"I didn't mean to have an affair, it just happened."

Having been a therapist for a very long time has afforded me the opportunity to meet    people from all walks of life with varied opinions, personalities, strengths and idiosyncratic quirks. I’m never bored, rarely shocked and almost never angered. But take note, the operative word here is “almost.”

I have lost count of the number of times when a spouse who’s been unfaithful says, “I wasn’t looking for an affair, it just happened.” It’s as if these people were simply going about their day, minding their own business and alas, they suddenly find themselves stark naked in hotel rooms having breathless, passionate sex as if there’s no tomorrow. It just happens? Uh, I don’t think so.

Affairs aren’t spontaneous; they require careful planning and decision-making. Often, the choices people make that pave the way for an affair- dinner with a co-worker, meeting an old boyfriend or girlfriend for a drink after work just to catch up, having lunch with an attractive, single neighbor on a regular basis or sending a lengthy Christmas update to a long lost heart throb- can seem relatively innocent. But one dinner date or late night conversation often leads to another and another and another. The talk becomes more personal. Confessions of marital dissatisfaction bubble to the surface prompting empathy and support. People tell themselves, “I just needed someone to talk to. I wanted input from someone of the opposite sex.” But you don’t need a degree in psychology to know that the implicit message in these conversations is, “I’m unhappily married. Want to fool around?” You can tell yourself that you’re not doing anything wrong, but the truth is, it’s a sheer, slippery slope.

Then there is alcohol, the inhibition-buster that “made me do it.” And while it’s true that many a bad decision has been made while under the influence, unless like teenagers in Cancun on spring break, people’s mouths are forced open and alcohol poured down their throats, having a drink is a decision. Having two drinks is two decisions. You can do the math on the rest of the story.

What about bad marriages? Don’t they justify being unfaithful? After all, life is short. We only have one go around, right? What’s always amazed me is how differently people react to similar circumstances. I’ve met people whose spouses refused to have sex for years and although that made them miserable, they simply could not cheat. I’ve met other people who, when their relationships hit predictable bumps in the road, rather than work things out, they sought comfort in the arms of strangers. Unhappy marriages don’t cause infidelity. Being unfaithful causes infidelity.

Nevertheless, life is short and feeling lonely in marriage is no way to live. But dulling one’s pain through the instant gratification of hot sex or emotional closeness with someone who doesn’t argue with you about bills, children or the in-laws isn’t an effective or lasting way to fix what’s wrong. In fact, infidelity complicates life enormously for everyone involved, a fact that should not be minimized when planning the next “just friends” Starbucks break.

People who say their affairs just happened aren’t necessarily intentionally trying to cover their asses or justify their behavior; they often truly believe what they’re saying. They simply lack insight or awareness of the ways in which their actions, however subtle, have created their current predicaments. But in the same way that affairs don’t just happen, neither does healing from betrayal. Unless those who have strayed look inward and take personal responsible for the paths their lives have taken, they will not be able to get back on track when they’ve gotten derailed. In my view, being unconscious just doesn’t cut it.

Michele Weiner Davis is the creator of the Divorce Busting Centers, learn more on how you can solve marriage problems and stop divorce. Follow me on Twitter @divorcebusting, add my Divorce Busting Facebook Page, and subscribe to the Divorce Busting YouTube Videos for more advice and upcoming marriage saving events.

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About mwd27

Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW is an internationally renowned relationship expert, best-selling author, marriage therapist, and professional speaker who specializes in helping people change their lives and improve important relationships. Among the first in her field to courageously speak out about the pitfalls of unnecessary divorce, Michele has been active in spearheading the now popular movement urging couples to make their marriages work and keep their families together. She is the author of seven books including her best-selling books, DIVORCE BUSTING: A Step-by-Step Approach to Making Your Marriage Loving Again, and THE SEX-STARVED MARRIAGE: A Couple's Guide to Boosting Their Marriage Libido. Michele's work has been featured in major newspapers such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, and magazines such as Time, Redbook, Ladies Home Journal, Essence, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Woman's Day, Men's Health, New Woman, and McCall's. Michele is a marriage expert on Redbook's advisory board, ClubMom.com and iVillage.com. She has made countless media appearances on shows such as Oprah, 48 Hours, 20/20, The Today Show, CBS This Morning, CBS Evening News, CNN, and Bill O'Reilly. Michele's Keeping Love Alive program aired on PBS stations nationwide. She recently completed a reality based show for the BBC about helping couples save their marriages. Michele maintains that her true expertise in helping couples have great relationships is derived from first-hand experience. She and her husband have been married for more than thirty years.
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  • Sharon

    Well written and to the point. You are right, I think people can be intentionally blind; someone who is unfaithful in little things will usually be unfaithful in the big things. As for blaming alcohol? My grandpa used to say that a man gets drunk to do what is in his mind i.e to carry out an intention…dutch courage I guess.

