Infidelity is more common than most people realize. In fact, it is estimated that 50% of men and women today will have an extramarital affair during their marriage.
Forms of Infidelity
Infidelity takes many forms. Some people have sequential affairs--a series of one-night stands or short affairs. In this day of on-line life, affairs can happen via email, texts, and social media sites. When such behavior continues for several years and finally is discovered, it is difficult to heal the years of deceit but it can be done. Sometimes affairs last longer and become more serious. These affairs may be quite romantic and sexual. Sometimes they grow into more serious relationships and may last for years.
Why Affairs Happen
Infidelity happens for many reasons. Here are a few of the common explanations:
1. An affair may be a response to a crisis such as the death of someone important, moving to a new city, a job change, or some other kind of life transition.
2. Sometimes people become bored with their partners and seek sexual or emotional excitement with someone new. The new person seems to supply the excitement that has been missing.
3. Stressful times in the family life cycle lead some to seek escape in an affair. This includes things like taking care of aging parents, raising teenagers, and becoming new parents.
4. People sometimes look for outside relationships because their expectations of marriage have not been satisfied.
5. Some people seek outside relationships when their partners are emotionally unavailable because of illness.
6. Other people begin affairs because they seek more affection than their partner can provide.
7. Other people seek professional or social advancement.
There are also many social reasons why affairs happen: factors that exist in our society that lead many of us to expect a fantasy version of marriage that could never really exist. When marriage doesn’t live up to this expectation, some of us keep looking for it outside of marriage.
Signs of Infidelity
by Jaime Nisenbaum, Ph.D. posted with permission
Some call it the “boy code,” others call it the male code or the masculinity code. Regardless of its name, every boy and man in this culture learns the code and adheres to it in more or less extreme ways. There are many versions of the boy code, but overall they all share the same premises. Boys and men must: 1) be independent, self reliant, tough, and aggressive; 2) not express vulnerable emotions such as fear, sadness, hurt, or attachment to another person; and 3) avoid and reject all things that are deemed “feminine”.
Educators, sociologists, and psychologists are finding out that the restrictions that the code imposes on a boy’s emotional awareness and expression is causing severe problems for boys including increased school failure, depression, loneliness, isolation, and violence. Lower academic performance is one of the most visible symptoms of the problem that boys are facing: school-aged boys are twice as likely as girls to be diagnosed with learning disabilities, five times more likely than girls to have conduct problems, and six times more likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity
Some of these academic problems have its roots in the initial gap in verbal skills and reading readiness between boys and girls. Girls in average reach a higher degree of verbal and reading acuity earlier than boys. However, aside from these learning differences, emotional immaturity and the ensuing lack of social skills is a major contributor to boys’ academic problems. A significant detrimental impact of the boy code is that it curtails the age-appropriate emotional development of boys. For example, we expect boys to show self-reliance and independence at too young an age, which precludes them from further developing nurturing and healthy dependency bonds with their caregivers. These closer bonds are the foundation for emotional and social stability, and this premature disconnection from caregivers results in a major gap in their emotional maturation.
Another negative impact of the boy code on the emotional development of boys is that while research shows that, at birth, baby boys are more emotionally expressive than baby girls, by the time boys reach school-age, they have already learned to hide and feel ashamed of expressing vulnerable emotions such as fear, sadness, loneliness, and hurt as well as emotions that express their need for connection to others. When boys begin to shut off those vulnerable emotions in order to fit into the boy code, they start a relentless process of cutting off and disconnecting from part of themselves. When they do that, boys decrease their ability to be empathic, loving, and caring towards themselves and others.
Empathy, for example, is the ability to get into some else’s shoes, understand what they are feeling, and respond accordingly, which requires that we have access to our own feelings. If boys are taught not to be in touch their own feelings, how can they tune into the feelings of others?
UCLA psychologists Lisa Benson, Meghan McGinn, and Andrew Christensen recently published a major review of over 40 years of research on couples therapy (Benson et al., 2012). They found five basic elements all successful couple therapy must contain.
1. Successful therapy changes the couple's view of the relationship. Because of pain and distress,couples often get stuck in a perception of the relationship or other that starts to feel immutable. Throughout the therapeutic process, the therapist attempts to help both partners see the relationship and each individual's reactions and contributions in a more objective manner thus creating a different narrative or story and helping them step out of the "blame game."
2. Productive treatment modifies dysfunctional behavior. Effective couples therapists attempt to change the way that the partners actually behave with each other. This means that in addition to helping them improve their interactions, therapists also need to ensure that their clients are not engaging in actions that can cause physical, psychological, or economic harm.
3. Decreases emotional avoidance. Couples who avoid expressing their private feelings put themselves at greater risk of becoming emotionally distant and hence grow apart. Effective couples therapists help their clients bring out the emotions and thoughts that they fear expressing to the other person. The goal of this is to help the couple understand each other better, feel closer and heal past hurts.
4. Improves communication. All effective couples therapies focus on helping the partners to communicate more effectively. This can be accomplished with active listening instruction. However, it often happens when a skillful therapist steps in and really helps the couple slow down the process. Distress, pain, confusion and past hurt get couples stuck in rapid fire communication patterns that need literally to be put out and replaced with completely different interaction styles. Good therapy interrupts these patterns and helps the couple replace the negative communication with more congruent, clear, and emotionally vulnerable talk.
5. Promotes strengths. All couples have strengths in their relationship. From the beginning of therapy it is important to look at these and even celebrate them. In the mist of conflict or distress, a couples strengths can create hope.
Benson, L. A., McGinn, M. M., & Christensen, A. (2012). Common principles of couple therapy. Behavior Therapy, 43(1), 25-35.
According to National Institute of Health, Major Depressive Disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults. This is about 7% of the population age 18 or older. When you add in Dysthymic Disorder or Persistent Depressive Disorder, chronic low grade depression that does not quite fit the bill for major depression, the percentage of sufferers goes up to almost 9%. My guess is that there are many people limping around with chronic low grade depression who don't really even know they are suffering. So maybe the percentage is even a bit higher? I do not know. But it is alarming to me that almost 10% of the United States is struggling with a very painful set of symptoms we call depression. The NIH notes the signs and symptoms as follows:
These symptoms are nothing to take lightly. They can be debilitating and even cause disability. It is not completely clear what causes depression, but it appears when looking at brain scans of a depressed person that they look different from a non-depressed person's. As with many things in life, depression is probably initiated by a combination of interacting factors and systems including genes, biology, environment (stress and trauma), and psychology (inner thoughts and views of self, perception and sense of purpose and meaning). Many illnesses, including thyroid disorders, cause depressive symptoms.
Until recently, nobody really considered the impact our relationships have on our mood and maybe even our brains. This is changing. Researchers such as Jim Coan, Ph.D., Sue Johnson, Ed.D, Wayne Denton, M.D., and others are all looking into this. It appears that relationships and attachments can greatly affect our moods and life, and improving them may help decrease depression. It is exciting to me to know that we have one more option (traditional options are medication and/or individual counseling) to offer people as part of the basic treatment plan for those suffering from depression: family, couple, or relationship counseling.
For more information check out this great article by Russell Collins: Are Relationships the New Prozac?
Good relationships and social support are nature's antidepressants. Who knew? Deep down inside, I think we all did . . . and do.
I think most couples can relate to this humorous video. It reminded me not only of the importance of empathy but of the importance of embracing and accepting personal and gender differences. And hey, maybe it sometimes really is about the nail. Enjoy!
Evelyn Schmechtig Cochran