Saturday, January 31, 2015

Evaluating the Why

I've dealt with the "why" question before in How Could He Have Done This to Me? article. Hurt spouses often want to know why their unfaithful spouse cheated on them. I've talked about this in my book as well.

As we've noted before, there is no answer to the question of "why" that an unfaithful spouse can give that will cause the hurt spouse to say, "Oh, I see. That makes sense. I can see why you did it."

This is compounded by the fact that often an unfaithful spouse doesn't know why they did it. While sometimes there are identifiable motivating factors that led them down that path, rarely does an unfaithful spouse understand themselves enough to identify why they chose that path.

The decision to have an affair is usually made based on emotions and desires, not rational, logical thought processes. If it is the latter, you have a psychopath on your hands. Consequently, few are the unfaithful spouses who sat down one day thinking they weren't happy in their marriage so they decided to seek out an affair partner. Rather, they are drawn into it emotionally, step by step, until desire takes over and reason is thrown to the wind. Damn the consequences. Few unfaithful spouses have rationally evaluated why they had an affair, other than justifications they may have come up with once it was underway.

One might conclude from that, then, that seeking out a why is a pointless exercise. If most unfaithful spouses don't have a clue why, and no answer would satisfy a hurt spouse, then why seek for a why?

We don't need to know the why to justify the affair or to make sense of a senseless act. We need to find out the why in order to heal both spouses from the damage of an affair.

It's like when your car breaks down. The first thing you want to verify is why it broke. What broke. So you'll know what needs fixing and take preventative steps to keep it from breaking again if need be. You don't want to know why it isn't working because you need closure or make sense of the car's motivation and reasons it decided to stop working. You don't need to know why so you can justify why the car broke down, decide who is to blame for it doing so. The goal is to diagnose and fix it.

There are two levels of why an affair happens that need to be understood to diagnose so you'll know what needs to be addressed for healing in both spouses.

1. The Unfaithful Spouse's Choices

Some angry hurt spouses put the reason the unfaithful spouse cheated is due to a selfish and uncaring attitude that it is all about me, me me! Indeed, for most people interacting with a person in the middle of an affair, that seems to be the case. While understandable that a hurt spouse would feel that way, it isn't so much the underlying principle that is wrong as it is the judgmental assigning of motives to an entire group of people. Makes it easy to "diagnose" when it is all due to one solitary reason.

But there is one overarching reason why an unfaithful spouse has an affair.

Desire met opportunity and the spouse was tempted to fulfill a "need" the desire created in an inappropriate manner, and they gave into it.

Was selfishness involved in that process. Most surely. Was uncaring an issue here? It would be hard to classify such an act as caring to the hurt spouse and the family, so yes. But that doesn't really tell us why. We can all be selfish and uncaring at times. Often in small ways, occasionally in bigger ways, so we're only speaking in degrees of selfishness.

Saying it was selfishness translates into saying they did it because that's who they are. You can't fix stupid, so there is nothing further to discuss. In essence, they are saying the degree of brokenness is so great the engine is trashed and only good enough to be thrown away. It is a diagnoses of why they are abandoning the person, not a diagnoses intended to address the cause of the breakdown and heal it if possible.

No, if you get to a real why, you get to what needs to be dealt with. Moving it from a wrong motivation to an objective evaluation of what happened brings the focus on understanding it enough to know what the medicine needs to be.

It should be noted that a lot of unfaithful spouses want to accept the why as being "I acted like a selfish and uncaring person." Because that means they don't have to dig any further. It means all the unfaithful spouse has to do is to start being more caring and less selfish, which can often be done for a period of time. But if it never goes any further than that, it ends up being as superficial as the diagnosis, and the unfaithful spouse will not make the real changes they need to avoid another round with an affair partner.

Admitting that the unfaithful spouse was tempted and gave into that temptation implies two major conditions.

One, the unfaithful spouse exhibited weaknesses and poor choices that led to giving into a temptation.

Identifying what those are and how they led the unfaithful spouse into giving into an affair will identify what areas of the unfaithful spouse needs work and what boundaries they need to hold firmly to in order to not go down that road again.

By way of example, since it is in the book, Lenita and I identified what her weaknesses were and what temptations she had that led her to cross one boundary after another until she was so tempted to cross the final sexual boundaries in her affairs that she stopped resisting. By so doing, we applied solutions to address her weaknesses and what boundaries she needed to hold fast to in order to avoid that level of temptation again, and flee from it if it comes again instead of running to meet it.

Two, knowing the cause, you can find a solution.

