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An estimated 40 percent of American marriages experience at least one episode of infidelity. Studies show more men than women cheat, but they often do it for the same reasons. While infidelity is a factor in many divorces, half of American marriages survive an extramarital affair. New social science and medical research is contributing to understanding the causes of infidelity. And it’s helping therapists guide couples who seek to repair a damaged marriage. A discussion on what drives people to cheat and how infidelity can affect children and the whole family.
- Lindsey Hoskins marriage and family therapist; president-elect of the Middle Atlantic Division of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists.
- Dr. Scott Haltzman clinical psychiatrist and author of several books on marriage and families.
- Carolyn Hax advice columnist for The Washington Post.
Ask An Expert: Listeners’ Questions On Infidelity
Dr. Scott Haltzman, a longtime therapist and expert on infidelity and marriage, addresses your questions about relationships, why people cheat and how to rebuild trust after an affair. Some questions have been edited for space and clarity.
Q: What are some of the most common reasons why people who have been cheated on stay in a marriage (after they find out)? – from Salomé via Facebook
A: Factors that affect whether a person chooses to try to repair the marriage include the social and economical conditions, the welfare of the children, the expectations or the culture, or the fears of the affected person about being alone. Love for the spouse and respect for shared history also affect someone’s decision to stick in there. The other variable, of course, is the actions of a partner once he or she comes clean about the affair. If they dismiss it or refuse to talk about it, act like it’s the other spouse’s fault, or still insist on having their own private lives, it increases the risk that partner cheated on will just get fed up or hopeless.
Q: I am curious what your panelists think about consensual polyamory or “swinging,” as a way to accommodate wandering sexual urges in a marriage. It seems like a very healthy way to handle a very natural desire. – from Alice via email
A: Some people enthusiastically view swinging as an alternative to having to be with the same sex partner for life; they claim it works for them. In my experience, usually one partner is much more gung ho on engaging in this lifestyle, which increases the sense of isolation, confusion and even sense of unattractiveness in the spouse who reluctantly agrees. Even in the rare case that both partners are equally in favor of this lifestyle, the basic premise is faulty: that you can separate sex from emotional attachment. Having sex with someone triggers attraction and bonding, which can lead to partners falling in love with their new sex partners. This interferes with the solidarity of the marriage.
Q: Infidelity seems to be defined quite differently by many cultures. There are a multitude of cultures in America. How can any survey measure infidelity rates if the definition is so broad? – from Phil via email
A: This is one of the main limitations on any research on infidelity: how to define it. Additionally, to complicate things, people lie about whether they are having affairs or not. One study that compared face-to-face interviews with computerized surveys showed a six-fold increase in people who admitted to affairs. The spouse with the broadest view of infidelity generally ends up setting the tone for the marriage. For example, if one spouse defines watching porn as “cheating,” then the partner who is comfortable with porn has to respect his or her partner’s preferences.
Q: When a husband cheats and brings a STD into the marriage, can this ever be repaired? – from Teresa via email
A: When a husband cheats, he already brings “disease” into the marriage; and whether STDs are present or not, it still takes a lot of work to get a marriage back on track. STDs reflect an even higher degree of disrespect toward the marriage and the spouse. So many factors play to into whether marriages stay together or fall apart, though. That and STD isn’t a de facto death sentence to the marriage.
Q: Should children be told of a parent’s infidelity? I was crushed when my mother told me about my father’s infidelities after he had been dead for over 30 years. – Name withheld by request, via email
A: Knowing that your partner cheated on you while everyone else glorifies that person can be a difficult emotional load to carry; the problem is, it then becomes everyone else’s load. In your mother’s case, it sounds like she needed you to see him the way she did. Your being “crushed,” may reflect what she experienced when she found out. Now you know! Did that help you? Maybe not. Did it help her? Probably.
You may also want to check out my blog post on whether children should know you’ve had an affair.
Q: How, if at all, does social media play a role in infidelity? Does it increase the chances that someone may be unfaithful? Does an online relationship that remains one-dimensional count as infidelity? – from Kristen via email
A: Social media and e-communication has dramatically increased infidelity, not only because of the increased risk of meeting someone for the first time through the Web, or reconnecting with someone from the past through social networking sites, but also as a means, to perpetuate a potential affair. If 15 years ago you meet a friend from hundreds of miles away, the relationship is likely to die out because you can’t very well keep calling and writing to each other without being discovered. Now, between Facebook, emails, and texting, people can maintain and intensify what, in the past, would have been “near misses.”
