theirs was the ‘true’ love and our marriage was just an empty shell.
I cried because I knew Charlie must have given her that impression. I cried because no one had ever doubted we married out of deep love, no one had ever disrespected our marriage. I cried because I loved and cherished our story. I cried because I knew Charlie did too.
How many more girls like Ana are out there in the world? Using the weaknesses of their work colleagues, bosses or friends to get attention, romance, short lived feeling of love? Do they know the trail of destruction they leave behind? Do they realise how clichéd their affairs are and how quickly they end? Unfortunately ours is not the only story of this kind I have come across recently. And not all of them have happy endings.
If you are like Ana, stop, think and choose a better way.