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Infidelity: Game or Sin? Part II
By Barrington H. Brennen, July 26, 2004, 2021


Marriage is very risky business.    One of my favorite authors, Dr. Howard Markman, in the book “Fighting for Your Marriage,” says: “We believe that marriage is the most risky undertaking routinely taken on by the greatest number of people in our society.”  The level of the risk is determined by the level of stubbornness, pride, and selfishness of each of the partners in marriage.   Perhaps the greatest test of the vulnerability of marriage towards dissolution is that of extramarital involvement (EMI).  There are many reasons for infidelity or EMI. 

One author writes: “The causes of infidelity are complex and varied. Affairs can occur in happy marriages as well as in troubled ones. Although the involved spouse may not be getting enough from the marriage, sometimes the involved spouse is not giving enough.  Reasons for EMI include low self-esteem, relationship deficits (e.g., lack of affection), or a social context in which infidelity is condoned.”   Perhaps the most devastating reason is that of relationship deficit.  In other words, one partner feels that a need is not being met, and it is not necessarily sexual.  In my counseling practice, I have observed that unmet needs are the central reasons for infidelity and divorce.  Other causes of infidelity are dissatisfaction with the marital relationship, emotional emptiness, need for sexual variety, inability to resist new sexual opportunity, anger at a partner, no longer being "in love," alcohol or drug addiction, growing apart, and desire to get a partner jealous.

There is an unspoken cultural myth about infidelity being “natural.”  That is, some people believe that human beings simply can't maintain monogamous sexual relationships over long periods of time because it "isn't natural."  In The Bahamas and the Caribbean, this myth is perpetuated by many who feel that their  virility or sexual performance determines true personhood.   The common adage is “a man got ‘ta do what a man got ‘ta do.”  The truth is that many feel that their nature (biology) dictates to whether or not they will have multiple relationships.   Dr. Debbie Layton Tholl, clinical psychologist, writes in her article on “Infidelity”:

 ”If this is true, if there is a biological reason preventing us from accomplishing our goal of remaining in a monogamous relationship, then we are condemning ourselves to continued personal and social failure by continuing to pursue these types of relationships.  “Maybe our proclivity towards affairs is more a symptom of our inability to find satisfaction in our long-term relationships because of the expectations we place on them in the first place, than any biological drive towards multiple sexual partners. Possibly our inability to remain "in love" with our partners as we grow and mature and our life circumstances change is what drives us to look for another intimate relationship.”

Dr. Layton-Tholl is on target.  She has a keen insight on what makes relationships succeed.  She explains further:

“The loss of the high level of passion and desire that existed in the beginning of the relationship may result in boredom or develop into a feeling of apathy towards the partner. Combined with all of the other stresses and complexities of long term relationships, such as financial problems, raising children, job changes, death of family members, change in status, etc., the loss of passion may lead to a desire to rediscover it in the start of a new relationship.  “Therefore, extramarital affairs may be the result of an inability to maintain a satisfying emotional relationship with a partner over a long period of time, and not due to a need for sexual variety.”

Many individuals and spouses mistakenly feel that as long as there is no physical sexual contact, they are not having an affair.   They are totally wrong. Research indicates that extramarital affairs based solely on desire for new sexual partners is a very small percentage of the total number of affairs.  In on research of over 4200 couples by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, over 90% have reported that the affair is based on emotional needs not being met within the marital relationship, and not sexually-motivated reasons. I have found this to correlate with my experience as a marriage and family therapist working in the Bahamas and Jamaica.    Dr. Layton-Tholl concludes:

 “It appears that the allure of extramarital affairs is not new sexual experiences, nor are they due to any biological inability to remain monogamous, but rather what drives many individuals to become involved in extramarital affairs is a lack of emotional fulfillment within the existing relationship.”

To put it simply, affairs begin with the most basic of all relationship types: friendship.  Not all persons seeking affairs want to have a sexual relationship, at least not at the beginning.  For many, sexual intercourse comes as a bi-product of an intensive emotional entanglement.  Many women who engage in emotional affairs will give their heart to another man and save their body for their husbands.  It is still an extramarital involvement, and it is immoral.  In fact, there can be as much life-threatening affects of emotional affairs as do the physical ones.  Feelings of guilt that lead to suicide,  fear, anxiety, worry, and the high level of stress are all life-threatening.

Emotional entanglement, often called extramarital involvement, is mesmerizing, hypnotic, and alluring. Affairs are traps that always lead to emotional disaster. It is like being caught in a web spawned by deception, deceit, disloyalty, and a mystifying kind of love.  For many EMI is the quicksand of emotional and psychological collapse. 

Dr. Willard Harley in his book, “His Needs, Her Needs” give these three factors contributing to making an affair so enjoyable and exciting: “1)  You and your lover seem to bring out the best in each other.  2)  You ignore each other’s faults.   3) You get turned on sexually as never before.  You feel sure no one else could ever be as exciting a sex partner as your secret new lover.”    Dr. Layton-Tholl gives these factors as being responsible for the high level of arousal experienced by people involved in affairs: The obsessive pre-occupation that many individuals in affairs report experiencing, and the inability to end an affair even when confronted with negative or devastating personal and social consequences.”   The truth is affairs are hard to stop because they are so sweet, at least for a while.  The adage, “the grass is always greener on the other side,” seems to apply here.  We forget to observe that the grass is only greener as long as there is rain.  In other words, do all you can to keep your grass green and never seek to compare it with nearby pastures.  Beware that affairs can occur between two people who have never seen each other.  Online chats are popular for this.  Many marriages break up after an online affair.  Avoid touching, kissing, and saying things to others that should be reserved for your one-and-only.

Multiple affairs may indicate an addiction to sex, love, or romance. Love and romance addicts are driven by the passion of a new relationship. “Sexual addicts are compulsively attracted to the high and the anxiety release of sexual orgasm. But such release comes with a price--feelings of shame and worthlessness.”  Those who have multiple affairs are somewhat strange. They often feel that nothing is wrong with it. “Philanderers perceive extramarital sex as an entitlement of gender or status and take advantage of opportunities without guilt or withdrawal symptoms.”
Dear couples, keep the marriage hot by going on regular dates, being sensitive to each other’s needs, spending time together, and choosing to remain in love.  Keep yourself irresistible.  David Frost defines love with these most profound words “Love is the irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.”  Remember, keep yourself irresistible.   
Barrington H. Brennen is a marriage and family therapist and counseling psychologist.  You can send your questions or comments to P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, Bahamas.  Or email info@soencouragement.org  or call 1-242-327-1980



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April 26, 2000, TAGnet/NetAserve / Network Solutions

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