Q: Aren’t men “programmed” (for lack of a better word) to spread their “biological fitness”? Is this true? What’s answer for men? – from @BMwalt via Twitter
A: Evolutionary biologists make a strong argument for a man to have multiple female sex partners as the best way of propagating DNA. A woman has to wait nine months between being able to produce one offspring with her genes, and at a cost to her biological well-being. A man can be involved in having hundreds of offspring in that time (if he can find that many women). But there’s a biological reason for men to stay with women too. After all, if the jumps from woman to woman, when his progeny is born, he won’t be able to protect it from some other man who might kill off the baby in order to eliminate the first guy’s DNA from the gene pool.
The bottom line here is “human nature” is not an excuse to have an affair. We have instincts to do all kinds of things, from punching out bosses, to pushing people out of lines at airports, to taking the really cool Ferrari in the neighbor’s driveway out for a spin. Part of being human and living in society is the capacity to control instincts, and not have them control us.
Q: I’ve been involved with the same woman for the past 11 years (not married), we are in a committed relationship and live together. I just found out that she has been involved with another man. How do I cope with this? What can I do to not let my imagination/mind get the best of me and obsess about this? It’s very upsetting to me and I don’t trust that I am getting the whole story. – from Scott via email
A: At this point, Scott, the ball is in your girlfriend’s court in terms of giving you the tools to deal with this. If she is willing to end the relationship, be open with you and answer all of your questions without reservation, then you can begin to get you imagination in line with reality. That will help give you the information you need to figure out what you want to do next. My book, “The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity” was written to help couple sort though this, but if it’s not sufficient, then seeing a therapist may help.
Q: Is masturbation infidelity? – from Mario via email
A: Depends who you ask. I personally don’t believe so, and most secular therapists view it as a healthy adjunct to a sexual relationship, so long as it is not related to porn addiction or detracts from participating in sexual liaisons with a spouse. Many therapists who use scripture as their source of treatment feel that masturbation is a form of infidelity. Recall Jimmy Carter’s famous confession that he sinned in his heart because he even thought about other women.
Q: I was wondering if your guests could address work spouses, a unit where two colleagues in the workplace engage in a non-sexual relationship to gain some sort of benefits. Is this considered to be infidelity? – from Jared via email
A: If you have a close working relationship with someone, hold no secrets with them, make it clear the extent to which you adore your spouse and your family, leave no openings for any inappropriate words or acts, and share fully the nature of all collegial interactions with your spouse, then it’s off my radar screen for “infidelity.”
Q: My ex was proud that he didn’t physically stray, but he had two emotional affairs. To my mind it is equally damaging. We could not get past it. Thoughts? – Name withheld by request, via email
A: Many people (particularly women) feel the emotional affairs can be just as damaging as physical affairs. In the beginning of the interview, I spent some time defining infidelity, because not everyone sees it the same way. If your husband is willing, this gives you a chance to have a discussion about your definition of what constitutes an affair and see whether, rather than “agree to disagree,” you can, instead, get a commitment to adopt your definition. If holds fast, then it’s time to go to a counselor, and agree to accept the definition of an informed third party. Before you go to the therapist, be prepared to follow the advice. You have to be ready to hear that your definition is too strict and the therapist may tell you to ease up, or your husband may hear he has crossed the line, and he has to be willing to change ways.
Q: Do counselors ever acknowledge the possibility that repeated infidelity may be a sign of someone’s legitimate polyamorous tendencies? Perhaps part of healing may be admitting that loving more than one person can be healthy, rather than viewing such feelings as destructive to a loving relationship. Also, at what point does jealousy become emotional abuse? Denying a partner the opportunity to make new human connections may be symptomatic of a desire to control and manipulate. So, can such extreme jealousy actually be more damaging than so-called infidelity? (I think this is especially important to consider when we find ourselves restricted very early in a relationship.) – from Chris via email
A: Who can understand human nature; we may all be born with polyamorous instincts. If people want to live that way, they shouldn’t forge a marriage contract that pledges monogamy. Some people enthusiastically view swinging as an alternative to having to be with the same sex partner for life; they claim it works for them. In my experience, usually one partner is much more gung ho on engaging in this lifestyle, which increases the sense of isolation, confusion and even sense of unattractiveness in the spouse who reluctantly agrees. Even in the rare case that both partners are equally in favor of this lifestyle, the basic premise is faulty: that you can separate out sex from emotional attachment. Having sex with someone triggers attraction and bonding, which can lead to partners falling in love with their new sex partners. This interferes with the solidarity of the marriage.
