Does cheating 'just happen?' We ask an expert
Janice, wife and mother, was content with her family life. Outside from squabbling over recent parenting issues with husband Gary concerning their teenage son, Janice generally considered her life smooth-sailing and comfortable.
Little did Janice know that in two weeks time, everything she knew her life to be would drastically shatter into irreparable pieces.
One afternoon, while Janice was out having a long overdue lunch with her girl friends, one of them suddenly realized that Janice didn’t have her own Facebook account. They teased, Janice laughed, and after much convincing, Janice finally agreed to to set up her own account.
Facebook profile: done. Then a friend asked, “Wait, does Gary have Facebook, too?”
To this question, Janice shrugged. Her friends quickly searched for her husband’s name on Facebook. Shortly after finding his profile, incredulous reactions of confusion and shock circulated the table.
Pictures at wild parties, downing multiple after-work drinks… even solo pictures with a very young, unknown woman greeted Janice and her friends. One click on this unidentified woman’s tagged name was all it took to send Janice’s life downhill.
On that woman’s profile was Janice’s husband’s name, right next to “In a Relationship."
‘It was like my world ended’
Naturally, devastation, humiliation, and utter disbelief flooded Janice in waves. Upon her "accidental" online discovery of Gary’s infidelity, questions and cries of not understanding the situation came, as well as unsaid plights and painful reflections about their marriage.
So what was Janice and Gary’s relationship really like?
“Life has not been bad for us,” Janice said. “But there’s always been ‘something’ about our marriage. I am not sure what it was, but we were just never close.” “My husbands travels a lot for work. He is constantly angry with me for not trying to relate to his parents. He says I am too strict with the children and too strict with him.”
“For me, everything has to be planned and organised, and he is tired of it. He is just constantly annoyed and irritated by me.”
“A girl friend told me to check his phone and emails before. She does that with her husband because she always has this ‘feeling.’ I didn’t really want to do that. But two years ago, the same friend told me she saw Gary in a car with another woman but just didn’t know how to tell me.”
“It was like my world ended,” Janice said. “How can he do this to me? How could he when he talks so highly of fidelity and commitment? He comes from a conservative family who prides themselves in being model citizens.”
Burning questions ran through Janice’s mind. What went wrong? Where did either Gary or Janice go wrong in the relationship?
Lissy Ann Puno, M.A., relationship counselor and psychologist and author of Affairs Don't Just Happen, joined Rappler for a chat to shed some light on the topsy-turvy world of infidelity.
Defining an “affair” and its different types
What is an affair at its most basic definition?
“It is when something else is receiving the care and attention that rightfully belongs to the marriage, and the relationship is hurting because of it,” Lissy Ann said, quoting Mr. H. Norman Wright in her book.
An affair typically takes on either two forms: sexual and emotional. “A sexual affair is a liaison between a committed person and someone other than his/her partner that involves sexual contact with no emotional involvement,” Lissy Ann explained. On the other hand, emotional cheating is defined as an “emotionally and possibly sexually intimate bond between a committed person and someone who isn’t his/her partner.”
Lissy said that in this type of relationship, the parties have grown a certain level of “attachment” to one another, latching on to the “belief” that they have fallen in love with each other.
Most would say they’ve found “fulfilment and satisfaction” in their extra-marital relationship together, deeming emotional cheating far “worse” than the former for others.
According to Lissy Ann, this type of affair usually creates stronger, longer-lasting bonds between the two lovers than sexual affairs would normally do.
But the main question is: Do affairs really “just happen?” Are there warning signs to watch out for? Common reasons? A formula?
The verdict: Affairs don’t “just happen”
It doesn’t matter if it occurs in just one night or over a longer period, or for no other reason but “It just happened, I don’t know what came over me” – the choice was still made, and an underlying need was still begging to be paid attention to.
Affairs happen because of two main factors that put the relationship already at risk, Lissy Ann said, and these two culprits are emotional readiness and timely opportunities. “An unforeseen situation in one’s life may suddenly cause you to become vulnerable to what the outside world outside of your marriage can offer you,” she said.
Circumstances like the loss of a loved one, big life adjustment, work stress, constant relationship troubles, and even personal insecurities make you more susceptible to finding things or people that may offer you a welcome distraction from the uncomfortable feelings these problems bring – like a shinier, “newer” person who just so happens to be conveniently present at that vulnerable moment.
It’s perfectly normal for everyone to have personal needs to be met, problems and issues to be addressed, and feelings to be expressed in a relationship.
The problem lies in not openly communicating any of these with your partner.
When various individual needs and frustrations are not shared, they brew and bubble up inside, with no hopes of being met. This may lead to animosity towards your partner and to the relationship you share, because you may start to believe that he/she isn’t conscious of your needs.
