The first question that comes to mind when a spouse cheats is: why? A study by the University of Guelph in Canada attempted to answer that question and found that the reasons behind infidelity differ greatly between the sexes. For men, it’s typically about sex – the more sexually excitable they are, the more likely they are to cheat. For women, it’s more about the level of satisfaction in a relationship; if a woman is unhappy in her marriage, she’s 2,6 times more likely to cheat.
Regardless of the reason, one thing is certain: infidelity is devastating. Often, being unfaithful brings some long-hidden relationship problems to light. ‘In many cases, it forces issues to the surface of a relationship that would have never otherwise been dealt with,’ says Kevin Hansen, author of Secret Regrets: What If You Had A Second Chance? Read on to discover what these five women learnt through their personal experiences with infidelity.
Reason #1: ‘My husband was abusive, and I wanted comfort.’
‘From the day I married my husband, I knew it was a mistake,’ says 50-year-old Elizabeth*. ‘He was abusive, controlling, and expected me to quit my job to make a home for him.’ A little over a year into the marriage, she began having an affair with a man she worked with. ‘I had no illusions that I was in love but it was eye-opening to be with someone who made me feel good about myself, made me laugh and respected me for who I was – not who he wanted me to be,’ she says. ‘The affair helped me find myself and proved to me I could live a life independent of my husband. It also gave me the courage to ask for a divorce. Twenty-five years later, I’m married to a wonderful man. We love making each other happy and never try to change who the other person is.’
A takeaway: The confidence she gained from her affair may have given Elizabeth the spark she needed to get out of a bad relationship but deception is not the best way to deal with an abusive relationship, says psychologist Michael E Silverman. Get help first from a trusted friend, family member or therapist instead.
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Reason #2: ‘I changed my mind about having kids, and we began to resent each other.’
When Vanessa*, 28, married her husband six years ago, they both couldn’t wait to have children. But after their wedding day, something changed for her. ‘I started to really love my job, and kids didn’t seem to fit into the picture,’ she says. Her husband was hurt by her change of heart and began to resent her. ‘We started fighting a lot. I resented him for resenting me and we were just constantly hurting each other,’ she says. ‘One night I caught him trying to slip off the condom and that was pretty much the end of our sex life.’ Ultimately, the lack of intimacy led Vanessa to cheat. ‘I met a guy online and we dated for about a year,’ she says. ‘It ended when my husband caught me.’ Vanessa and her husband agreed to seek therapy separately and together, and were able to save their marriage. ‘The biggest lesson I learnt was that if I was unhappy in my marriage, my husband was only 50% to blame,’ she says.
A takeaway: The fact that there was unaddressed anger in the relationship created fertile ground for an affair, says Silverman. ‘With the lack of sexual intimacy, there was nothing left to hang a relationship on,’ he says. He emphasises the importance of open and honest communication in a relationship as a way for a couple to stay connected – before one of the spouses seeks comfort or intimacy outside of the marriage.
Reason #3: ‘I was bored and unhappy.’
At 35 years old, Barbara Gisborne was living the American dream. She lived in Wisconsin, with her loving husband and two children – but she was miserable. ‘My husband was a good man but I was bored inside and out,’ she says. ‘In our community, I always felt like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.’ That year, she was in Chicago on business and met Bob, an Australian man, in a lift. ‘We had an instant connection. We exchanged numbers, kept in touch, and I decided to fly out to Australia to see him and get him out of my system,’ she says. ‘Instead, I fell in love.’ She left everything she knew – her home town, her husband, her job and her country – to start her life over with Bob in Australia. ‘I became strong, independent, confident and much worldlier,’ she says. ‘That was 25 years ago and now I can say that my affair was the turning point in my life’s journey. Today, Bob and I are married, own a winery in Australia, and have five children and 10 grandchildren between us.’
A takeaway: Though Barbara’s story ended up with a ‘happily ever after’, that’s not often the case when it comes to infidelity, which is why Silverman suggests looking inside yourself if you’re unhappy or bored with your relationship. ‘Healthy relationships grow and evolve, and feeling bored is a symptom of relationship stagnation,’ he says. ‘Rather than having an affair, increase the romance, change habitual patterns within the relationship, and communicate more about your feelings and needs.’ Before making over her life, Barbara may have changed the pace by booking an exotic vacation with her husband or girlfriends, or discussed moving to a new city and starting over.
Reason #4: ‘My husband was a workaholic.’
For 10 years, 49-year-old Barbara Singer created a life independent of her husband because he was never around. ‘Gary was totally consumed and exhausted by his work – there was nothing left for me,’ she says. ‘I was totally committed to my family and gave it my all, but knew in my heart that I did not want this for rest of my life.’ One night, she met up with Tom, an acquaintance, and ended up staying out all night with him. Within a few weeks, she ended her marriage; two years later, she and Tom were married. But within a month, he died of a heart attack. ‘Meeting Tom was the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. He came into my life and woke me up, showing me that life is precious and that at any given moment, it can all be taken away – so if I have a dream or a goal, I better get moving on it,’ she says.
A takeaway: ‘Barbara felt alone for many years, and feeling disconnected from your partner is the genesis of most of the affairs I see in my practice,’ says Silverman. The remedy? Speak up and begin a dialogue with your partner. Engaging in open, honest communication about each person’s needs is the key to help a stalled marriage.
Reason #5: ‘He was unfaithful first.’
Larie Norvell had only been married for about a year when she found out that her husband had cheated on her. ‘I was very angry but I was also very hurt, because I felt like I wasn’t enough for him – like there was something I wasn’t doing for him as his wife, which is why he felt the need to go outside of our marriage,’ says the 33-year-old. That jumble of mixed emotions was the impetus for her affair. ‘I cheated on him – mostly for revenge, but in retrospect it was also because I wanted validation. I wanted to know that I was still desirable to other men,’ she says. Once her affair was discovered, the couple separated for a few months – but then began counselling and were able to salvage their marriage.
A takeaway: Retribution is a common feeling when someone has been betrayed, says Silverman. ‘Anger can be quite powerful in clouding one’s judgment,’ he says, which is why he urges any couple dealing with infidelity to seek counselling. Fortunately for Larie, her relationship endured the double deception. ‘The biggest lesson we’ve learnt through all the struggles in 14,5 years is that we are enough for each other,’ she says.
* Name has been changed.
This article was originally published on Cosmopolitan.com