I do agree that denying sexual liaisons between a spouse and someone outside of marriage may be a form of control, but much of marriage is about control, everything from a text that says “meet me at the market in 10 minutes” to insisting that you don’t wear that 20-year-old Hawaiian shirt to your in-law’s Thanksgiving party. I do think that restricting all kinds of connection or friendships with anyone who might be a potential threat my be overly controlling, but I’m OK with my spouse excerpting control over some aspects of my behavior, including who I have sex with (and where I’m permitted to wear a Hawaiian shirt).
Q: What is the impact on a family when a spouse has had an affair with someone and has brought that person into the home, and who is a person who is involved with the activities of the children at school related activities? – from Amy via email
A: The impact is huge, because the betrayal extends not only in the direction of the spouse, but to a trusted friend or associate as well.
Q: Why do you suppose we place so much emphasis on physical/sexual indiscretions? Is it because it is more “concrete” and easy to identify where emotional infidelity can be so vague to determine? How did we get to confusing physical to mean emotional? – from David via email
A: I agree that it’s difficult to define an emotional affair; even among people who have been through affairs and are in the process of healing, it’s still not clear when one partner has gone too far. The easiest remedy is to have a see-through marriage. That requires, on one hand, openness in communication. On the other hand, it requires the ability to ask questions, explore and address concerns without becoming overly judgmental or emotionally overwrought.
Q: The assumption that underlies the entire discussion on today’s show is the claim that the connection to another person outside of the marriage is “cheating,” or infidelity (all such words which note a moral failing). Please address why this type of behavior is deemed “wrong.” – from Tim via email
A: Please see my blog post about this topic.
Q: How is it possible to be both a realist and be fully trusting of one’s spouse, especially being relaxed about opposite-sex coworkers and friendships when opportunity is such a big factor in whether someone strays? I have no reason whatsoever to doubt my spouse, but one never knows. – from J. via email
A: The energy between two opposing forces can stimulate marriages; this issue of trust/realism is one of many such paradoxes in having a spouse and raising a family. By recognizing this challenge, you can foster communication between spouses and generate proactive problem solving to help “make sure” an affair never happens. And when you’re done securing what you can, you still never know for sure.
Q: Infidelity implies dishonesty–is the transgression the lying. Is it cheating if the transgressor is honest? Also, what about the increasingly fashionable idea marriage contracts which spell out and tailor expectations? – from @bitterdivorcee via Twitter
A: There are many transgressions associated with infidelity: Breaking marriage vows, lying, robbing a family and spouse out of time and emotional energy that is rightfully theirs. Even after affairs are discovered, there are layers of deceit that must be dealt with. Unless marriage vows don’t include sexual exclusivity, then all extramarital affairs are, contractually speaking, breaking a promise. Whether an open marriage is considered lying I’ll leave for philosophers to figure out.
Most couples can’t, won’t or don’t set out all the limitations on their relationship at the time of their wedding vows because they believe that their love will result in shared values and perceptions ever-after. No matter what you do or don’t spell out in advance, you run the risk of someone saying “well, that was how I felt then, and when I wrote it I could not have anticipated that I would feel this way now, so I no longer feel compelled to do it.” In my view, the simpler the vows the better: get the rock solid core of marriage, and let the relationship iron out the details over time.
Q: What does forgiveness look like? – from Sharon via email
A: First, if you have a chance, check out my blog post about apology. Forgiveness is a necessary last step in healing before a couple can begin to move their marriage forward. Sometimes it can take a long time, if ever, to materialize. It’s the voluntary choice to relieve someone of the emotional weight of their act—despite the recognition that you have been wronged–so that they may be free to grow and heal. It looks like: “Honey, I’m very hurt about all the things that have happened over the past X-months, not only about the affair, but about all the things that came before, during and after. But I know our relationship can’t go on unless I forgive you. Saying I forgive you doesn’t take away the wrong of what you’ve done, but it says I’m ready to move on with you to a better place. You’re forgiven.”
