If you are cheating on your spouse or partner, you may think your love affair just “happened” and that you fell insanely in love with the person of your dreams “by accident.” A marriage and divorce therapist might see it differently. This mental health professional – who has seen extramarital affairs many times before – may think of yours as just a predictable part of a personal crisis moment in your life.
Extramarital affairs and emotional infidelity are most likely to occur at “turning points” in your life. A “turning point” occurs when your concept of yourself is in a rapid period of growth or change, or some outside event occurs that changes your concept of yourself and your relationship with your spouse or partner. You may perceive the turning point in your life as a bad thing, such as losing your job or going through cancer; or it can feel like something good, such as finally finishing medical school or winning the lottery. The only criteria is that the event feels life-changing to you.
Believe it or not, some people have affairs when they get engaged or are about to get married. Another time of vulnerability is after the birth of a child. Sometimes if you move to a new town and leave behind a support group of family and friends who were reinforcing the two of you as a couple, you can become more vulnerable to an affair. When a parent or a sibling dies or if you are diagnosed with cancer, you may suddenly feel that your own time is running out and this makes you more likely to have an affair. When your last child “leaves the nest” or when you are facing a “big birthday” such as 40, 50 or 60 years old can be turning points that make you seek a new love. People undergoing treatment for addictions frequently realize that they cannot stay in relationships that were contributing to their problems, and they “unexpectedly” find new ones.
A big success in your career can be a turning point. When President Ronald Reagan got a divorce after his first wife, Jane Wyman, won an Academy Award, he said that he wished he could name “Oscar” as a co-respondent in the proceedings. The opposite is true too – you are more vulnerable to an affair after you run into an unprecedented level of failure, such as getting fired or losing everything you have in a bad financial deal.
Another kind of infidelity that therapists can predict is called “revenge cheating.” This occurs after your partner has cheated on you first, and you unconsciously seek emotional revenge by being unfaithful yourself.
If you are in a secret love relationship that could threaten your marriage or partnership, ask yourself if you are at a turning point in your life. For example, are you substituting the thrill of a new love as a way of avoiding your emotions surrounding the crisis, such as your children are now gone or that you no longer have a job? Is there some way you and your partner can get through this crisis together in a way in which you both grow as persons? In a healthy relationship, your partner will promote your growth as a person when something good happens or help you through it when things go bad, but only if you can find the courage to communicate your needs and face the turning point together.
LaBier, Douglas (PhD). Life’s Turning Points: The Mystery of the Self Within Your Self. Psychology Today, March 12, 2012.
Pittman, Frank (psychiatrist). Beyond Betrayal, Life After Infidelity. see http://www.break-free-from-the-affair.com/articlesbeyond_betrayal.htm
Huizenga, Robert (PhD) Infidelity: Difference Between a Rage and Revenge Affair. See http://www.break-free-from-the-affair.com/affair-articlesdrbobinfidelity_rage_revenge.htm