One of the most difficult marital problems to address in counselling is infidelity. Yet, many men at some time in their relationship look elsewhere for something on the side, and the impact is one of the main causes of relationship breakdown.
So, why do they do it? And for that matter, why do they make matters worse and lie about it? You may not want to hear this, but the problem seems to stem from something these men are unaware of. When Irish playwright Paedar de Burca travelled the length and breadth of Ireland and England interviewing men who had cheated on their wives, he came up with some interesting discoveries. He wove his findings into a stage show that he called Why Men Cheat.
Could insecurity be a problem?
Although many unfaithful partners are successful in their own right, such as in their professions, de Burca found that it may well be that feelings of inadequacy or insecurity leaves them needing the adulation of women to bolster their ego. It’s as if they still need reassurance that they are desirable and have what it takes. My own experience of working with men who have transgressed suggests that there may be a little more to it than de Burca suggests.
Yes, the problem could be hormones
I find that Christopher Ryan’s Sex at Dawn may have unearthed a more common dynamic. Ryan found that few men in his research sought love when they had affairs, but were rather egged on by testosterone looking for a place to have a party. While men’s testosterone levels naturally decline with age, and thus their vulnerability to both mental and physical health problems increases, there is a formula that helps prevent this decline. “Use it and you won’t lose it” is the pill to take that will arrest the decline.
However, this doesn’t fully address the problem, because you would think that men might have sex with their spouses in order to stay healthy. They after all are available, and possibly interested in having sex with their man! Because most women are anxious insecure attachment types, these wives are usually going to be very interested in some strong bonding with their man.
We also know that men rarely have affairs because the sexual climate at home is frosty. Most men who have affairs claim that they still love their wives and don’t want to lose them!
Could heightened sexual activity have benefits?
Ryan found that men who were more sexually active in a way that was fun and enlivening tended to maintain their libido better than men who didn’t do this. Ryan states “It’s a simple, unavoidable truth almost everyone knows to be true but few dare to discuss: variety and change are the necessary spice of the sex life of the human male.” It is most helpful, then, if women can understand that it is not the need for love that is causing their men to err, but the need to recharge their testosterone reserves!
Many men also like to receive, be given to, fill up, through sexual stimulation and release. It is rare for them to want to replace their partners. It is more that they want a sexual experience where they give less and receive more. For this reason, porn is also attractive. Here men can receive sexual stimuation without having to worry about relating or pleasing a partner. Most men find too much relating to be tiring,and even more demanding if they are already exhausted or anxious that they won’t be able to please a partner with whom sexual relating has lost its pizzaz.
I have also experienced the flipside of this phenomenon with a number of couples. Here the men simply can’t develop the enthusiasm to have sex with their wives, whom they love dearly. It’s as if same old same old no longer does it for them. These are men who are probably denying their desire to go off and have a spicy fling, because they don’t want to hurt their wives or their relationship. And many of those men who do ‘weaken’, then lie both to cover their tracks, avoid their feelings of guilt or shame, and to avoid having to deal with the consequences of telling the truth.
Your personality type might be running amok!
Because many men have a personality type that tends to repress unpleasant feelings and simply distracts themselves in order to feel better, an affair is not only a helpful distraction, but also a way to feel much, much, much better – even if it is only for the sex. Most women on the other hand have a personality type that includes more intense feelings, and a desire to stick with just one man provided the emotional bond with him is a good one. Thus, they are less likely to look for an extra player in their life if the feelings with the man they’ve got are secure and heart-warming.
Men also like to be put on a pedestal, admired in some way, told how important or significant they are, have their sexual prowess appreciated. However because most avoidant insecure men hide their needs, their partners are not usually aware that men are seeking to be prioritized in these ways. Thus, a relationship can become a functional but emotionally rather flat affair, and men may seek ways in which to add spice to their life in ways that are going to seriously shoot them in the foot. Because they have little imagination about the emotional fall-out of their dalliances, they can very easily make decisions which not only create fallout but which will take years to mend, if mending is indeed possible at all.
Are we therefore doomed as a species to be mismatched like this? Will we ever be able to move forward? The first step for all of us is to recognize the truth and talk about it. Men must realize also that these facts don’t give cause to just go off and have that fling after all because “I’m being driven by my hormones.” Partners are unlikely to be impressed that hormones have become a problem, or that there are any other reasons for this behaviour. Men have to come to accept the fact that an affair will destabilize the relationship and could scuttle it completely, no matter what the reason was for it.
Whether the affair was just physical, just emotional, just intellectual, just caused by drink or just anything else, boundaries have been broken, trust has been broken, loyalty, honesty and faithfulness have all been compromised. Either our current sexual behaviour with our partner has to be ramped up a notch to provide the variety we seek, men have to be satisfied to go without, or our social norms and expectations about how to be satisfied sexually must be adjusted following a discussion with our partner. Any unilateral decision to have fun without first discussing our plans and desires with our partner and preferably involving them is doomed.