Dear Dr. Hurd:
I’m trying to understand why I recently had an affair. My wife found out and it hurt her greatly, as well as humiliating me. Can you help me understand why I did this? I’m not looking for excuses, simply insight. I think I love my wife, but I don’t know if it’s possible to love someone when you would do something like this to them. Maybe I don’t love her. Oddly, there’s a certain closeness and even renewed sexual excitement going on between us since she discovered the affair. I’m confused.
Dr. Hurd’s reply:
What was the infidelity a symptom of?
Why did you want the infidelity, so much that you acted on it?
Why did you want someone else to love?
It’s not about justifying or excusing it, but explaining it. Otherwise, you cannot understand why you don’t love your wife, or at least why you didn’t love her enough at the time to remain faithful to her.
Faithfulness in marriage (or a committed relationship) is usually seen as a duty. ‘You don’t want to do it, but you remain faithful to the other person. It’s the selfless and therefore right thing to do.’
This is all wrong.
One should never do something unless it’s rational, unless it serves one’s own interest. Rationally and from a self-interested point-of-view, fidelity is necessary because, ‘If I’m not faithful, I know I’m hurting someone I love, by leading her to believe I love her when I really don’t, at least not in the way she thinks i.e. exclusively. I can’t do that to her. It would hurt ME, knowing I’m doing this, even if she didn’t find out. On top of that, I have to fake reality from the moment the deception begins. I don’t want to fake reality with the one person in the world I ought to be able to be authentic with.’
Of course, if you don’t love her enough to do all this, you shouldn’t be with her. And if you’re confused, it’s advisable to hold off on a new relationship until you first clear up the confusion. An affair is usually an attempt to escape and evade the confusion, rather than first resolving it.
I don’t know if you now love your wife again, or if you never really stopped loving her, or what it is. Do you know yet? One thing is for sure: Being able to live in reality and be authentic, without faking, is the best and only way to live. Even when the circumstances are painful and embarrassing, it’s still better to be authentic than not. Living a lie is the worst, isn’t it?
I understand there must be great relief from no longer having to live a lie. To an otherwise honest person, it’s a huge burden that’s lifted, once the affair is exposed. The truth does, indeed, set you free. It’s even euphoric at first. That could explain the renewed sexual and emotional connection between you and your wife. However, the euphoria from lifting the burden will not be permanent. In order to go on in your marriage, it has to be like this: ‘Even when the euphoria wears off, it’s a whole new marriage. I WANT to be with her, and only with her. I don’t want to be with anyone else.’
Assuming this is the case, then what was the major error that caused your perception before to be so off? What drastically wrong assumption (or assumptions) did you hold about your wife that you now no longer hold, and what exactly refuted them? I’m asking you to be clear with me only to ensure that you’re clear with yourself. You don’t owe ME an explanation, but you do owe one to yourself. If you already answered these concisely for yourself, then fine. Your job is done, to that extent. Otherwise, do make sure you take the time you need to answer these questions. If you don’t, the old problems will come back to bite you (and your wife).
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