Amazingly, even though forgiveness is a gift you give your spouse, it’s a gift you give yourself, too. Holding on to anger and resentment builds up inside you, acting as a poison both to you and the marriage. Studies show people who can forgive are happier, healthier and less prone to depression.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. For as long as there has been marriage there has been infidelity. In the U.S., about 40 percent of marriages at some point will be shaken by an extramarital affair. Not only can it destroy a marriage, it can hurt children and parent-child relationships. The good news is that many marriages survive, and can even become stronger. Joining me in the studio to talk about infidelity, Dr. Scott Haltzman. He's a clinical psychiatrist and author of a new book on infidelity, and Lindsey Hoskins, a marriage and family therapist.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us from an NPR studio is Woods Hole, Mass., Carolyn Hax, advice columnist for the Washington Post. Do join us, 800-433-8850, send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And good morning to all of you.
DR. SCOTT HALTZMANGood morning, Diane.
MS. LINDSEY HOSKINSGood morning, Diane.
MS. CAROLYN HAXGood morning.
REHMGood to have you all. And Carolyn Hax, I can see you clearly on Skype, and we'll carry on our conversation as though you were right here in the studio.
HAXI wish I were.
REHMI wish you were too. Dr. Haltzman, it seems to be that defining infidelity can by almost in the eye of the beholder. You could have people who within a marriage engage in sexual activity outside a marriage. You could have people who engage in an emotional affair. How do you define infidelity?
HALTZMANWell, we started by talking about marriage, and remember also, that some people define infidelity also if they're in a committed relationship and not married. So the range is quite broad. I think we can all understand that if you go to your neighbor's house and your spouse is in bed with that neighbor, that's infidelity. But there are obviously broader ranges of definitions of infidelity, and it's been broadening, I think, over the last couple -- probably the last 10, 15 years because of the Internet, and because of the use of text messaging and instant messaging.
HALTZMANSo I think that you are right, it is in the eye of the beholder. Very frequently, definition of infidelity is in the eye of the person who is not having the affair. So for instance, somebody could be having a very close emotional connection with someone at work, talking all the time, texting each other afterwards, sharing personal things about the family, but never had had sex with that person, and their partner may say, wait a minute. This isn't right. This is a betrayal of our marital vows. And so I'm calling it infidelity.
REHMDr. Scott Haltzman. His new book is titled "The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity." And before we get to surviving it, the question becomes why do people cheat. Lindsey Hoskins.
HOSKINSI think, you know, there are a variety of reasons why people make that decision. Sometimes, you know, there's a need that's not being met in the relationship. Sometimes someone comes along who brings something to the table that is new and different and exciting. You know, people feel powerful or attractive or different things that, you know, different things that feel really good that maybe they're not feeling on a daily basis in their marriage. And so, you know, there's all kind of different reasons, as many as there are different people that have affairs.
REHMCarolyn Hax, you've heard from an awful lot of people who are perhaps thinking about having relationships outside of their own, or who already have begun. How do you see it? Why do people cheat?
HAXI would agree with the assessment that people are missing something, and often that thing is just excitement, or just a -- it just pushes this button where you feel good, you feel beautiful, you feel -- you feel naughty. I mean, it's -- it offers really the one thing that almost no marriage can offer, which is newness. I mean, it's just -- if you have a solid marriage, you are living in the familiarity.
HAXYou are supported by the familiarity, and you're enveloped by it. And we human beings have a funny relationship with familiarity. We want it, we crave it, but every once in a while we just want to push it out of the car and we do incredibly stupid things.
REHMScott Haltzman, how do you answer that question, which you discuss in the book.
HALTZMANWell, Carolyn and Lindsey both point to this issue of excitement and familiarity and novelty, and they're all right on point which is that it's difficult to have a consistent, regular marriage, with reliability and predictability, and also have excitement. However -- and so what we're talking about here in needs. What are the internal needs of a person who goes off and has an affair?
