Why did my spouse have an affair? If you’re asking this question, it’s likely that you’ve painfully discovered that infidelity does not only happen to those in unhappy marriages. A happy marriage is not necessarily protective against being attracted to someone outside of marriage. In her book, Not ‘Just Friends,’ Dr. Shirley Glass references a Redbook survey where half of the 100,000 women surveyed disclosed they were “happily married and sexually satisfied with their husband” when they cheated. This statistic leaves us wondering: if dissonance in the relationship didn’t lead your spouse to have an affair, then what did?
1. Unrealistic Expectations
In contrast to the past, when gender roles and marital expectations may have been more limited and utilitarian (e.g. hunting, churning butter), people in present day Western culture more often hold unrealistic expectations that a spouse will meet needs beyond the capacity of one person. “Both husbands and wives are looking to their spouses for love, companionship, intellectual stimulation, emotional support, and great sex in the high stress environment of dual careers and Little League carpools.”Some become unfaithful when they begin to dwell on the expectations that are not being satisfied by their spouse. They then seek an individual to fulfill them, regardless of whether the other person simultaneously offers qualities they already have in their spouse. “A common vulnerability leading to infidelity is the disillusionment that develops when expectations about marriage are not met. Individuals with high expectations can be easily dissatisfied because they expect more than any one relationship can reasonably provide. Unrealistically high expectations can lead to affairs, just as undeniably bad marriages can.”
Men and women seem to differ regarding the role dissatisfaction plays in extramarital affairs. Of the responses Glass received to a survey of people who had committed adultery, 56 percent of men and 34 percent of women said their marriages were happy. Women more often stray when dissatisfied with their marriages. For men, however, the dissatisfaction comes after the affair had begun and they begin to compare their extramarital relationship to their spousal relationship.
Adam and Eve provide a good example of this in the Garden of Eden. There is no indication in Scripture that they were experiencing dissatisfaction. However, they were willing to risk losing the myriad of delights offered by living in paradise and having an intimate relationship with God, all for the sake of obtaining the one thing they thought they were missing.
2. Unsatisfying Sex
It seems wives and husbands use different measures to gauge their satisfaction with their sexual relationship. For men, it is often based on how often it occurs, whereas women judge on the quality of the sexual relationship. Therefore, men may seek an affair to have more sex. However, women may have an affair to replace what seems to be lacking in the couple’s sexual relationship. Consequently, unfaithful husbands often make no changes to marital sex, while unfaithful wives frequently withdraw sexually from their partners.
Unfortunately, some people falsely conclude that a change in sexual passion indicates the spark has left the marriage. Hence, the intensity of an affair can fool the adulterous spouse into thinking that their lover is better suited then their spouse. “It is unfair to compare the sexual warmth of a long-term marriage with the sizzling chemistry of a new forbidden relationship. Although marriage does not have the same kind of ‘instant hot’ as an affair, a good marriage combines sexual sensitivity and special meaning in lovemaking that can be like playing a familiar but subtly nuanced concerto on a cherished musical instrument.”
3. Relationship Balance
Spouses can stray because they are giving too much or too little to the relationship. One spouse may feel that they are being taken advantage of. Another may be contributing little because their foot has already stepped out the door. Sacrificial spouses often take a longer time to be unfaithful because they have invested so much of themselves into the relationship. They would rather put more into it, with the hope that there becomes a return on the investment, rather than to withdraw and lose altogether.
Marriage requires give-and-take. Each spouse ends up taking on specific tasks according to their skills, gifts, or simply for logistical reasons. For example, one may manage the kids’ school schedule and homework, another may be the one who most often cares for the yard. At times the give-and-take goes through seasons, where one needs to pick up slack for his or her spouse. However, it is not sustainable if one carries the bulk of the load, while the other meanders along. Doing everything for a spouse takes their skin out of the game, so to speak. It also robs the partner of the opportunity to participate in the challenge and commitment of marriage.
4. Power Struggles
Everyone wants credit for their work. Every marriage requires team effort and most would like to be acknowledged for their accomplishments. This might require, however, a shift of perspective in understanding what 50-50 really looks like.
Marriages can sometimes be challenged by real or perceived imbalances of power. As an example, one spouse may primarily fulfill duties at home, caring for the children and preparing meals while the other generates income outside of the home. This may cause the breadwinner to feel that they do not get the respect deserved for being the main financial provider. Likewise, the spouse at home may feel underappreciated for how much hard work is put in at home all day.
In this type of situation, Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians about spiritual gifts can help (1 Corinthians 12). Each spouse brings different skills and contributions to the relationship. Some contributions may bring more prestige than others, but all are required for the job to be accomplished. Power struggles over role recognition disregards God’s design for cooperation. There is not a more important part of the marital “body.”
At times, “more powerful partners can feel entitled to indulge in the available alternatives without seriously considering the feelings of their partner. Conversely, less powerful partners can feel resentful and attempt to get even by having an affair.”
Triangles occur when a spouse allows someone or something to draw the majority of their time and attention away from their marriage. Glass describes this with the formula, “2 against 1 = 4.” Here’s an example:
Kendra and Marcus are married, without kids, and both working full-time. Whenever Kendra is not working, she spends all her time in her workshop blowing glass. This causes Marcus to feel lonely and neglected. It also heightens his gratefulness for his coworker, Sheila, who loves to watch the same TV show that he likes. Marcus joyfully anticipates conversations about the show with Sheila.
This is what Glass means by “2 against 1 = 4.” Kendra and her glasswork are two against Marcus. If this continues unchecked, Marcus’s relationship with Sheila will likely fill the gap. Kendra probably doesn’t intend to make Marcus feel like she is “leaving him” for her hobby. But it does leave him feeling unable to compete. He then goes looking for someone who will pay attention to him. This scenario can repeat itself when one spouse sacrifices time for the marriage in lieu of commitments to work, caring for children, or devotion to extended family.
Christian Counseling Can Help You Recover from Infidelity and Affairs
Staying connected in marriage is hard work. In the early days, you seem unable to get enough of each other. However, as time marches on it is easy to become satiated and take one another for granted. After a while, it becomes easy to view your spouse as a useful appliance – sitting aside somewhere and accessed only when needed for a particular task. A Christian counselor in Spokane can help spouses put safeguards in place to ensure quality, meaningful time with each other amidst life’s demands. If your marriage has already experienced the damaging effects of an affair, a Christian Infidelity counselor can help spouses heal from infidelity and reestablish their marriage to a wholesome, life-giving union.
NOT ‘Just Friends’ by Shirley P. Glass, Ph.D with Jean Coppock Staeheli
“Wordless,” courtesy of Alice Donovan Rouse, unsplash.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Hold My Hand,” courtesy of freestocks.org, unsplash.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “I’m Sorry,” courtesy of Kelly Sikkema, unsplash.com, CC0 Public Domain License