    I’m glad I found this blog, you can be sure I’ll be a regular visitor. Have a lovely weekend!

  • Mark

    Your comments are spot on. My ex (who carried on a physical affair for 3 months with a married man before I discovered it and an emotional affair for much longer) once said, “I never meant to hurt you”, and I believe her. I doubt she woke up one day and said to herself, “I think I’ll destroy my husband, two marriages, and two extended families today”, but at every turn, at each small decision, she chose to move closer to that point. It’s death by a thousand cuts. None is life-threatening in and of itself, but together, they are every bit as deadly as a swig of hemlock.

    I agree that many never see the danger of it all. That doesn’t excuse the behavior, mind you, but does offer insight for some, and a warning to others, about how the process works. At the end of the day, whether it’s excuses or blame, the real problem isn’t just a failure, but a complete refusal, to take responsibility. That, if you look beyond the affair, was very likely a key factor in the collapse of the marriage itself. The affair, while damaging, often appears simply as the final manifestation of it.

    Keep up the good work and the good fight.

  • M.

    I have recently been made aware by an anonymous third party that several years ago my girlfriend and future wife was involved with a married man for more than a year. Apparently they met while he was separated and dated briefly, but he reconciled with his wife. My girlfriend continued sleeping with him for the next 18 months until, allegedly, the marriage ended and his wife left with their daughter. It was only then my girlfriend left him. I have never been able to talk to her about what I’ve been told, although I did come across a letter while cleaning her desk one day that did confirm she’d been in affair with this man. My therapist is not exactly advising me how to proceed, although we both recognize I will not be able to simply box this up.

    Even though she did not cheat on me and this was some time ago, my family life was a catastrophe due to my dad’s infidelity and it took me almost 15 years to forgive him and reforge a relationship. Ironically, so was hers. In fact, she says almost every guy she’s ever dated has cheated on her, yet she was allegedly actively and willfully “the other woman” that led to the ruin of a marriage.

    Is this my business? Someone out there is trying to make it my business, and my personal ideology has a major conflict with this if it’s true. Otherwise, I’m painfully in love with this woman. Painfully confused as well.

  • B.

    Sounds like a tough situation to be in. Does she know that you know anything? If you say you love her then you should be able to ask or tell her anything. Obviously this does say something about her character, and I’m sure she must be harboring some sort of emotional trauma that you are going to have to deal with if she’s “the one.”
    There is a reason for your connection with her, and it sounds to me like you both have some unresolved pain to release. What better way than a fresh start and shot a healthy loving relationship? If it were me, I would write a note and attach it
    To the note you found. I like the idea of not being able to have the emotions of such a sensitive subject get in the way of what I truly want to say. That’s just me though. Just be honest with yourself and concerns and speak from the heart! Good luck :)

  • K

    I found out my wife carried out an affair for over three years during the time we were trying to get pregnant! Details aside, I have stayed faithful to her all these years, and while I have been somewhat hard to live with (pictures of another man on top of her attempting to impregant her stay in my head) because of the hurt of the affair, I have been willing to move forward and let it all go and just start anew with her. She has now cut off all sex with me, and as in the above article, I will stay in a marriage, miserable or otherwise, because it is just right. Is it really just right, or am I living some kind of deluded chivalry? Jesus said we are to suffer for him, but is this proper?

  • Jwbspring

    Thanks Michelle. I keep reading that affairs are a symptom of a bad marriage. That they just happen out of desperation. I agree that they are planned and intentional. And I agree that some spouses simply find it easier to seek excitement in the arms of a stranger rather than weather the predictable bumps in a relationship.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent point: that the real problem is not just a failure to take responsibility, but a complete refusal to take responsibility -  probably the single, key factor in the collapse of any relationship.

  • Anonymous

     Love your grandpa’s brand of advice – he’s right!  I hope you don’t mind if I borrow your quote! ;)

  • Craig Dee

    I was hoping somebody could give me some insight to a similar issue im having with the love of my life . I have been in lover with her since the day I met her however I had to wait 25 years before we could have a relationship . it was only because ivwas to young and. Ignorant as a teen I didnt know how much I loved her till I lost her for 25 years . nevertheless. The issue is this she swears thstvi am having. Or has had a fling with somebody and I have not . I deeply love this woman . she spends alto of time looking for proof that im doing so then Denys it . and when I yell her its all in her head its not real she gets hysterical . And tells me how she plans to avenge me out of spite but then she calmed down and forgives me for it witch is weird causecim not guilty . I dint know how to handle this I believe its a breakdown of some kind wecbotj been through so much. Any input would be welcome thank you

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