HALTZMANThe need to feel great about themselves, or the need for excitement. But I also think that infidelity is a combination of factors, because we all have needs, and everybody that's in a marriage is going to turn around at one point or another and say, all of my needs aren't being met. As a matter of fact, they'll probably turn around every single day and say that. So it's a combination of other factors as well.
HALTZMANIt includes things like opportunities for infidelity and for affairs, and it also includes your own personal ability to inhibit your impulse to go out there and do things. So it's something I called disinhibition. So if you have this need, and on top of which there is an opportunity to have an affair and you cannot control your impulses, bam, you've not just moved into the territory of having an affair.
REHMLindsey Hoskins, as a marriage and family therapist, I'm sure you've seen a great number of individuals who've come to you who are already in the midst of some external relationship...
REHM...or who are thinking about it. What do they say to you as to what they're thinking, what they're feeling, and what their emotional state is at that time?
HOSKINSYou know, usually by the time they get to my office, the affair has come to light, and they're there with their partner to try to work on it. It's much more rare that I get someone who's thinking about having an affair, although that could happen. Generally, the emotions that they bring with them are guilt. You know, if their partner has found out about the affair, they feel very guilty about that. They feel bad about whatever impact it might have had on their children to that point.
HOSKINSThey feel fearful about other people finding out about the affair. They also feel some allegiance to the partner in the affair, right, because now they've developed another intimate relationship that's also become important to them, and so they feel this sort of torn loyalty between the spouse and this other partner with whom they both have what they feel are important relationships.
REHMAnd Carolyn Hax, you've heard from an awful lot of people who are in very, very messy situations trying to deal with all the things Lindsey is talking about. What do you say to them?
HAXWell, it's funny. I have heard from a lot of people, and over the years they've forced me to change my view of this, and really, what I've come to. And in fact, I absolutely despite this topic because you almost can't come up with an answer that doesn't offend somebody. Because if you take the black and white view of it, then you have all the people who are living in gray comfortably, and after a lot of hard work, and they say, okay, I've had an affair in my past. I'm beyond that, I won't do it again.
HAXBut, you know, if you take the black and white view, I am beyond redemption. Or if you take the gray view, the black and white people get very upset with you. You're -- I've been accused of condoning affairs, which, of course, I'm not doing, but I'm simply embracing humanity in all of its complexity, and sometimes that means giving somebody a pass if they've done the hard work to get over. And so what I end of up doing, to answer your question specifically, is I end up taking each situation for its own details, and trying to come up with an answer that works in that situation. And it probably won't apply well to any other. I think that's all you can do.
REHMLindsey, what do you advise couples if there are children involved? What do you advise that couple that they say to those children?
HOSKINSYou know, it depends so much on the age of the children and sort of who those children are, and I think it's really important to know your children and know kind of what they're capable of understanding. Generally I advise couples that if the children don't already know about the affair, or if they're not likely to find out about it elsewhere, that the parents don't disclose exactly what's going on. That they can be honest that there's a struggle going on in their relationship and they're trying to work it out, but generally the children don't need to know the nature of that struggle.
HOSKINSThat can be damaging as they, you know, they identify really strongly with both parents, and if they see one parent as having done something very wrong, you know, that's a struggle for them as well, because they identify with that parent.
REHMScott Haltzman, what do you think?
HALTZMANWell, let me just go back to something that Carolyn had said about despising this topic, and I understand where she's coming from on that, because, you know, a bad thing has happened, and a person did a bad thing, and the logical conclusion is that that person is bad or has bad character. And so sometimes, as Carolyn is saying, you don't garnish a lot of friendships, you know, in support, when you say to the person who's been cheated on, your partner is not a bad person.
HALTZMANAnd I think that's one of the things that I really want to get across when I counsel individuals and couples, is that it may be that it's a good person in a relatively good marriage who did a bad thing, and so let's try to work from there. Now, to follow up on what Lindsey was saying about the children and how to begin to broach the subject with them, I think that if you are committed to rebuilding your marriage, and that is so much of the focus that I have, and if you're still in the same home, and if you haven't had a great disruption of your household issues, then I agree that the children don't need to know.
REHMClinical psychiatrist and author, Dr. Scott Haltzman. His new book is titled, "The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity." Lindsey Hoskins is a marriage and family therapist. She's president-elect of the Middle Atlantic Division of Marriage and Family Therapists. And Carolyn Hax, advice columnist for the Washington Post. Short break. Stay with us.
