Understanding Adultery

When couples learn smart heart skills, marriage can survive an affair.
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Understanding Adultery

An excerpt from Make Up, Don't Break Up by Bonnie Eaker-Weil, PhD (Adams Media Corporation, 2000).

My professional experience has convinced me that most marriages can survive and even prosper after a betrayal, if the couple is willing to do what's needed--possibly even break up to make up. Remember, second marriages are higher in divorce and adultery than first marriages, so it's worth trying to work it out before you walk away.

My theory for adultery is very different from the mainstream way of thinking, but I have seen it proven in my family therapy practice so many times now that I know it has great merit. Ninety-eight percent of the couples in my practice who experience adultery make up and stay together with Smart Heart Skills. If they can do it; you can do it, too!

First of all, I believe that adultery is most often the result of an inherited emotional behavior pattern, rather than a desire to be unfaithful. The adulterer is trying desperately to finish his childhood and heal his wounds. Sometimes these wounds occur because of adultery or some form of betrayal in the family of origin that has been passed down from generation to generation. The adulterer is trying to finish his (or her) developmental stage through the affair, instead of with his partner. You can help prevent adultery by knowing the stage your partner is stuck in, and helping him to heal those wounds and rewire his circuits so he doesn't look elsewhere. Taking this preventive measure gives you both a second chance to make your marriage better. Taking this step after adultery has occurred gives you a second chance to rewrite your relationship scripts and move on together.

When I discuss infidelity I am talking about any breach of trust between two people who are committed to one another. Any activity or relationship that drains too much time and energy from life with your partner is a form of unfaithfulness.

Contrary to its salacious image, adultery is rarely about sex. In fact, sometimes the sex adulterers have in their marriage is more fulfilling. The reasons for seeking the new person are usually emotional, not physical. Rather than simply seeking sex, the betrayer is living out an emotional compulsion to heal the past by repeating it. Some of the most devastating affairs are those "affairs of the heart" where no sex is involved, but one partner's intense emotional connection with a third person creates a cavernous rift in the relationship that bears the same feelings of betrayal and abandonment that follow a sexual affair. Many of these types of affairs are rampant on the Internet today and may never be acted out sexually.

The two percent of my patients who have not been helped by therapy alone are those with the deadly combination of both the biochemical craving and emotional emptiness. We can no longer view adultery as having just an emotional inheritance. Just as with the alcoholic's physical craving for alcohol, it's time we treated adultery as a disease.

  • An affair is a cry for help. It shakes you to wake you, reverberating throughout the system. Only people who are in some kind of emotional pain commit adultery. (Sometimes the pain is because they were not in love when they married, and still are not.)
  • The affair is not the predominant problem in the relationship, but rather a symptom of mutual disconnection, emptiness, and a lack of intimacy in the relationship that the affair is masking.
  • An affair is a triangle to avoid or deny problems in the relationship that must be faced and resolved. Two people in a relationship unconsciously collude to have an affair.
  • An affair is not therapeutic in the long run, While some may believe that taking a lover will resolve or improve their problems with their spouse, you cannot fix what's wrong in a relationship by adding another complication. It only gives you another problem.
  • The goal of healing comes from both the betrayed and the betrayer accepting and taking responsibility for the affair. They should envision an "equal sign" between them, both seeing their part.
  • For many couples, adultery is the necessary obstacle they must overcome in order for them to stop being polite and start fighting so they can have passion and learn to communicate, to be intimate, and to connect and bond.

Continued on page 2:  Affairs Are the Result of "Checking Out"


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