Our Cheatin’ Hearts
Men and monogamy: Fighting the urge to have an extramarital affair
That old feeling: One reason why men cheat
"I don't think anyone can be made to do anything," says Epstein, "but
self-awareness is really powerful. More choices are apparent when you are aware
of what is motivating you." A lot of men, he has found in practice, cheat in
the same way an alcoholic relapses.
"People turn to strategies that gave them pleasure when they were younger,
that worked to give meaning and pleasure to their lives. There is a whole
pattern that [non-monogamous men] know how to kindle - coming on to someone and
having that first experience - the same way some people turn to a drink when
they are feeling out of sorts. Except these men are frustrated with their
wives, who aren't orienting their lives around them anymore." Addictive
tendencies can be worked with, he says, if the patient is willing. "But you
might want to stop and not want to stop at the same time. That's difficult,"
Marriage counselors say that more and more couples embrace an "open
marriage," with sexual freedom as a way to avoid divorce. But this only
succeeds when both partners agree, which is often not the case.
Infidelity as a way out of marriage
Since many divorces still arise from an act of infidelity, cheating can be
man's way of pulling the plug on a marriage he's lost interest in. "There can
be a deadening of the relationship," says Weston, "and then the husband
accidentally runs across a person who seems to have a certain energy in living
and casts that energy his way. A man may feel tempted to respond to that
energy; it may feel complimentary and sexy to him. Or sometimes there is a
little dysfunction at home, and he feels like he is checking his equipment out
in another place."
Weston says that she is always interested in what led a man to cross the
line - when that no suddenly became a yes. "Each answer is a bit
different," she says. "Sometimes a man will say it was a moment of conviction
in which he felt that things would never get better between him and his wife, a
sense of hopelessness."
Marriage after adultery
Can an unfaithful husband who wants to save his marriage change his ways?
"It depends on how his wife takes it," says Weston. "It depends on whether they
get counseling. And it depends on his level of sincerity about how he will
treat her in the future. I've seen marriages get to a really good place when an
affair has been exposed because a whole lot of truth is revealed and
conversation that should have happened before does."
Too often married couples stop seeing marriage as an arena for the truth.
They hide aspects of their lives from each other and the one relationship that
should be the most grounded in honesty becomes the most corrupt. And when a man
starts seeing his marriage as corrupted or complicated - even if he's the one
who's done the corrupting and complicating - he can stop seeing the value in
it. Or he can become bored.