REHMAnd we're talking about infidelity and relationships. I don't want to simply call it in marriage because it's far more broad than that. What happens when infidelity occurs. Can a relationship be mended? Can two people come back together after one has, quote, "cheated" or done bad things? How are children involved? For the most part, wouldn't you, Dr. Haltzman, say that most spouses or partners know if somebody is cheating?
HALTZMANWell, if you ask the folks that have had multiple affairs and their partner has never found out, the answer would be no. However, the people that are involved in ongoing affairs, in other words if somebody is going out to conventions, you know, once a year and goes to the bar and meet somebody there, their partners may not ever find out about it. There's a double-edged sword about the electronic communications that we have in our nation now.
HALTZMANWhich is that on one hand, it increases the ability of having an affair. So let's say you go off, you meet an old high school girlfriend or high school boyfriend at a convention in your hometown. Well, 20 years ago, you would have met then, you might have thought about flirting and that would it. It wasn't likely that they were going to call your home or send you an email or send you mail.
HALTZMANSo these days, however, you know, you keep the conversation going. At the flip side of that is electronic communications makes it easy for us to discover affairs. And I figure that if someone like General Petraeus can't keep an affair secret when he's head of the CIA, then it's unlikely that you're going to be able to keep an affair secret.
REHMCarolyn Hax, how do you respond?
HAXWell, I think it's interesting if you consider not just the person cheating but also the person, the other person. And so much of that person's disposition and, oddly enough, that person's view of infidelity plays into whether that's going to be discovered. For example, there are a lot of people who are of the black and white variety I was talking about before. The, you know, if you so much as look at somebody funny, I'm out of here.
HAXAnd those people actually are going to maybe will be snooping and looking for evidence and might be quick to catch somebody. But I think also ironically they make themselves more easily deceived because they live in this illusion that there is such a thing as an absolute, where there is right and there is wrong. And they'll tell themselves that they are on the side of right and fail to see other evidence, if that makes sense.
HAXI mean, they just -- they look at somebody, they say, okay, you are not -- you will never cheat on me. I just know. And of course you never just know, there's no never. And I think people who are more comfortable with grey are actually more capable of picking up on the subtleties of somebody losing their attention.
HOSKINSI think she's right on. You know, I think -- to sort of piggyback off what Carolyn is saying that that sense of absoluteness comes with it sometimes a feeling of being really justified in talking about the affair, for example, with children and trying to maybe pull children into an alliance with one parent over the other. And I think although it's perfectly understandable why, you know, the quote-unquote "victim of the affair" would feel justified in doing that, you know, it's really never in the best interest of the child to bad mouth the other parent.
HOSKINSAnd, really, the priority needs to be maintaining a healthy relationship with both parents despite what they decide to do with their relationship.
REHMHere's an email and apparently we'd had several along these lines saying the problem is not infidelity, it's the unreasonable expectation of monogamy. When people realize that fact and recognize it doesn't mean there is less love between the spouses, it's simply a desire that cannot be reasonably suppressed. Carolyn Hax, how do you respond?
HAXWell, I think about something one of your guests said earlier about impulse control. And I think some people can reasonably suppress that desire and some can't or just choose not to, just won't. And so I think there's a continuum there. And I think though that any discussion of infidelity has to take into account our increasingly life span. And so you're looking at a marriage that doesn't end when one of you drops at 48. Now you're living into your 70s.
HAXAnd so these marriages, yes, are enormous and I think historically we're looking at marriage as something that was never asked to hold up for so long. And so, again, I think this is a wonderful topic for couples before they get married or before they commit to each other.
REHMExactly. And that kind of discussion rarely takes place, I think.
HALTZMANIt doesn't take place typically. And, you know, I'm glad you gave Carolyn a chance to answer that question first so I can calm down a little bit. When people talk about this idea that it's not natural. Look, nobody forced you to take your wedding vows. It may not be natural, but there's a lot of things in life that we do that aren't natural. I'm, you know, I could walk into a restaurant, I could want to eat pizza on somebody else's table, it's natural.
