I know that so many people will just slap your hand, when they learn you are having an affair, and say,
“It’s bad. Don’t do it.”
But there’s just not a whole lot of help in that, is there? Because the need and the desire for the affair will trump well-meaning advice and platitudes every time.
What no one does is look deeply into the reason people have affairs in the first place.
That’s too bad, because everything you can’t see in the beginning will hurt you the most in the end.
1. What the situation appears to be on the surface is almost never the truth, once all the facts are known.
I’m not talking about the platitudes people will give you: “Of course he’s still having sex with his wife!” “If she’ll lie to her husband, she’ll lie to you!”
What I’m talking about goes far deeper than that, and it looks something like the following.
When I embarked upon my emotional affair with a married man, this is what it looked like:
An intelligent, sweet, handsome, rich guy with a beautiful mind, who provided handsomely for his family, suffered in a marriage to a woman who appeared to have guided him into a lucrative career so she could stay home, raise kids, and coast along without offering him any of the closeness he should have been able to expect in a marriage.
It certainly did look as if she didn’t love him and, quite possibly, was using him.
Oh, and don’t let me forget — ! I looked like the person who had worked hard in her life to be able to offer the relationship she didn’t or wouldn’t. So, I’d be the answer to his loneliness, and he could leave that mean old wife for someone who really appreciated him and knew how to treat him.
And in return for that, I, as a person from a legion of family problems who had always struggled in the working world and financially, could actually have a real helpmate in life … finally. And the sort of “normal” life I’d had my nose pressed against the glass watching other people get for forty-six years.
But, as the situation evolved and I learned more, here was what actually existed:
An adult child of an alcoholic grew up with hideously low self-worth. After a series of tragedies involving the deaths of people close to him at a sadly young age, he thought of himself as being unlovable and almost cursed.
Then along came someone who was emotionally hazed in a childhood home that had a lot of problems of its own. This person had been bullied and ignored in childhood so much that she really had lost touch with her own feelings. She also had a yen to control everything around her to try to achieve that comforting, stable home she needed as that sensitive little girl, but didn’t get.
Because he felt unlovable and unworthy, he bent over backwards to please her. Because he’d been treated so poorly in an alcoholic home and empathized so deeply with suffering, he put himself in the place of everyone around him, especially if they were upset, and forgot about himself. Other people always came first. This sat well with the wife, who needed to control, and in the first flush of romance, everything looked fine.
Fast-forward thirty-five years, and what you had was two emotionally constipated people living together, one of whom ruled with an iron fist and felt no need for closeness, and the other of whom thought all relationships were like this, and that, because the one person he’d ever had a relationship with didn’t appear to love him, that meant something was wrong with him, and that proved he really was unlovable.
Add in me, raised by a borderline mother to believe she was unlovable and not good enough to succeed in the world and support herself. I thought, way deep down, that since I couldn’t “save” my mentally ill mother, I’d save someone else instead and that would “prove” I was good enough. In addition, I’d have someone competent to help take care of me since I wasn’t good enough on my own.
Wow, there’s a big difference between those two pictures, isn’t there??
The trouble with affairs is that there is almost always something like these dual processes going on when they get started … and only time will make it clear what the misconceptions we had were, and what the truth really is.
By the time we begin to suspect that truth, we’re already embroiled in a situation where the parties have deep feelings for one another, and a separation will be wrenching. Our initial take on the situation led us to expect one thing … and now it’s much more complicated.
We got together on a wrong assumption, and now there will be hell to pay.
2. There’s a deep, spiritual reason the affair called out to us in the first place.
This is the secret about affairs that nobody, but nobody, gets.
Well … two groups of people do get it.
Those two groups of people are therapists, and occultists. (Yes, I’m talking about astrologers and tarot card readers and the like. The ones worth their salt, I mean.)
In the above scenario, most therapists are trained in the tradition that how we are raised as children molds the template for how we see ourselves, how we see relationships, and how we see ourselves in relationships in adulthood.
