By Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Marriage can be a struggle for so many reasons. Struggles may be as simple
as; immaturity of one or both partners; financial pressures; caring for aging
parents; sexual boredom; care of children; juggling jobs and so on.
In a healthy marriage as struggles ensue, the partners raise issues between
themselves and seek to resolve them through direct dialogue. In other words,
Talking is by no means always easy. Issues raised may be sensitive for any
variety of reasons. A spouse may need to comment on his or her in-laws, care
of the children, sexual needs, money, etc. Owing to the sensitivity of the subject
and the ability of spouses to be forthright and also receptive to comment, issues
may be addressed entirely, partially and sometimes, not at all. When issues
are only partially addressed or not addressed, spouses may harbor any number
of feelings including, upset, resentment, sadness and anger. Unresolved, these
feelings can fester, leaving spouses feeling more upset, either one to the other,
or equally between themselves. In some marriages, this shows up as conflict
with fighting sometimes erupting over seemingly trivial events. For others,
festering feelings can lead to a distancing between the spouses where they no
longer talk at all.
Left unresolved, spouses can find themselves angry and/or lonely in their marriage.
For some this may lead to feelings of retribution – wanting to get back
or in other situations, an emotional vulnerability or neediness. Some persons
may at this point consider an affair as a solution to the issue of a now problematic
By definition, affairs are harmful. They are secretive events that when discovered
bring more turmoil to the marriage and undermines the integrity of the participants.
If undiscovered, the participant must live with the wound to his or her own
integrity, as an affair requires deceptive behavior and demands lying to carry
on. If caught, lies not only continue but often escalate as the participant
seeks to minimize or obscure their participation therein. Once determined by
the marital partner, the integrity of the marriage is undermined in a way that
tends to trace back to the spouse having the affair. Hence whatever else had
transpired leading up to the affair, the affair becomes the focal point and
that spouse is branded a cheater. What follows next is a cascade of problems.
The non-offending spouse feels betrayed, embarrassed and humiliated at the hands
of the spouse having the affair. The spouse having the affair is subject to
scrutiny from friends, family, and workmates. He or she may be thought of as
untrustworthy, tainted, out of control and even dirty. When the marital couple
has children, they are immediately thrust into the turmoil and are likely to
align with the non-offending parent. Hence an affair not only fractures a marital
bond, but also parent-child relationships.
In lieu of an affair, couples in distress are advised to talk and work things
out between themselves. If they cannot address matters and resolve them between
themselves, they should seek help from a reputable marriage counselor. In the
event that the marriage cannot be improved and one or both spouses seek to end
the marriage, they can do so without the added injury imposed by an affair.
Ending a marriage before an affair improves the likelihood that they both may
enjoy ongoing relationships with their own children as well as extended family
Not that anyone wants to see a marriage end, but certainly some ways are better
than others. Seek help and do all you can before ending a marriage. If it ends,
spouses should not have to endure any extra pain and upset for an affair along
the way. An affair is no way to end a marriage.