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Why People Have Affairs And What They Can Learn From Them



Why People Have Affairs And What They Can Learn From Them

Embedded in the pain of affairs are lessons.

The details of affairs vary — where and when they start, whether or how they stop, what was “it” that pulled each person in. Most affairs eventually end, often because the affair is discovered and shut down, because it dissolves on its own as it moves beyond the oxytocin-fueled chemistry of the early stage and begins to seem more and more like the relationship they are both trying to escape from. Or because one person feels tremendousguilt or fears a divorce and losing her child. Whatever the initial cause of the the outcome, there’s some mental and emotional sorting out to do on both sides: What has really happened and why did this happen at all?

There are several interrelated lessons embedded in affairs. Here are the Top 4:

Discovering what’s broken. No brainer here. What you complain about to your new lover can give you a hint about what is broken in the relationship — that you are bored, that there is not enough affection or sex, that you are lonely, that you need to be heard and not criticized or micromanaged. Through and/or in spite of the chemistry you get a clear sense of what’s not working or missing in your relationship. Unfortunately, you only fully realize it until you get a taste of it.

Realizing what you need. The idea here is that it is all ultimately not about the relationship and what the other new person gives you that the other does not, but a realization, once outside your normal roles and routines, about what you deeply need. Here the relationship is a medium or a metaphor of what you need to make your life more fulfilled or organic, a life that represents more fully who you are.

Acknowledging what you’re fed up with. At some level those who engage in affairs feel that they deserve to have the affair. The feelings here are strong. It’s not simply that we haven’t had sex in 2 weeks or that you leave hair in the bathroom drain, it’s about an unfairness, a fed-upness about how much I do that you don’t appreciate, reciprocate, dismiss or criticize. The anger about the bathroom drain is often a sign that this is the tip of the iceberg of emotions. The feelings are also old and deep and usually have to do with old childhood wounds. I’ve been dealing with this treatment all my life, your little kid brainsays, and now I’m done.

Understanding what’s important. Somewhere in the middle of all this, you hopefully get to a decision point about what is really important to you. This is about values (what you truly believe is important in life rather than adopting the values of others to please them) and about vision (what is view of your ideal life, what are your priorities as you sort through work, relationship, family, faith, etc.)

If you can allow yourself to get beyond that initial “I’m sorry, let’s move on” stage and take the time to truly reflect, deeper questions and ideas can begin to creep out of the shadows. If the affair told me about what is broken, what I need, what I’m fed up with, what is themoral of that story, the integration of this entire experience? What do I want to build my life around, what do I need to change now to make my life represent who I am? What does the affair tell me what I struggle to do in intimate relationships and need to do to not have more affairs? Even if it is a moving target, what is my vision of the future and do I have the courage to present that to my partner knowing that there is a risk that his vision may be totally different?

So how to do mentally mop up after an affair? You ask yourself these hard questions, and quietly wait and listen for the answers.

Don’t throw away this opportunity to learn what’s important.

[Robert Taibbi]

Bob Taibbi is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with 40 years experience primarily in community mental health working with couples and families as a clinician, supervisor and clinical director. Bob is the author of 7 books: Doing Couples Therapy: Craft and Creativity in Work with Intimate Partners Doing Family Therapy: Craft and Creativity in Clinical Practice, now in its 3rd edition, and recently translated into Chinese and Portuguese Clinical Supervision: A Four-Stage Process of Growth and Discovery Clinical Social Work Supervision: Practice & Process Boot Camp Therapy: Action-Oriented Brief Clinical Approaches to Anxiety, Anger & Depression The Art of the First Session Brief Therapy With Couples & Families in Crisis In addition to his books, Bob writes an regular online column for Psychology Today magazine entitled Fixing Families, as well as a monthly parenting advice column for Charlottesville Family magazine. He has also published over 300 magazine and journal articles, and has contributed several book chapters including Favorite Counseling Techniques: 55 Masters Share Their Secrets which cited him among the top 100 therapists in the country. He served as teen advice columnist for Current Health, a contributing editor to Your Health and Fitness, and has received 3 national writing awards for Best Consumer Health Writing. Bob is a graduate of Rutgers University and the University of South Carolina, and has served as adjunct professor at several universities. He provides trainings nationally in couple therapy, family therapy, brief therapy, and clinical supervision. He is currently in private practice in Charlottesville, Virginia with Lewis Weber & Associates:

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