For those of you unfamiliar with the psychology of adultery, let me briefly explain how it works. It is often the case that an adulterous affair is not planned, it just begins because the conditions are ripe, and the causes present themselves. The marriage will definitely be distressed, and the adulterer-to-be will have needs that aren’t being met. In the case of my marriage, we had long since settled, and had drifted apart emotionally. There were other factors that were interfering with our intimacy, and my wife additionally had grown very critical and sarcastic, making it very difficult for me to try to maintain intimacy with her. She truly believed that the only way to fix our marriage was to fix me by nagging, threatening, etc. This never works, by the way.
At any rate, at some point the cause of the affair presents itself. In her case, it was this shrine member who she’d seen a few times, and apparently had some sort of recognition of something, attraction maybe, with him. He “friended” her on Facebook about a month before the affair began, but they had no communication until just after we visited the shrine in October. Then the whole thing started precipitously. It went from pleasantries to “I love you” in the space of 3 days. They had exchanged phone numbers and were texting, talking, and chatting over Facebook. It escalated quickly, to the point where after just a few days they were planning their first rendezvous that would happen over Thanksgiving. That escalated to the point where they actually made it happen, on short notice, on Halloween. In this very brief period, she fell “in love” with this man, and those feelings triggered all the irrational responses above, as well as the desire to separate from me, to consider divorce, to want to spend the rest of her life with him, and so on.
This is par for the course. It’s the infatuation phase of the relationship. It’s not actual love, of course. That’s impossible, no matter how much the affair partners claim it to be true. You simply cannot have love when there is no trust or honesty, and those are two things that pretty much don’t exist in adulterous relationships. In fact, it’s this lack of trust and honesty that eventually conspire to bring down the relationship. But, at this point, the infatuation is so strong that the lovers will and say anything to make their dream real.
At the same time, the adulterers know their behavior is wrong. Unless you’re dealing with a sociopath, the adulterer does have a moral conscience. They may even have friends or family who suspect something, and disapprove. So what do they do? They lie about it. They pretend like nothing is going on. They hide the evidence from everyone, especially from their spouse.
This causes an internal conflict: the adulterer feels “in love” — feelings they haven’t had for years. They’re on an emotional high, which is nothing more than the addiction to the various dopamines that the infatuation is releasing. And since they’re addicted, they simply cannot stop their behavior, even though they know it’s wrong. So they begin to create extensive narratives that justify their behavior. This is nothing more than an elaborate set of rationalizations that may include ideas like “I already divorced my spouse in my mind, so this is not wrong.” The rationalizations are really pretty incredible, and they tend to get more and more involved, especially as the pressure of the affair builds. They begin to tell themselves things that they never would have believed even a few months earlier. At this point they are living in a complete fantasy world.
Sooner or later, though, the pressure becomes too much. The adulterer simply cannot live with the dissonance of feeling so great about the emotional dependency on the affair and the feelings of guilt that are engendered from the knowledge of the betrayal they are committing. So they do something very predictable: they come clean. They may come clean to their spouse (see my earlier post about this and how to react should this happen to you), to family members, friends, coworkers, and so on. In my wife’s case, she could not come clean to me because I already knew about it, would not approve, and simply would never suffer any talk of the affair from that point on. She has to maintain that secret from me — as do her friends that are covering for her right now. She has, however, come clean to many, many other people. She has introduced this man to the pastor of the church she works at on weekends. It’s just massively disgusting, but pretty much all adulterers do this. When people object, they dig their heels in and defend themselves, even going so far as to cut people out of their life.
Aside from the lies and deceit, there are also at least two other important factors that will help to bring about the end of the affair. First, at least one of the affair partners will have some serious character flaws that have remained hidden or ignored. These will surface and blow things apart. Second, there is the reality that the affair itself is an extremely superficial thing. If you’ve ever seen or heard the communication between these kinds of people, and I have, more than once, you quickly begin to see that it’s like a high-school infatuation. They’ll have pet names for each other, they’ll send text messages full of emoticons, they’ll talk dirty, and so on, but the one thing you won’t find is any sort of real substance to the relationship. It’s just a little band-aid that helps patch over the hole of emptiness the adulterer feels originating in their marriage. This superficiality has also helped to cover up the personality incompatibilities that will soon become known.
Just exactly how and when the affair ends is uncertain. The one certainty is that it will end. It could take some sort of external pressure: the pressure of the parents, of friends, coworkers, or perhaps even some fairly random individual to wake them up. Or, it could just be a gradual process of the infatuation-induced dopamines declining naturally over time. Often the affair implodes before this can happen, and if it does, then you will have at least one person who is still addicted to the affair, unwilling to let it go, broken-hearted yet still clinging to an impossible situation. This is why some affairs don’t end outright. There may be a series of failed attempts to break off the affair before it does end.
Once it is over, though, the infatuation goggles are gone, and the adulterer looks back on the whole situation and wonders what on earth they were thinking. In a best-case scenario, the spouse either didn’t know, or was willing to be patient, wait it out, and try to save the marriage. In a worst-case scenario, the spouse found out and filed for divorce, or the adulterer opted to file for divorce so as to make the affair possible. If that divorce actually goes final, then the adulterer gets to see what a truly shattered life looks like. They will have lost everything — family, home, marriage, friends, jobs, money, all kinds of thing — for the sake of an illicit relationship that basically had no chance of success.
I’ve mentioned this before, but my wife not only is moving out, but is seriously considering divorce. She thinks this is the only way to start her “new life.” The trajectory of that “new life” has been outlined above. It will not work out. The only question in my mind now is just how far things have to go and how much destruction needs to be wreaked before those affair goggles shatter and she can see the reality of her situation unimpeded.