A married friend once confided in me about an affair she’d had with an old college boyfriend. It had been brief but intense and ended badly, with her husband discovering a trail of emails that told the whole story. Even the boyfriend abandoned her out of anger that she’d allowed her husband to discover the affair, thereby putting his own marriage in jeopardy. Though she and her husband ultimately reconciled, it took years for her to fully regain his trust.
Interestingly, the most remarkable details of her story were how unremarkable they were. Hers was almost a textbook lesson of what happens when people in committed relationships have affairs, replete with the lessons we can learn from it. Here are just a few:
The Facebook Trap
Though my friend and “Brad” had dated in college, they’d been out of touch for many years. In the interim came the advent of Facebook. Facebook is a great way to reconnect with old friends, but t’s also an easy way to reconnect with old flames better left in the past. I’m not suggesting it’s impossible to look up old boyfriends or girlfriends, email a quick “hello” and leave it at that. But the temptation to become Internet pen pals—without respecting proper boundaries—is dangerously strong for a lot of people.
You can’t fill a square void with a round peg.
People often have unconscious motivations for entering into an affair, including trying to fill voids in their lives that may have nothing to do with the prospective lover. In my friend’s case, reconnecting with “Brad” made her feel younger and protected, taking her back to a time in her life where she felt more sure of herself.
Sleeping with him, however, did nothing to fill my friend’s true voids, which in her case included some complicated factors such as (1) she had never properly grieved the loss of her father, who died while she was in college, and (2) she had abandoned the writing career she had planned to pursue after graduation. Sleeping with her old boyfriend did nothing address those needs in her life – it was just a distraction from them.
The grass is not always greener
Anyone who’s been married more than a year knows that the honeymoon doesn’t last forever. We often take sex for granted, because, after all, we’re married. Meanwhile, life intervenes—bills, laundry, cleaning up after the dog—and there’s nothing sexy about those. It takes work to keep the romance going.
Not so with an affair. Forbidden sex, to start with, is a major turn-on for many. But far more dangerous is the illusion that the romance—unencumbered by children, mortgages, or even consistently spending time together—runs deeper than it really does. My friend and her lover never had the chance to see each other’s human flaws. She loved that he treated her like a princess, but his image of her was based on little more than sex and pillow talk.
I’ve already told you how the affair ended, but there was good news in the aftermath. She and her husband learned to communicate more about what each needed from the other on a regular basis. She worked with a therapist to start getting to the heart of the voids she’s hoped the boyfriend would fill, such as finally grieving her father and picking up where she’d left years earlier by making a real effort to pursue her creative dreams. Best of all, she learned that her husband really did love her—flaws and all—and that their relationship was ultimately more satisfying and far more substantial than what she’d thought she’d found in Brad.
Her only regret? That she didn’t learn all that without risking the destruction of her marriage in the first place. Still, there are lessons to be learned from her mistakes, and knowing some of the warning signs is an excellent start.
If you need help repairing the damage after an affair (and working through the issues that cause the affair in the first place)—or are worried you’re headed in that direction—please give us at a call at 949-393-8662 or schedule an appointment via our online calendar. We at the OC Relationship Center are here to help you.