The Monogamy Myth: A Personal Handbook for Recovering from Affairs
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Another typical relationship problem that gets blamed as the cause of an affair is lack of communication. It's difficult to see how this can be judged as the explanation for an affair, since poor communication is seldom the problem in and of itself; it's often a symptom of other problems. But since there are problems in every relationship, there's always something that can be identified as lacking.
To assume a cause and effect between the particular problem and having affairs is much too narrow an explanation of such a complicated issue. No matter which factors are identified in a particular relationship, there are any number of other factors that could just as easily have been blamed for an affair.
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The bottom line is that we can't fully understand why a particular person has an affair just by analyzing their marriage. He took advantage of her by impressing her with his money and power. Much of the anger at the spouse who had an affair gets directed at the third party, especially if there's a decision to stay married. Some people feel that transferring some of the intensity of their feelings to the third party makes it easier to deal with rebuilding the relationship. One woman reported arriving at the conclusion that it was completely the fault of the other woman, that if it weren't for her, there wouldn't have been an affair at all.
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But it's much more likely that an affair results from the overall situation, not from any seduction by a particular person. Opportunity and circumstances play a far more important role in determining an affair than any specific qualities of the third party. This is why there are so many affairs among people who work together or have other opportunities for developing close relationships.
Of course, the third party gets very little understanding from anyone in this situation, including society as a whole. There's a tendency to see them as a kind of ogre.
Monogamy Myth : A Personal Handbook for Recovering from Affairs
We'll focus on getting a clearer perspective of the third party in a later chapter dealing specifically with their role in extramarital affairs. In studying this issue for the past fifteen years and exploring related issues in the course of conducting workshops and seminars on values, perception, and cultural norms, I found a number of forces contributing to this personal view of affairs. Not only has the personal view of affairs been the assumption of the general population, but most experts agree. In fact, the standard advice of counselors, therapists, and advice columnists has been for couples to examine themselves and the conditions within their relationship to determine why an affair happened.
Since most people in the helping professions have their training or orientation in terms of psychology rather than sociology, they tend to see things in terms of personal, individual problems.
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They bring this bias to their work with couples dealing with affairs, and this personal orientation reinforces the attitude that affairs are due exclusively to individual weaknesses. This approach is considered to be the appropriate one when couples are in counseling, as illustrated by the following description of the role of a counselor: "A good marriage counselor will help a couple talk about the reasons for cheating in terms of the marriage and about the problems that lead a partner to seek an extramarital relationship.
In counseling, the couple discuss what they feel the marriage lacks or where the rough spots are, and then with the counselor's help they work to correct their problems. Following are some typical examples: "Cheating always points to a weakness in your relationship.
I believe this is because they suffer from emotional deficiencies. Schneider writes of affairs as a sexual addiction. The tendency of the experts to focus almost exclusively on personal failure and inadequacies strongly reinforces the personal view of affairs.
And this interpretation contributes to the difficulty of being able to fully recover from the emotional impact of this experience. Despite the fact that 85 percent of the members of BAN had sought some kind of counseling, many expressed disappointment with the help they had received. Most of them continued to struggle with unresolved feelings for many years following their experience.
Of those who stayed in the marriage, most were involved in an ongoing battle with their painful feelings about their spouse's affair. Those who got out of the marriage fared no better. Some had been divorced for quite a long time, but were still plagued with feelings of bitterness and resentment. The standard words are blaming words and serve to inflame the already raw emotions this issue stimulates. And, unfortunately, many of the books dealing with this subject use words that contribute to the problem.
The trio of words used most often are adultery, infidelity , and betrayal.
The words adultery and infidelity reflect a personal assessment of the person who has an affair as an adulterer or an infidel. In one recent book dealing with this issue, the words cuckold and infidel were used throughout the book to refer to the people involved in this situation. Being labeled a cuckold feeds into the feelings of shame and embarrassment felt by someone whose partner has an affair. And being labeled an infidel is an extreme moral judgment of a person that places all the blame on their shoulders while ignoring other factors.
We have only to look at other words that have been used to label people to understand their significance. Through the years there have been many examples of the damage done by the words used to refer to certain groups of people. Most of us cringe at the thought that we once used words like "retarded" or "deaf and dumb" or "Mongoloid. It's irrelevant that there may have been no specific intention to inflict pain or create difficulty for the people involved; that was, nevertheless, the effect. The word betrayal has been especially popular in books on the subject of affairs, with three recent books using it in the title.
It might not seem obvious just why this is a problem. But the word betrayal implies that the person having an affair is fully aware of the pain this will cause their partner and proceeds to "betray" them anyway. This reinforces the idea of personal blame and adds to the difficulty of coping with the emotions and gaining a broader understanding of what has happened and what to do about it.
We need to raise our awareness of the impact of words and make a conscientious effort to diffuse the personal pain caused by the language we use to discuss affairs. Because of the power of words to affect the way we think, this book deliberately avoids the long list of judgmental, blaming words so common to the language of affairs. The authors of American Couples , Philip Blumstein and Pepper Schwartz, also expressed their recognition of the importance of the words we use to describe this issue: "We have purposely chosen the word non-monogamy when we write about sex outside a couple's relationship.
We would prefer to use a less clumsy word, but this is the only word that is morally neutral: It neither condemns nor condones. We need a word that merely describes; therefore, we have intentionally omitted expressions like cheating, infidelity , and adultery , except when the couples we interview use them to express the way they feel. She consciously used the word adultery to reflect the fact that her study was based on addressing the "sinful" connotation historically attached to this issue: "There is almost no academic work by historians, sociologists, or anthropologists that focuses on adultery and no book with the word Adultery as its title.
I wanted to speak of adultery for two reasons: first, I wanted not to avoid but to point to its long history as sin and crime and, further, to dramatize the greater sin, the greater punishment inflicted on the married woman. As discussed earlier, the basis for this belief is a myth. While it's extremely difficult to overcome strong emotions with rational understanding, we need to take a closer look at the evidence that monogamy is not the norm in our society.
This involves examining our sexual habits as they relate to our ideas of monogamy. One significant pattern of behavior is that of divorce and remarriage, which we've come to call "serial monogamy. Since approximately half the population goes through this process, it's a strong challenge to our ideas of long-term monogamy. The other serious threat to monogamy, of course, is the number of people involved in affairs.
Earlier, I used the conservative estimate of 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women at some point engaging in extramarital affairs. But we need to take a closer look at the statistics on affairs to determine what they can contribute to an understanding of our sexual patterns.
While affairs happen in nonmarital, committed relationships as well as within marriage, most of the statistics deal only with extramarital affairs. These statistics began with Kinsey's reports in the s and early s. Kinsey's samples included 5, men and showed that by age forty, 50 percent of the men had experienced extramarital sexual intercourse. Two studies during this decade dealing exclusively with men indicate a continuous increase in the number of men having extramarital affairs.
The Hite Report on Male Sexuality of , surveying 7, men, found 72 percent of men married two years or more had had sex outside of marriage. Jan Halper, author of the book Quiet Desperation , reported on the results of interviews with 4, men and found that 82 percent of the sample had had extramarital affairs. The increase for women having affairs has been even more significant.