If your spouse has had an affair, and you're haunted by why... you're not alone.
One of the most common questions I'm asked is... "Dr. Kathy, why did this happen? Why did my husband have an affair?"
Truth is, this is a tricky question to answer, because it's so specific to each person, and while there are many theories about why we have affairs...
I can tell you what I've learned from helping hundreds of couples who've dealt with this issue...
Affairs happen when we get into an emotional Bermuda Triangle.
You've heard about the Bermuda Triangle, right? It's a triangular area of open water between Florida, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico where planes and ships have mysteriously disappeared.
I've noticed that when three circumstances occur at the same time, people are at HIGH RISK for an affair.
I call these circumstances the Affair Bermuda Triangle.
We are in the Affair Bermuda Triangle when these 3 things happen:
- Being in some type of deep emotional pain, particularly depression.
- Suffering a recent loss or dealing with a trauma.
- Feeling unloved or unimportant because the marriage is strained or disconnected.
The story of Mike and Kelly perfectly illustrates the Bermuda Triangle...
Mike was a very successful entrepreneur. He grew his business from nothing to a huge, multi-million dollar corporation. He was on top of the world, until his father died suddenly.
Mike become very depressed and started to shut down. His dad had always been his rock and he was lost without him.
Mike paid less and less attention to what was going on at work and started withdrawing from his family.
He preferred to be in his own world....
So as you might imagine, the company started struggling and the big contract they were working on was cancelled for poor performance. Mike was devastated. The company that he loved, that he thought of as his baby, was now dying too and he just couldn't handle it.
He felt a lot of pain, and was also really embarrassed.
This company was the one thing he was really great at and he was so proud of it. He was ashamed to tell Kelly how badly things had gone and he didn't want to scare her by telling her that everything at work was falling apart.
Kelly knew Mike wasn't working as much, but she didn't know how bad things were. She didn't understand why Mike was so distant and shut down. She felt he was being mean, cold, and secretive... so she'd ignore him, spend more time with the kids and her friends, and slowly, their marriage started to crumble. After a while, they were both living in their own worlds, barely talking, feeling like the other one had abandoned them.
While Kelly turned to her friends and family for comfort during this time, Mike looked outside the marriage.
As things were getting worse, Mike spent more time talking to people on Facebook. On Facebook, he could still be "the man" and could still present himself as cool, successful, and wealthy.
(Please know that I love Mike and Kelly and I am not trying to judge Mike; I am hoping to honestly illustrate what happened....)
Mike couldn't be real or honest with Kelly, so he started talking to girls who were friends of friends on Facebook. He could be "Super Mike" with them and they adored him... that made him feel good and he liked living in that fantasy world.
As time went on, he became somewhat addicted to his online friends and was constantly craving their attention.
It makes sense, right?
Mike was in a lot of pain and he couldn't deal with the real world. The only place he felt good was in the fantasy online world, so that's where he wanted to be....
And I bet you can imagine how this worked out...
Mike was ignoring Kelly, Kelly was trying to connect with him and he kept shutting her down... she finally stopped trying.
Mike felt worse and worse, and when Kelly stopped trying to reach him, he leaned even more on his online friends. He ended up meeting one in person and they had an affair.
Can you spot the elements of the Affair Bermuda Triangle in their story?
Mike was depressed, had experienced a loss (his father and his company), and felt unloved because he was so disconnected from Kelly.
Mike and Kelly's story illustrates a couple of other important things about affairs...
Affairs become like an addiction.
They are something we start because we feel bad and we want to stop the pain. Once we start an affair, it's hard to stop because the original source of the pain is still there (Mike's dad was still gone, the company was still going downhill) and now, we have the prospect of facing even more pain.
If we stop the affair, we stop getting our "medicine" (which is the affection and attention the affair brings), so we feel even worse. And at that point, we're so weak, we can't even imagine how we'd deal with that pain.
Affairs always come to light and when they do, it's incredibly messy.
When Mike's affair was discovered, Mike's mood plummeted even lower. His original pain of losing his dad and his company was still there, plus now he had to worry about losing his marriage, his family, and deal with the shame of what he did. On top of that, he was experiencing withdrawals from losing his "drug", which was the attention and affection from the affair.
Kelly was so confused about why Mike wasn't fighting for her...
Kelly didn't understand any of it!
(And by the way, she's a brilliant lady... this was not an intelligence thing, this was a case of her being completely confused by Mike's behavior).
Kelly kept asking: Why didn't he come talk to me? Why did he ignore me? Why isn't he being more attentive now? Why is he still shutting down? Why isn't he fighting more for me and for our kids?
All of these are perfectly reasonable questions... and the answer is that Mike was way too depressed to do anything.
I explained to Kelly that even though she was suffering profoundly, she was coping far better than he was. Her mood was at a 2 out of 10; Mike's mood was at a -2. He was so below water that he couldn't even start to do the right things to stabilize the marriage and make things better.
Kelly struggled with that.
Not her fault, everyone struggles with this. And if you're in the same situation, I'll tell you what I told her: it's not right, it's not fair, but it's the deal. We have to work together to get out of this spot, but it will often not seem right or fair.
Truth is that Kelly was a lot stronger and more psychologically "healthy" than Mike was and even though she was the innocent party, she had far more ability to make things better at the time than Mike did.
When I met with Mike and Kelly, I explained that we have to work together to try to increase compassion, positivity, and friendship in the marriage.... even though everyone is suffering and hurt.
Only when we feel a little better do we have the energy to do the work to heal the marriage.
So their homework for their first week was to treat each other as friends, not talk about the affair for the week, let the bad feelings die down, and to point out what positive things the other one was doing.
When they came back, things had improved. Their moods were both better and I could see they both had some energy to start working through the affair. We started going through the Affair Recovery Roadmap (for Mike) and the Hurt Spouse Healing Guide (for Kelly).
I am pleased to tell you that Mike and Kelly did get over the affair and their relationship is now very strong.
Mike was able to turn the business around and things are good once again. Both of them regard the affair as one of the worst things that ever happened to them, but they're so happy they found a way to work through it. I still get Christmas cards from them every year and I am so proud of how hard they worked to save their marriage.
If they can do it, so can you!
Dr. K's NEW Book on Infidelity Recovery
The Courage to Stay - How To Heal From an Affair & Save Your Marriage
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