In the last two posts we looked at ways to vaccinate your marriage against infidelity, and how to deal with it if the worst happens - and possibly save the marriage.
But we've been dancing around a big issue - why does infidelity happen?
It looks like a complex issue, full of grave psychological underpinnings. But I don't buy that. I think the reasons are pretty simple.
People look outside their marriage for something they perceive is lacking within it.
Please note the word 'perceive'. It's a purely subjective judgement, and very often totally unfair to the wronged spouse.
Most cheating mates, when they return to their senses - and their marriages, if that option exists - lament that they had what they wanted all along, and they've been fools. Fools who did an immense amount of damage, mind.
So...what's lacking? What could possibly be missing from a marriage that has lasted years?
For men, it boils down to a couple of items:
Admiration - Men have fragile egos; no surprise there. Most of them need to be told - constantly - how wonderful they are (and given the opportunity they will tell you how wonderful they are). In a marriage, when all the stories have been told and a bathroom's been shared for quite a while, that kind of adulation generally passes. Wives think - "I'm here, I love him, I show it every day...how can I do more?"
And they're right. A wife's actions speak louder than words, but many men have been deafened - or have deafened themselves - through popular culture. They want to identify with sports heroes or handsome and cool actors (or the characters they portray), but their pot-belly and minivan reality is far away from that.
So they get all insecure, and are vulnerable to the first woman (who isn't their wife) who calls them handsome, and who oohs and aahs over their exaggerated stories, heard for the first time.
Youth - For most men the passage of decades results in some definite physiological changes - you know what I mean, so I don't have to be specific. This sets some on a road to 'prove' themselves with a younger woman (as if a younger woman could magically make them younger, too).
Obviously, the similarly-aged wife just doesn't have the...whatever...to keep her man young.
It's idiotic. Men who do this - and I've known many - don't have the first clue how absurd they look. It's kind of like calling a comb-over a makeover.
Their adventure causes tears for the one who loves them, and they will end in tears themselves.
You may have the idea that I harbor no respect for men who cheat. You're right, because at heart they're liars. They're lying to their spouses, and they're lying to themselves.
What about women? Why do they turn away from their marriages?
They perceive a lack of closeness.. Women generally marry to be part of a couple (while men marry to 'have' a wife and family). When that joint identity is ignored by one-half of the partnership, it makes a woman lonelier than she ever believed she could feel.
Men are great at courtship. They tend to be lousy at relationship, drifting away into a kind of psuedo-macho aloofness. The flowers that came every week are replaced with a card - purchased at a convenience store - on birthdays and Valentine's Day (if they remember).
It's not that men don't care - they do, but they show love by doing 'stuff'. For a man, changing the oil in the car is an act of devotion, and cleaning a toilet without being asked is the ultimate romantic gesture.
Many women don't understand this, and they're vulnerable to a man who will revive the magic of courtship. They're not looking to prove themselves, using someone else's body. They're looking for another chance to be loved in the way that they knew (and the way society tells them to expect).
The really sad thing is that there's a category of men who prey on this situation - there's no other word for it. They're self-appointed Lotharios, and they're also scum.
If you think I'm more understanding of women who cheat - you;'re right. Their situation is often tragic, in the strict and specific sense of the word (a good person with a fatal flaw).
Marriage is not easy (no, really?). It takes a promise, and a commitment to honor that promise...and the daily effort to make that commitment a reality.
It takes an effort to understand one's mate. To listen, and to learn, both specifically, and about how a different gender sees things in general.
And it takes self-awareness. You've got to know what you're doing wrong, and what you're doing right, without either self-justification or self-praise.
It's worth it.