People, even therapists, are surprised that I have had a fair number of clients in my office seeking answers about themselves. Specifically, they want to know why they are having an affair, or affairs. Obviously, they realize that they are unhappy, but often they aren’t clear why. Especially living in an affluent area, most of these clients (mainly men, I’ll use male pronouns) have a great career and high income, a loving family, and all sorts of privileges unavailable to most people.
As one might imagine, often the person is unhappy in their marriage or primary relationship. However, they may not fully understand why. The partner may even be loving and appreciative, but something feels amiss. It sometimes takes quite a bit of patient digging to figure it out. For example, in one case the marriage went off track when the couple faced some serious medical decisions and a tremendous amount of stress. They were traumatized, but just kept going and never really reconnected.
Sometimes the person is unhappy with themselves. Despite all the outward trimmings of success–nice home, fancy car, maybe a private plane or yacht–they still feel that they haven’t done enough or acquired enough. They also may not believe they deserve the riches that they’ve earned. Adding an admiring affair partner is meant to pump up the ego, but it does not. They are left feeling as empty as they were before the affair began.
Sometimes they are truly unhappy with their marriage. They may feel they have tried everything to make things different, but nothing ever changes. Or they may not try at all, feeling that they cannot share their unhappiness with their partner or their partner will get angry and leave. They may be uncertain that exiting the marriage is the best course of action, so they choose staying stuck and get involved with someone else.
Whatever the problem is, an affair is generally a poor solution mainly because of it’s potential to do a great deal of damage to oneself, the affair partner, the committed partner, and even children, friends, and extended family. Shock, disappointment, and despair replace love and trust. It can take a year, or years, to recover, if recovery takes place at all.
Are you caught up in an affair? A therapist may help you figure things out and regain a healthy state of mind.