For the past 2 months, Mike has been flirting with Lindsey, his pilates instructor. It began with a spark he felt when she arranged his posture in class. It developed into smiles, winks, whatsapps, lingering chats after class, a coffee, a massage for his aching back muscles, until last week they allowed chemistry to break through restraint and they went all the way in the ladies’ showers at the gym.
What you don’t know about Mike is that he’s married! He and Jenny have been married for 8 years and they have 2 young kids. He met Jenny at university where they were both studying law. Mike felt instantly attracted to her fierce independence. She has always been very practical and stoic. Even though she loves her work, she didn’t make any fuss about letting it go to raise their children. She did what she felt was right to do and that was that.
They have a good life together: amazing children, great friends, close family members. But still, Mike is potentially jeopardising it all by being with Lindsey. Why would he do this?
Either we are messed up or you are
Very often, when someone has an affair, people wonder one of two things:
- What’s wrong with the marriage?
- What’s wrong with the person having the affair?
In our romanticised version of love, we imagine that someone couldn’t possibly want to betray their partner unless there is something seriously wrong with their marriage. So, very often we go digging for answers there: Do they fight a lot? What do they fight about? Do they have sex?
Doing this will give us clues about areas of their relationship that can be improved, but look at anyone’s marriage and you will find a host of themes that need work: communication, managing money, sharing responsibilities, power struggles… Every relationship has a whole bunch of growing edges! But not everyone has an affair.
So, if it’s not the relationship that’s broken, is it the person?
We love to label things: good/bad, pure/tainted, well/sick. I’ve heard of people who have had affairs being diagnosed with conditions like, “sex addict” or “attachment disorder”, as though there is something intrinsically wrong with them and therefore, they couldn’t help themselves but cheat! Since when did you have to be “sick” to do something hurtful?
The problem with labelling the marriage or the person is that we judge the issue before we have understood it. In this way, we learn very little about why the affair happened and the person or the marriage cannot grow from the experience.
So, why is Mike having an affair?
To understand why Mike has betrayed Jenny, we need to explore the act of transgression itself. It is unnecessary to symptomise the marriage or to symptomise Mike. Instead, we need to go straight to the uncomfortable place with Mike: Why did you do it? Why Lindsey? Why now? How does it feel to be with her? Do you think of Jenny when you are with her? Are you looking for something with Lindsey? Who do you become when you are there?
When we seek the gaze of another, it isn’t always our partner we’re turning away from, but the person we have ourselves become.
It is only through asking questions about the affair itself, that we are able to decode the meaning behind the behaviour.
Tune into XFM tomorrow at 9pm, where we’ll delve deeper into “Why People Cheat” with Melanie Kelly on “Let’s Talk About Sex“. We’ll speak about the needs people are trying to fulfil when they cheat, whether it’s possible to recover from an affair and how to prevent affairs from happening in the first place.
Speak to you tomorrow!