She showed me a picture of the other woman. I thought there must be some mistake. Staring back at me was a frizzy-haired, pale-faced woman in a sweat pants—and not the tight, trendy sort, but the baggy grey kind worn in high school gym class—who was at least 70 pounds overweight.
“Can you believe it?” my friend, Dana (not her real name), cried. Truthfully, I told her, no. It was shocking. Dana, who was married for 10 years, fit the profile of the ‘other woman’ far better than this sorry person in the photograph: She was stunningly beautiful. Her husband, his friends agreed, was an idiot to cheat on her. Why would he have an affair with this frumpy woman?
Dana wasn’t a bad wife. As a stay-at-home wife and mother, she cooked, cleaned, managed the finances, ran the household and cared for their children. She kept herself looking beautiful. His friends envied him whenever they went out. But something was missing in their marriage, and instead of confiding in his wife, he turned to a new and sympathetic ear.
There are several reasons why men will have an affair, according to David Zinczenko, author of Men, Love & Sex (Rodale Books, 2006.) Most involve issues that a woman can’t change, such as biological overdrive and desire for variety. The average married man can override these impulses.
But, as my friend found, even the most committed man will fall victim to the one reason that can be affected by his wife: his ego. A man needs attention. “Just as a woman who cheats may be seeking more affection than what she's getting at home, a man often cheats because he's seeking the attention that he no longer gets at home,” Zinczenko writes.
A husband’s ego is especially vulnerable to affairs when it is bruised. After some honest reflection, Dana admitted that the “attention” she had been giving her husband wasn’t the kind he craved. She had been complaining about their money situation, which was rocked by a period of her husband’s unemployment, and voicing her dissatisfaction with how little time he spent with the kids. Suddenly, he felt that he lost the hero role at home. His ego shaken, he needed something—or someone—to bolster his flagging confidence in himself. Where his wife saw a pitiful, out-of-work man, this frumpy old woman saw a handsome, exciting lover. If you were a man, which woman would you want to be with?
There are several ways to affair proof your marriage which you will read in continuing articles, but the first step is to be aware of how you are treating your husband. Anthony Robbins, world renown motivational speaker whose principles are based on neuroscience and human behavior, explains that the human brain is wired to “seek pleasure and avoid pain.” The biological urge to avoid pain is one of the strongest motivators which is why husbands will find any way to duck unpleasant situations at home, including heavy chores, stacking bills, uncontrollable children, and most importantly, disapproving wives. That escape comes in many forms from overworking and TV/video game obsession to drug/alcohol addiction and—yes—affairs.
When Dana and I spoke about the steps leading to her husband’s affair, she defended her criticizing behavior.
“Well, he was acting like a lazy pig,” she said. “He wasn’t looking for a job and he ignored the kids while he watched TV all day. Was I supposed to baby his poor little ego?” She felt she had a right to complain. When I counseled her, I explained that she had a right to be concerned. Complaining, on the other hand, only made matters worse. Understanding how to approach problems that arise in marriage is important. How we approach problems either can help or hurt. Complaining only hurts.
Dana would have rushed to the divorce court if not for two reasons to stay:
1. She had two young boys whose lives would have been turned inside out. She admitted that before he had lost his job, he was a terrific and attentive father.
2. In spite of her anger and hurt, she still loved him.
I was glad she was able to still feel that love when most women would only drown in the fury of betrayal. That small spark of love for him smoldered while she and I worked through the next steps of healing.
The first step I always remind women of is to [b]endeavor to understand[/b]. Behavior always has an underlying motive, and that motive is critical. Why did Bill rush into the arms of another woman? Did he love her? Why did Bill not look for a job? Why was he suddenly ignoring his boys when until now he was an adoring father? Instead of seeing the effects, Dana would have better served her marriage by looking at the causes.
It turned out that Bill had slipped into depression over losing his job. Insecurity made him worry about rejection so he avoided making calls for job interviews. As he began to withdraw, he pushed the kids away as he felt he let down the entire family. Dana’s worries were ineffectively communicated through angry and critical put downs which only made Bill feel worse.
He hadn’t planned on an affair. But a friend’s cousin had noticed his recent change in attitude and became a sympathetic ear. And there was the open door.
Men—and I say this at the risk of irking many a man—are like puppies. Simple creatures, really. Yet, women have no problem training a puppy. Any puppy owner will tell you that if you yell at a puppy, he will cower and move away. Call to it sweetly and it will run into your arms. It took a lot of humility for Dana to acknowledge that her behavior had driven him into the arms of another woman.
Many women have a problem with my perspective on this. “His insecurity led to his affair!” they say. I say that his insecurity should have been dealt with at home where his partner should have helped pick him up and dust him off so the two of them could continue on fending for their family, together as a team. Criticizing him was the equivalent of kicking him when he was down.
Because she loved him and wanted their marriage to survive, she was able to forgive Bill’s affair. She understood that Bill did not love this woman. In a moment of emotional upset, he nursed a wounded ego. She steered them both to weekly counseling where they learned how to communicate their true feelings. Once he saw that his wife was no longer a critic but his best friend and partner, his confidence returned and he found a good job. To this day, they are happily married with growing sons. The affair was a lesson for them both. Thinking about it no longer brings pain or hurt, but gratitude knowing that their love is stronger than pride or wounded egos.
They realize that love and marriage is a learning process and that mistakes can be great learning opportunities. You don’t have to be perfect to love or to be loved.