Affairs and Relationships
As an outpatient psychologist who has been practicing twenty-five years,
I run across eight conditions, over and over. They range from anxiety and
depression, work problems, kid behavior problems, substance ab/use, addiction
issues, and of course, relationships. One of the most egregious affronts to
on-going relationships is an affair.
There is a lot of literature on affairs already on the market, most of
which concentrates on what the partner is not getting at home, therefore
strays to get elsewhere. While this is relevant, it fails to explain the
real dynamics underlying infidelity.
Relationships go through stages, four by my reckoning. The first stage
is Novelty, which is characterized by having a lot of fun. Things are new,
fresh and exciting, hence engaging. We typically stay up all night talking,
going to new movies and restaurants together, and of course, having good sex.
Stage two is when things settle down and we have decided to date only
each other. We have survived the crisis of commitment and now have the
certainty and stability of predictability; that is, we can bank on having a
significant other in our lives. But with stability comes loss of novelty.
This is the time when we really begin to see our partners for who they are,
good or bad. This is the time when the occasional lull in excitement makes
a deeper impression.
But for most of us, the relationship progresses into stage three. This
is commitment made manifest. This is signaled by engagement or marriage,
moving in together if we have not already, buying bigger, more permanent items
together (cars, houses), setting up budgets and schedules that maintenance our
things, etc. We really have to get along during this stage, especially if
children come along (the "great challenge" to marriage).
The first two stages typically last about six months. The third stage
can last a lifetime, unless it goes Boom, in which case it can last a week.
If marriage fails, we enter stage four--divorce or at least separation.
The purpose of this article is not to focus on the four stages, as that
has been covered in other articles by this author. Rather, the important
aspect here is that people change as they progress through the stages.
Unfortunately, if they change in the direction of requiring continuous novelty
when the relationship is changing in this very important aspect, trouble will
The need for novelty is not the only reason couples "stray." In the
literature, there are at least six major reasons and another ten minor ones.
The underlying dynamics of choosing to cheat is really the problem in all of
these areas. These boil down to personality and impulse control issues, which
form what I call Negative Loops.
One example is immaturity, which by definition usually means poor judgment
and/or lack of impulse control. If the partner of such an individual is the
opposite; namely, more mature and more in control of impulses, the contrast
between the partners will grow as the real personalities emerge. Again, this
is a function of time and continued contact. If the impulsivity grates on the
second partner, s/he will start to react and this will actually make the first
partner more, not less prone to dally. Once strayed again, the other partner
will be very, very annoyed, which is probably the very thing that set off the
first partner. This is the loop, and it is very, very destructive (negative).
This is a very broad outline of some of the dynamics to watch out for in
relationships where there is infidelity. It covers relationship stages, one
aspect of change in the relationship (novelty), one negative loop (patterns of
estructive interaction between the partners), and one very maladaptive behavior
(acting out with a person outside the relationship. For more in-depth
information on these and why relationships fail in general, see the author's