By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling
References NOT ‘Just Friends’ by Shirley P. Glass, Ph.D with Jean Coppock Staeheli
Infidelity does not happen only in “unhappy” marriages. Marital bliss is not a force field that protects you from noticing that attractive people are attractive. Glass quoted a Redbook survey of 100,000 women that revealed half of the women who admitted straying said they were “happily married and sexually satisfied with their husband.” (399) So, if relational discord is not the culprit for infidelity, what is?
1. Unmet Expectations
People expect a lot from their spouse, especially in modern Western culture where a spouse encompasses much more than someone to perform specific gender tasks (e.g., butter churning, hunting). “Both husbands and wives are looking to their spouses for love, companionship, intellectual stimulation, emotional support, and great sex in the high stress environment of dual careers and Little League carpools.” (220) But, sometimes, spouses may start dwelling on the handful of qualities not checked off by their partner. They go looking for someone who does, regardless of whether this person possesses any of the qualities they already have in their spouse.
“A common vulnerability leading to infidelity is the disillusionment that develops when expectations about marriage are not met. Individuals with high expectations can be easily dissatisfied because they expect more than any one relationship can reasonably provide. Unrealistically high expectations can lead to affairs, just as undeniably bad marriages can.” (220)
Most women stray because they are dissatisfied with their marriages. However, most unfaithful men do not feel dissatisfied until they begin comparing their extramarital relationship against the one they have with their spouse. Of the responses Glass received to an airport survey of people who had committed adultery, 56 percent of the men and 34 percent of the women said their marriages were happy. (221)
Consider Adam and Eve’s life in the Garden of Eden. Scripture gives no indication they were dissatisfied. Yet, they were willing to risk losing the myriad delights offered by living in paradise and having an intimate relationship with God, all for the sake obtaining the one thing they thought they were missing. Adultery is the same. You may gain a new source of joy, but it means giving up all those you already have.
2. Sexual Dissatisfaction
Husbands and wives tend to use two different yardsticks to measure their sexual satisfaction. Men tend to judge it based on how often it happens, whereas women tend to judge it based on the quality. Men typically have affairs to have more sex. Women typically have affairs as a replacement for what is lacking in their marriage. This is why an unfaithful husband makes no change to marital sex, but unfaithful wives often sexually withdraw from their husbands.
People also make the mistake of assuming changes in sexual passion during marriage means the spark has snuffed. The intensity of an affair can make you think your lover is a better fit than your spouse. “It is unfair to compare the sexual warmth of a long-term marriage with the sizzling chemistry of a new forbidden relationship. Although marriage does not have the same kind of ‘instant hot’ as an affair, a good marriage combines sexual sensitivity and special meaning in lovemaking that can be like playing a familiar but subtly nuanced concerto on a cherished musical instrument.” (224)
3. Contributions to the Relationship
In this category, spouses stray for one of two reasons: they are giving too much to the relationship, or they are giving too little. One feels taken advantage of; one already has their foot out the door, and that is why they don’t contribute. However, sacrificial spouses tend to take longer to stray because they have so much invested in the relationship. It’s like a project you have spent a lot of money on. You would rather put more into it, hoping you will get a return on your investment, rather than cut your losses.
Marriage requires give-and-take. Each of you may have specific roles based on your skills, such as arranging the kids’ schedules or taking care of yard work. There are periods when one of you will have to pick up the slack for the other. Nobody is perfect. But your marriage won’t go very far if only one of you is carrying it on your back while the other strolls along.
Taking care of everything for your partner takes their skin out of the game, so to speak. At the risk of blaming the victim, when one spouse takes all the marital duties upon him or herself, they also take all the challenge and commitment of marriage away from their partner.
4. Power Struggles
I’m going to step right over the obligatory Rodney Dangerfield reference (“I don’t get no respect!) and focus on how everyone wants credit for their work. Marriage is a team effort; both teammates want to be acknowledged for what they accomplish. However, this might mean one or both spouses need to alter their perspective of what 50-50 looks like.For example, one spouse may work at home fixing meals and looking after the children. The other may work outside the home. This can lead the breadwinner to feel that he or she does not get the respect they deserve as the financial provider, and the stay-at-home spouse can feel that their partner does not appreciate how hard they work all day at home. Consider Paul’s lesson in I Corinthians 12 about spiritual gifts. Everyone has different skills they bring to a relationship. Some contributions may have more prestige than others, but all are necessary to get the job done. And it disregards God’s design for cooperation to say you are a more important part of your marital “body” because you are a “brain” instead of a “kneecap.” (I Cor. 2:21-26)
“More powerful partners can feel entitled to indulge in the available alternatives without seriously considering the feelings of their partner. Conversely, less powerful partners can feel resentful and attempt to get even by having an affair.” (228)
When a spouse allows someone or something to draw all their time and attention away from their marriage, Glass describes this with the formula 2 against 1=4. It doesn’t make sense when you first hear it, so let me use an example:
Kendra and Marcus both work full-time. They don’t have kids. Whenever Kendra is not home, she is in her workshop blowing glass. Marcus feels neglected and lonely. He is grateful for his work friendship with Sheila. They both watch the same TV show, and he looks forward to their conversations about it.
This is what Glass means by 2 against 1=4. Kendra and her glasswork are two against Marcus. However, if this keeps up, Marcus and Sheila will eventually make the total 4. Kendra probably does not mean to make Marcus feel like she’s leaving him for her hobby, but that is what’s happening. He feels like he cannot compete, so he looks for someone who will pay attention to him. This situation can happen when people sacrifice their marital involvement for careers, child rearing, and devotion to extended family.
Christian Counseling for avoiding Infidelity
Staying connected in marriage can be hard. At first you feel as if you cannot get enough of one another, but eventually you begin to get your fill and start taking one another for granted. Your spouse is not an appliance. You cannot leave them sitting somewhere and go to them only when you need them. They can help you balance taking time for you spouse among life’s myriad other demands.
Solve-marriage-problems Flickr user stevendepolo
Causes-of-adultery Flickr user sagetherapy