A therapist would say, “Well, this man has been raised codependent — so of course he picked a wife who would behave somewhat narcissistically.” Or, “This man was raised with an anxious attachment, so of course he and someone avoidantly attached would find themselves attracted and get together.”
And, of me, “This person was raised to be a rescuer and a fixer. This person is going to trade rescuing and fixing for something she thinks she can’t get out of life on her own. And this person is controlling, too, so, look out!”
Occultists see something else. According to the theories many astrologers, mediums, and card readers subscribe to, we picked our parents before we were born because we intended to have these emotional problems induced in us in childhood. Because we wanted the experience in this lifetime of becoming conscious of what we were choosing and why, rather than unconscious, and of healing ourselves.
We wanted to understand how we were using other people to try to feel whole, and become conscious of that and stop. We wanted to take control of our feelings and thoughts with our own hands, and remold ourselves whole. Instead of choosing someone we thought could do for us what we feel weak in, we picked parents who would leave those holes in us and circumstances, even affairs and broken relationships, that would force us to do what we wanted to do.
We wanted to learn to brace up those broken parts ourselves.
An occultist would subscribe to the theory that we’ve been here many times before and struggled with this very issue our entire lives then. And perhaps this is the life we chose in which to finally master it.
So we’re here, having this awful, terrible, painful experience … because we’re so slow nothing else would get our attention.
(Actually, I think the therapy crowd would agree on at least some of these points.)
3. Most of the time, people engage in an affair because they’re struggling with a process of deep personal change.
We’re talking about scary change like, “How can I feel worthy when I’ve chosen someone who treats me as if I am unworthy, and society says I have to stay with them at all costs? Who is right, society or me? When is it okay to leave and why?”
“What did I bury in childhood that I need today, and how can I recover it? Why do I need it, if it protects me from pain to leave it there?”
“I need to feel competent to handle life alone, but all my life experiences have told me I’m not.”
“Who’s more important, grown family members and children over thirty-five, or my own needs? Especially when I’m almost a senior citizen now, and this is my last chance to be happy.”
“How can I save myself, and yet keep relationships that are meaningful to me alive, when those people don’t understand what’s really going on? If they cut me off, who’s more important to me? Me, or them?”
The problem with people struggling with lifelong issues about worth and relationships is that deep personal change can take many, many years, and a lot of unforeseen feelings show up.
They know how they feel about you, but then — ohhh!
This or that comes up with their child, and that sparks issues they haven’t thought about. And the process of how to manage that relationship while also keeping yours isn’t something they’ve thought about.
People can overreact, going back and forth, back and forth between relationships, because other people’s reactions are scary and they haven’t thought about sitting down with a therapist. Slowly and carefully coming up with a strong, consistent position and direction that might allow them to leave a burdensome marriage, say, and yet weather the storm from family.
So they break up with you, and then they regret it. And you break up and get back together something like ten times. Or they say they will leave, yet things go on for five years and they never do.
This makes the person unreliable, because they don’t know where they will end up and neither can you. And while you’re focusing on your angst about the uncertainty, you aren’t healing your issues and you might be holding them back in healing theirs.
You might be demanding instead of supportive, because you’re using them for a security you need to develop inside yourself.
Nobody expects this when affairs happen, but this is often what occurs as a person struggles toward a new understanding of how to run relationships while taking their own needs into account.
Often, too much strain breaks one or both relationships apart before the change and the growth in the person is done.
This is one big reason affairs often break up bad marriages, but the affair doesn’t survive, and both parties end up marrying someone completely new.
No, no one expects these outcomes when they strike up something with a married person. But they are extremely common, even when all three parties are decent people and no one is narcissistically using anyone else.
No one else will tell you these truths about affairs, but since I had my heart broken six years ago in one and researched the shit out of affairs ever since, I am here to let you know about these.
Ask a few questions about everyone’s childhoods and see if you can’t identify a scenario like one of these coming down the pike.
Chances are, you can.