How and Why Do Affairs Happen?

I often get correspondence from people who are struggling to understand how and why their spouse had an affair. I’ll often hear things like: “I just can not understand how my typically conservative husband could have carried on with someone who he wouldn’t have typically noticed. How in the world could this have happened?” Or, “my husband has always been a family man and someone who played by the rules. He’s never engaged in risky behavior before. What in the world would cause him to do this?” One more example is: “I never thought that I would have one of those marriages that struggles with infidelity. I know that my husband loves me. I know that my marriage was a good one. So, why are we in this situation? I just don’t understand how this affair could have happened to us.”

I understand all of these questions as I had them myself. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I can share with you what I’ve learned through experience and through research. In the following article, I’ll give you my take on why affairs happen – and why they can happen even to good spouses and to good, happy marriages.

People Rarely Intend To Have An Affair: Often, in talking with the faithful spouse, it becomes relatively obvious to me that the the faithful spouse thinks that the cheating spouse saw the affair coming from a mile away and did nothing to stop it. Or, they’ll think that their spouse set up the behaviors and actions that lead to the affair. They often think that their spouse was the pursuer while the “other woman” or “other man” was the innocent party.

This isn’t always the case. In fact, many cheating spouses have told me that the fact that they had an affair surprised them every bit as much as it surprised their spouse. I often hear things like: “I never thought I would cheat on my spouse and I certainly didn’t intend to. I did not plan this. I did not wake up that morning and say ‘hey, I think I’ll ruin my married life today.’ I wish I could take all this back and could make my spouse understand that this certainly wasn’t premeditated.”

In fact, many affairs happen in a time of crisis. Sometimes there is a job loss. Sometimes there is a sick child. Sometimes, the cheating spouse is mourning the loss of their youth or their strength. Sometimes the marriage is struggling. And, sometimes, everything is fine and the affair seemingly comes out of the blue. (This usually happens when the cheating spouse has been greatly suppressing their feelings or problems.) Whatever the reason, the cheating often takes both parties by surprise even if it was a gradual thing that built up over time and most certainly should have been obvious.

An Affair Usually Starts Out Innocently Enough: Many affairs happen at work or at school. Usually, your spouse has to work closely with someone and a working relationship is formed. It’s not even unusual for the other person to be someone that you’ve known very well and have even liked or loved. And usually, your spouse isn’t on their guard because, at least at first, the relationship is completely innocent and appropriate.

But, at some point, something usually happens that brings the two of them closer together. A crises might happen at work so that they have to pull together or save the day. Your spouse might be helping the other person “work through” issues of their own. The point is, typically everything is going along fine and appropriately until, at some point, something has a profound change on their relationship that causes them to become closer or more invested.

I know what you might be thinking (because I had the same thought process.) I’ll bet you’re thinking something like: “well at that point my spouse should have seen the relationship changing and should have pulled back and put a stop to it.” You’re right. They should have. But often, they will try to downplay what is happening and will tell themselves that they have this completely under control and that it’s all innocent. This usually goes on until it becomes obvious that they were wrong.

Crossing The Line: The Beginning Of The Affair: As I said, few people set out to have an affair. Many times, they are surprised and overwhelmed when it actually happens. Even when it’s obvious where things are going, most cheating spouses insist that they didn’t see it coming or they didn’t mean for it to happen.

And usually, their crossing that line is an impulsive act by one of the parties. I often hear it described something like this: “It happened so fast. It was over very quickly and by then my mind was just racing. I wasn’t thinking clearly and afterward, on the way home, I was shaking because I could not believe what I had done. I had a hard time acting normally in front of my spouse.”

Many faithful spouses will interrupt my explanations (which I completely understand) and will say things like: “Well, it really should have only happened one time. At that point, he should have cut off contact with her rather than continuing on.” Yes, he should have. And often, he will tell himself that he is going to. In fact, sometimes the second encounter happens when he thinks (at least in his own mind) that he’s going to tell her it was a mistake and is going to attempt to break it off. And yet, somehow he finds himself continuing on.

Obviously, I can’t see inside the mind and heart of your spouse. But, many people in this situation tell me that they were so confused and mixed up. They will often also say that the other person pressured them. And, many will tell me that the affair provided some sort of pay off whether it was the release of stress or the confirmation that someone wanted and understood them. Of course, as someone who has been cheated on, this can be hard to hear. You have to resist the urge to say things like “well you are an adult who had a choice not to give in to impulses.” But really, this doesn’t do any good.

It is important to understand why and how the affair happened. This knowledge is important because it shows you where you might recover and make some changes. But, you might never understand the small nuances or thought processes of someone else. And usually, you will have better results if you focus more on the outcome and the healing than on the things that you might not fully understand because you yourself would’ve acted much differently, although you must certainly deserve some answers

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