Part XII: Why?
Why did he cheat on me? That’s the million-dollar question for any betrayed spouse. Unfortunately, the unfaithful partner may not have keen insight into the “why,” at least not initially. After we embarked on the journey of counseling, my man began the excruciating work of self-reflection and only then was he able to get to the underlying reasons for the choices that drove his behaviors
I think it’s crucial to know and understand what motivates infidelity for three reasons: (1) it can prevent future affairs, (2) increases marital intimacy, and (3) facilitates relationship recovery. Affairs are the result of woundedness and character deficits (lack of honor, integrity and honesty) in the person committing the act. These need to be addressed to heal properly as a couple, especially if your goal is to be stronger post-affair than pre-affair.
There were three people in my marriage for 16 weeks. Even after the affair partner exited, infidelity remained in the relationship, looming heavily in the room as if it were a person. Ever present, infidelity was sucking the joy of life from me. The only way to kick this nightmare from my life was to make sense of my husband’s betrayal and the only way I could do that was to understand “why?” Why did he do it? Was I not good enough, pretty enough or thin enough? He ALWAYS assured me I was beautiful, sexy and desirable to him. But affairs are not about looks or even sex. In my husband’s words, this affair was about filling a void that I had left. She paid him the attention he was lacking at home.
Men and women cheat for different reasons based on which of their perceived needs are not being met in the primary relationship. I am not going to get into all of those differences; I am going to keep things in the context of my own experience with adultery. I will begin by examining the differences between presenting and root problems. In the next article (Surface & Root) I will discuss the reasons why my husband said he cheated. Finally, I will discuss the root problems he uncovered that ultimately drove his decision to be unfaithful.
In nearly all of my cases, I have noticed a common trend: the presenting issue (reason why someone came to counseling) is never the actual problem. I see problems in two broad categories: surface and root. In the context of adultery, it looks something like this:
- Surface– This is what motivated the couple to come to therapy. The reasons given might include: affair, deception, primary relationship troubles, disconnect in the marriage, poor communication, fell out of love, apathy, sexual dysfunction, emotional abandonment, incompatible, etc. Some of these issues may run deep, but they are not the root problem. They do need addressing and based on the counselor’s therapeutic framework used, these issues will typically receive the greatest amount of attention.
- Root– Root problems drive surface problems. Examples of root problems include: family of origin issues (e.g. cleaving to parents/siblings instead of spouse), sexual trauma, trauma from childhood (such as abuse) or past relationship issues (such as betrayal) unresolved anger or bitterness, insecurities, narcissism, etc. Resolving these problems requires deep introspection and getting under the covers of what is driving your behaviors. It takes a brave soul to venture into these dark corners of your heart. An experienced licensed and trained therapist will help you successfully navigate the journey.