HALTZMANI've got an appetite. I'm hungry. Eating is a natural human endeavor, but I'm sure as heck not going to do it. And I understand that it's hard work to maintain fidelity. But when you're starting to feel like you're having difficulties in your relationship or you're feeling like the person looks a little more attractive than my spouse, you need to take that energy and direct it back into the marriage and find a way to make it work.
HALTZMANThere are a lot of things that are not natural as human beings that we're asked to engage in. And in this case, you made a commitment to one person. I think it's a cop out to say that it's not natural.
REHMBut on the other hand, as Carolyn points out, we're all living longer. I personally had been married for nearly 54 years. Who would've thunk it? And the point being that we are living longer. We do change and grow and perhaps grow out of a relationship with one person so that commitment that we made, say, at age 21 does not hold until age 65.
HALTZMANWell, we do grow out of relationships.
HALTZMANBut we grow back into those relationships. So that at 54-year-old marriage probably had times when you looked at each other -- and I don't want to be personal here -- and said who is this person?
HALTZMANOr I can't stand this person.
HALTZMANAnd yet by sticking with it, you end up, you know, having a greater sense of fulfillment not only to that person you are married to, to your children, to the community in general. And I get what Carolyn is saying, we do live longer, it's harder to keep a promise that long. That's the challenge, that's the thrill and it can be done.
REHMAll right. I'm going to open the phones. We have so many callers waiting. Let's go first to Pittsburgh, PA. Good morning, Paul, you're on the air.
PAULHi. I think I'm just going to chime in on what you guys have been talking about. But I remember reading somewhere that biologically the sense of infatuation, attraction is limited to like four to six years and they speculated them basically, you know, through evolutionary times, the amount of time it took for a child to basically not be on their own, but, you know, not become too intense parental interaction.
PAULBut it just seems like this if that's so then, in some ways, our culture is asking us to do things that isn't exactly in line with our biology.
REHMThat's a fascinating point. Lindsey?
HOSKINSIt's the seven-year itch, right? That classic notion of the seven-year itch. But, you know, I completely agree with what Scott was saying, you know, you make a commitment and when that sort of natural biological excitement of a new relationship wears off, it's replaced by something that's also really precious and valuable and unique and wonderful, right? And as a society, we need to appreciate the next stage of marriage.
HOSKINSIt's not that butterflies in your stomach infatuation phase, but it's the mature love, that reliable, predictable, yes, maybe routine but really comfortable in many ways and wonderful.
HAXThe one thing -- I keep wanting to jump in with this while you're talking about it. I agree that this other thing waits for you. And Scott was saying, of course, you take the energy that you're feeling towards somebody else and you put it back into your marriage, and I can't argue with that. But the problem is, sometimes people do that. They turn it back into their marriage and it's unreciprocated.
HAXAnd then you have one of the -- I think then you get to the fundamental problem is that you need both halves of the couple to be making this commitment to turning it back to the marriage. You need both halves of the couple to be recognizing this familiarity and the deeper commitment to a marriage, to the 54 years, to the sign wave of being close and distant and working to get back together.
HAXBoth of you have to be in this. And the problem is, if it's unreciprocated, then you have somebody who is missing something who is trying to invest in the marriage and who has this horrible choice of do I throw it all away because my partner is no longer 100 percent with me. He's maybe 75 percent. And so I either have to embrace the 75 percent or, you know...
HAXIt's hard. And, again, most people don't choose to stray, I think sometimes it's just -- they go sort of half star for so long that is just the opportunity presents itself and there you go.
REHMAll right, let's go to Detroit, MI. Good morning, Frances, you're on the air.
FRANCESHey, Diane, my comment is that as a society, we just need to talk about this a lot more. And this issue of setting expectations for relationships need to be a mainstream conversation between friends and parents and sons and daughters. I do think that we don't support each other enough in figuring out how to make relationships work and setting boundaries. And I'm an advocate of talk to your spouse.
FRANCESIf you want to cheat, the first person that ought to know is your spouse. They shouldn't -- there ought to be a level of respect and they shouldn't be the person that finds out accidentally down the road. We need to respect each other and communicate with each other and be open with each other in relationships.
REHMAll right, thanks for your call. When people come in for therapy, how often do they come together or does one person come seeking to fix the other person? How often does that happen?