“Being aware of these will enable you to consciously avoid the risk in your relationship by addressing and resolving potential problems with your partner from their onset,” Lissy Ann said.
Janice and Gary: What went wrong?
Going back to Janice and Gary – what could have possibly led to their relationship’s demise?
Janice mentioned not being “close” to her husband. He traveled a lot for work, was always angry with her for not being able to relate to her parents, and believed she was too strict on him and the kids.
“Lack of emotional closeness, unresolved issues in their lives that created irritations and annoyances, even personality differences that were not discussed or resolved,” Lissy Ann said.
“When you immediately have a ‘sense’ that something is ‘not right’ in your relationship, work on it,” Lissy Ann said. “Or even, just try to understand how to.”
Janice, like many other cheated-on partners, claim to be caught by total surprise, being the proverbial “last to know.” They just “never knew what hit them.” “They may be too busy, too distracted, and too immersed in the children,” Lissy Ann added.
Affairs: How do they happen in relationships?
“The way life is set up today in terms of convenience, availability, and opportunity, it is actually easy for one partner to create and hide a secret life for years without the other knowing,” Lissy Ann said.
According to Lissy Ann, partners who are highly independent, to the point of not even “needing” one another anymore, put their relationship at higher risk for affairs.
It’s normal to have separate friendships, to go out on your own, and not share everything in common, but when neither partner is no longer interested in what the other is up to, the risk begins to present itself. “As a couple starts paying less and less attention to one another, that secret life has a chance to grow,” Lissy Ann warned.
It’s not so much having your partner on a leash (because trust and respect is still the foundation of a healthy relationship), but rather, slowly ignoring your partner in the process, growing numb to his/her and the relationship’s needs.
She also shares spoken statements to be on your guard for:
- “Let’s keep our individual, private lives separate.”
- “It hurts that you don’t need me.”
- “I don’t know what I want. I feel like I am falling out of love.”
- “It’s nothing. We’re just friends.”
- “I need time for myself.”
The why’s of emotional and sexual affairs
What would drive someone to emotionally cheat on their partner?
“An emotional affair has at its main component a passionate, all-consuming emotion,” Lissy Ann explained. “This may arise from a dysfunctional need of the straying partner, such as dependence, insecurity, attachment, anxiety or depression.”
Lissy Ann said that it’s easy to mistake this type of affair for "love," because of its intensity and strong pull towards the third party. “Those in an emotional affair are usually observed to be reckless, unrealistic, compelling, obsessive and demanding.”
What about for those who engage in sexual affairs?
“A sexual affair is mainly about physical intimacy and pleasure. It is all about what their bodies feel and need, so there is not much need to talk or communicate,” Lissy Ann said. “For those with limited sexual experiences, such an affair can be seen as experimental or adventurous. It is described as fun, passionate, and filled with adventure.”
Lissy Ann added that the betraying partner sometimes does not see this affair as a threat to the relationship in any way. “The lovers do not have day-to-day contact, but just casual meet-ups for sex with no demands – just filled with arousal, fantasy, tenderness, thrill, eroticism, and desire.”
Common reasons for affairs
Lissy Ann listed common personal reasons people seeking a third party may have:
- The need to be admired and needed again
- Wanting to feel affirmed and understood
- Craving for fun and excitement
- Seeking the thrill of breaking the rules
- Having more shared interests with someone else
Ultimately, an affair reflects an unmet need, which widens into a void. “When this void is unattended to, a chance meeting that touches this need or void suddenly feels so good, and before you know it, you’re hooked.”
Warning signs to watch out for
According to Lissy Ann, these are a few changes in behavior you can be on high-alert for:
- Out-of-character behavior, changes in normal behavior
- Changes in use of phones, gadgets, and social media
- Changes in level of intimacy
- Email, text clues
- Changes in spending habits
- Unusual reactions or hints from friends
- Changes in work schedule or unaccountable time
“It doesn’t just happen to ‘sad couples’”, Lissy Ann said. “There is no rule on affairs. It can happen to anyone.”
Whatever the circumstances, infidelity in a relationship undoubtedly changes one’s life for the worse, much more for the affected party who can only describe the sheer pain and devastation this act of betrayal brings.
Lissy Ann, however, helps us view this (unfortunately) worldwide phenomenon through a different perspective, reassuring us that yes, affairs do happen, but not quite so "randomly," as others may claim they do.
Being aware and sensitive of your partner's needs, practicing transparent, honest communication, and constantly working hand-in-hand towards a healthy relationship can help safeguard your love from the painful experience that is an affair. – Rappler.com
Lissy Ann A. Puno, M.A.'s book, Affairs Don't Just Happen, delves into the commonplace of affairs and the warning signs to watch out for, underlying needs to be aware of and understood, and affirming, caring and loving ways to safeguard a relationship.