3 main elements are usually present when an affair begins—and they usually present themselves in this order:
Dissatisfaction (one or both spouses)
One spouse is dissatisfied with the other due to unspoken or unmet needs. The “cheater” typically does not (or does not know HOW to) make their desires known; hoping their spouse will read their mind. Although this does not make sense logically, it seems to make sense emotionally as unspoken needs are astonishingly common when citing reasons for affairs.
“Unspoken needs” often lead a spouse to feel they have been slighted. Embarrassment (perhaps in recognition of the childishness of expecting their spouse to be psychic) or resentment gives way to anger. Anger is far more pronounced in the case of unmet needs. When a spouse does make a need known—and it remains unmet, the anger deepens. One feels their hurt feelings are justified which is often narcissistic rage. “How dare they know my needs and refuse to meet them? How dare they do this to me?”
Prolonged periods of dissatisfaction (if happy times do not outweigh unhappy times) can drive a wedge between a couple. This anger/rage is part of the fuel in step #3 while it sets the stage for step 2.
Once dissatisfaction has set in, the cheating spouse begins to look for, or create an opportunity to have his or her needs met by a new partner.
Finding Opportunities: Opportunities for an affair are often present, but they normally bounce off the armor of a happy marriage. Dissatisfaction creates chinks in that armor and the unhappy spouse starts to notice how many opportunities for an affair are available. It’s like passing a landmark every day and never noticing until someone points it out. Suddenly, you can’t help but notice it every time you pass by. When the process of noticing opportunities begins, it’s hard to stop—until the dissatisfaction ends.
The worst-case scenario for the end of dissatisfaction would be the beginning of an affair as a way of having one’s needs met instead of resolving the issue with the spouse.
Creating Opportunities: “Harmless” flirting is a common “low-risk” method of testing the waters with minimal risk of rejection. Flirting isn’t truly harmless; the intent behind flirting is to find acceptance (validation) and fill the needs which aren’t being met in the marital relationship.
Rationalizing the Affair
The logical mind does not remain entirely inactive when emotions take control. Those who normally have high moral standards; who would never lie, cheat, or steal seek a way to assuage their guilt when they realize they have violated their spouse’s trust. Anger at the spouse—the catalyst for the affair—fuels one’s self-deception to ease the process of rationalizing the affair. Anger which stemmed from demands which may or may not have been selfish, becomes selfish as the cheating spouse turns to their lover instead of sharing their feelings and affections with their spouse.
Rationalizing further adds to one’s feelings of justification and prolongs the affair.
Preventing the affair
In short, preventing the affair is simple, but can seem like the hardest thing to do for many couples. Talking to one another; sharing feelings and discussing (realistic) expectations (as opposed to selfish demands) provides a solid basis for a happy, healthy relationship. For expert help with your marriage, contact CrossRoads counseling at 317-842-8881.