Identifying, for instance, that Lenita was attracted to men's attention, that she has a weakness in that area, she is more fully able to both guard her mind from thinking or caring about wanting that attention, and avoid situations that would led itself to that attention. She had been doing and saying things to encourage men to notice and appreciate her. Now she knows she can't encourage that kind of attention without consequences.

Just saying someone is selfish does not give a direction on how to fix it. It is too general. Rather, you want to know what selfish actions specifically led to allowing an affair to happen. When a couple focuses on what is wrong with what happened rather than on what is wrong with each other, then direction for healing can be evaluated.

By the way, you can fix stupid. It happens every day. If that were true, none of us would be fixable.

2. Evaluating the Needs of the Unfaithful Spouse

This is where some hurt spouses will tend to push back. They fear that in identifying the unfaithful spouse's needs, we are blaming the hurt spouse for the affair. It doesn't help that society often takes that view as well. I've had more than one person talk to me as if the affair happened because I wasn't doing my part as a husband.

That is an erroneous conclusion as will be made clear as we go. But we need to discuss the issue of blame in general as it relates to infidelity so we're all on the same page.

Blame Isn't a Seesaw

Too often, we view blame as a seesaw: the more you can blame one person, the less blame the other person carries. So the hurt spouse may feel anything identified as a need is something they failed to fulfill, making them to blame for the affair, therefore reducing the blame and responsibility on the unfaithful spouse. But it doesn't work that way.

Blame and guilt is more of merry-go-round. If you get it going fast enough, everyone will fall off. Whose to blame for it? Depends on how many and who were pushing. If only one person, then only one person's fault. If four, then it is all four's fault for the event. Among the four maybe one or two pushed harder or longer than the others, and so bear a greater degree of the blame.

Sometimes I'm asked who's fault was it for the affair, my wife's or her affair partner's? What percent goes to her and him? 50%/50%? No, that is a seesaw way of looking at it. They both decided to do it, even if enticed into it, so both are 100% to blame, except in cases where the affair partner was deceived by the unfaithful spouse as to their marital status.

"So, if I failed to meet my spouse's need that led him to have an affair, then aren't I to blame for the affair as well?"

No. True, you may have contributed to their temptation, but you can only be to blame for your decisions and that which you have direct control over. Not meeting a valid need may mean you are to blame in part for the condition of your relationship. But you cannot control whether your spouse has an affair or not. That is a decision they made unknown to you. They bear the full blame for that action. Any contribution you made to the negative condition of the relationship did not force them to have an affair. They had more ethical,  honorable, and effective options available to them to respond to marital problems.

I've only see a couple instances when I would lay part of the blame for the affair on the hurt spouse. In both instances it involved the hurt spouse introducing another sexual partner into the relationship via a threesome, resulting in an affair between the other two. Does the fact they did that relieve the unfaithful spouse from blame? No. They are still 100% to blame. They could have said no to the threesome. They could have said no to an affair. Just because the hurt spouse is in part to blame doesn't lessen the unfaithful spouse's blame for the affair. Both pushed the merry-go-round.

Keep in mind what we said earlier. We're not seeking who is to blame in order to point fingers, but to identify what needs fixing. If the generator belt in your car starts squeaking, but you blame the power steering belt, you'll never fix the squeak no matter how many times you change out the power steering belt or the pump. Same here. If the unfaithful spouse decided to allow an affair because they enjoyed the attention too much, it will do little good to focus on getting the hurt spouse to wash the dishes more often. History will likely repeat itself.

That understanding leads us to more objectively examine another truth.

All Affairs are Driven by Unmet Needs

I'm not prone to making near absolute statements. There is almost always an exception somewhere. In this case, such exceptions would be very rare, so I feel safe in stating it this way.

Again, some hurt spouses will not agree, but that is because they tend to have the following incomplete definition of a "need": something needed for one's survival or wellbeing. Therefore they interpret the above statement as saying all affairs are based upon needs that need filling. Generally assuming it is needs the hurt spouse has failed to meet, thus they are to blame. If you think that, go back to the last section and re-read it.

Needs, as I'm using them here, are more broadly understood. Needs can be classified in the following categories.

  • A valid need that is realistic.
  • A perceived need that is realistic.
  • A valid need that is unrealistic.
  • A perceived need that is unrealistic.

Let's break that down.

A need can be a valid or perceived need. A valid need is a need required to be met for survival or one's well being. Food is an obvious example. A vacation might be as well for an overworked employee.

