Sally Connolly, LCSW, LMFT has been a therapist for over 30 years, specializing in work with couples, families and relationships. She has expertise with clients
“If he had just paid attention to me, I would not have had to find it somewhere else. He spends more time on the golf course than he does at home.”
“My wife’s nagging is the main reason I became unhappy and started my affair.”
Do affairs cause bad marriages … or do bad marriages cause affairs?
All affairs can cause bad marriages but not all bad marriages cause affairs. Having an affair, cheating on a spouse, is no way to solve problems in a marriage.
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While it certainly can be true that problems in a marriage can lead to loneliness, unhappiness and sadness, making a decision to have an affair is the responsibility of the person who makes the choice to cheat.
There are many reasons why people have affairs. Some reasons do have to do with the relationship while others are more about the person who is having the affair.
When couples have difficulty resolving conflict or problems between them, have a fear of intimacy or do not nurture and tend to the relationship, then feelings of loneliness and isolation grow and the ground becomes fertile for friendships to bleed over into more than a friendship with someone that you see frequently like a colleague, neighbor or friend.
Other times when an affair might develop are when one person is depressed or unhappy in the marriage. This can lead to a lot of complaining and negative conversation or withdrawal from a partner and life together which is very unappealing to any spouse. This might be a “chicken or egg”; however, because there are times when problems in the marriage lead to depression and unhappiness as well as times when depression or unhappiness with life events can lead to an unsatisfying marriage.
Affairs may happen at transition times in marriages, sometimes called “mid-life crises,” which are often opportunities for individuals to take stock of their life and evaluate what is “missing” and then look to others to fill that space.
Being around friends who have or are having affairs can de-sensitize some to believe that it is accepted and okay to do as long as no one finds out about it.
Even in healthy marriages an affair can happen. It can take someone by surprise when feelings for another person develop, generally with a co-worker, neighbor or a friend that someone sees regularly. A friendship can develop into more as stories, experiences, feelings, secrets and life events are shared.
Good people in decent marriages get caught in affairs if they are not aware of establishing healthy boundaries and rules with colleagues and friends. Social media has really opened up many possibilities for affairs to develop. Connecting with high school sweethearts and old lovers can bring on old, youthful feelings of lust and love that can catch fire and grow quickly.
Multiple affairs are different. They generally indicate personal problems with the person having affairs. Some people are addicted to love, sex or self-affirmation. Often there is a family history of affairs, often by the same sex parent, and it is a “tradition“ accepted within the family. With some, there is a feeling of entitlement with little regard for the spouse’s feelings. The causes of multiple affairs are much more complicated.
In any of these cases, however, the marriage did not cause the affair. It may have laid the groundwork but the choice to cheat was one taken by the individual and complicates the problems in the marriage dramatically.
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