A perceived need is a desire for a non-valid need elevated to the level of a need as perceived by that person. These tend to be called addictions. "I need chocolate!" would be one benign example. It's not that the person really needs it to survive, but they want it so bad that it becomes, in their eyes, equivalent to a valid need.

Also, a need can be realistic or unrealistic to meet. It is realistic to meet the need for food in most cases. Our days are numbered if we don't. It is realistic to expect the boss to give us a week's vacation when we've earned it. Same with perceived needs. It is realistic to expect to obtain some chocolate at the store in most cases without too much cash, effort, or ethical violations.

A need can also be unrealistic to be met. Dinning at the most expensive restaurant in town when funds are limited may be unrealistic to meet. In most cases, it would be unrealistic to expect your boss to give you a 6 month paid vacation no matter how much you felt you needed it. A failing heart may not find a replacement in time; if there are none available, it would be unrealistic to expect one or to kill someone to get it.

More common, however, perceived needs can be unrealistic. Cocaine is unrealistic because you have to break the law to obtain it. If you didn't have the money for chocolate, so you shoplifted a bar, you've stepped into an unreasonable means of meeting that perceived need.

I'd add a fifth category: when meeting either kind of need is impossible. It's a silly example, but gets the point across: you have a perceived need to fly like Superman. Impossible while on Earth.

Any one particular unfaithful spouse will have most all of these. We all do. When it comes to affairs, a very high percentage of them are driven by unrealistic perceived needs. Every once in a while you'll run across an affair that blossomed from an unmet, realistic, valid need, but those are rare.

This is complicated by the reality that these needs tend to overlap at times, which is why some unfaithful spouses will say, "It's because you didn't ____________." In reality, though, that only played a minor role.

To illustrate, I'll use our example.

My wife had a valid need that we all have: to be loved, desired, and wanted. I met that need in her when we married in 1982. According to her, while I've not always effectively showed it, she felt I didn't fulfill that valid desire, even during the affair.

But due to her childhood, being ignored and made to not feel wanted, she developed a perceived need for attention. At first, I met this need too. Then as we had children, they met that need. By the time our youngest was headed into his senior year of high school, she feared feeling lonely in part because I tended to be wrapped up in my world and she in hers.

Add onto that her weight loss, and the attention she was able to attract from men by being flirty, her perceived need for attention grew into attention from men. It then became unreasonable, because she was advertising something she originally didn't intend to give.

Likewise, for me, it became impossible for me to meet her upgraded need. I could have given her all the attention she could want and it wouldn't have changed anything because by that point, she knew I wanted, desired, and loved her for over 28 years. My attention couldn't generate in her the same excitement and infatuation that another man's could, because mine was old hat.

Eventually, someone took it further than flirting. Gradually, it generated in her more perceived needs that were unrealistic to meet, right up to wanting sex with someone other than me for the experience.

We traced in her how a valid need was expanded into a perceived need, then into an unrealistic to meet perceived need and impossible for me to meet need that could only be met by other men. She now knows where her weaknesses are and what to avoid in order not to find herself headed down that road again.

So getting to the why in order to address the problem in the end involves evaluating the root needs that drove it: valid and perceived, realistic and unrealistic or impossible to fulfill needs. Once you've identified the root needs that drove the decision to allow an affair to take place, only then can they be addressed and healed.

That's why all affairs are driven by the need of the unfaithful spouse, and the majority of those are unrealistic to meet perceived needs. None of which blames the hurt spouse, nor let's the unfaithful spouse off the hook of responsibility. But it does show you how to fix it.

I've Not Forgotten

For readers of this blog, you may have noticed I've been absent the last three months. It's not that I'm dead or have been locked away in prison. Nor have I decided not to write anymore post.

So what's up and what can you expect?

November I took an intentional break due to a writing project I'd hoped to make some headway with. I did make some progress on it before life got in the way. A combination of things really. My Parkinson's symptoms didn't help at times. I also did not just a fair amount of house cleaning in my wife's business, but spent a good hunk of time getting her more officially set up, do the bookkeeping and getting that caught up. Add into that the holidays, two weekend trips, getting using employees in her business set up, and the extra paperwork due by today (1/31/15, done!), and I simply didn't have enough time and/or energy to finish another blog post. I started one earlier in January, and will try to finish that soon.

My goal is to post at least two articles a month. Obviously, if I finish the unfinished one, I'll only have one this month. Unless you count this one.

So I've not forgotten this blog and will work to get out articles as I'm able.

This might be a good time to request, if I've not covered it yet, a topic you'd like to see on this blog. Put them in the comment section of this post.

Now, off to see if I can finish that article.