HOSKINSCertainly both happen. You know, I always try to encourage both partners to come together for therapy to work on their relationship. There are situations where one person refuses to come in, just isn't willing to participate and certainly there are some ways that you can help make some changes in a relationship working with just one person because the partner has to respond.
HOSKINSIf I make a change, then my husband has to respond to that in some way, right? He's part of the system with me. But...
REHMOr he may not.
HOSKINSWell, he might not make the right change, but he's going to have to react in some way.
HOSKINSSo, you know, I think most often what I see is both partners coming in together. But it certainly happens...
REHMAnd, Scott, how often do both partners come in?
HALTZMANAnybody that's open to the idea of helping couples will help couples whether an individual comes in or whether a couple comes in together. So I may not even be seeing somebody for couple's treatment, I may just have that individual person come in and because I'm a practicing psychiatrist, they may be coming in for an adjustment of their antidepressant dose. But in the context of that conversation, we may be talking about relationships and we may be talking about ways in improving it.
HALTZMANAnd as Lindsey was saying, sometimes when one person starts to make changes, it does affect the other partner, even though the other partner doesn't even know that those changes are going on.
REHMAnd indeed affects the entire family. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Manchester, MO. Good morning, Andrew.
ANDREWGood morning, everybody. The only thing that I can really say here is I was married for 11 years and when I was married we had some problems and I thought me and my former spouse were making progress. She goes outside the marriage. We end up getting a divorce, she ends up living with the guy she cheated with. I myself had gotten some counseling afterwards because it hurts pretty good. Later on, I meet someone else.
ANDREWWe talked about getting married. She did the same thing. Now...
ANDREWI'm now 50 years old and I don't trust anybody at all.
REHMOkay, so you're saying that the person you found after you were divorced also cheated on you.
ANDREWYeah. Yes, exactly.
REHMOkay. So now you've reached a place where you don't trust anybody.
ANDREWRight. I'm 50 years old. I haven't dated anybody in five years because I just -- when I was married, you know, I understood we had problems. Hey, I was a willing partner. Hey, let's work on what we have going on. And, you know, it ended the way it did and I'm at a point where I don't even know what to think anymore. So this subject really hits a raw nerve with me.
REHMAll right, Carolyn Hax, what's your reaction?
HAXWell, my reaction is an answer that a lot of people really dislike. And what I would say to that is, I don't think any of us really can trust anybody. I mean, you just -- you can't -- we don't have strings attached, we can't move the strings on somebody else. People are going to make their choices. They're going to do what they're going to do and we can't know their minds. You never can.
HAXWhat you can do is trust yourself. You can say, I trust myself to get through it if somebody treats me badly. And I think once you have that, once you have that rock solid trust, you know, if somebody abuses me the way these women did again, I will again get off the ground, dust myself off and I will interact with people again because that's what I want to do.
HOSKINSI absolutely agree. And also I think, you know, being on the other side of those two experiences, now you have, you know, a little bit more savvy, I guess, to kind of sense when something like that is going on. You know, and there are a lot of things that happen before an affair usually in terms of distance in the relationship and feeling disconnected from the partner or tension that are warning signs where you can say, hey, it feels like something is going on here. Can we talk about it?
REHMAll right, to Raleigh, NC. Good morning, Eileen.
EILEENGood morning. How are you?
REHMI'm good, thanks.
EILEENFirst of all, I'd like Scott to send a copy of his book to a certain address. I agree with the lady from Detroit about having respect. After 45 years of marriage, I would have liked to have found out other than accidentally. And I think there are two things that you haven't brought up that played into besides the internet. And one was untreated depression and the second one was erectile dysfunction.
EILEENAnd I think that my former husband thought that he was going to get the excitement back and also recapture his manhood through going back, dialing back to a high school girlfriend. And I'm not sure whether it's working out or not, but he did alienate all of my adult children and grandchildren and it's very sad. And I just -- I don't know how to comment other than to say it would have been nice to know.
EILEENIt would have been nice if he would have gone to counseling with me. But he refused, and I understand that was tied into the depression. So...
REHMAll right, thanks for you call. Scott?
HALTZMANEileen, just get that address to me and I'll make sure I get the book off. No, you know, is he still with this high school?
HALTZMANHe is? Okay. And how long has that been the case?
EILEENShe left her third husband and they've been living together since a year ago, August.
HALTZMANWell, there -- as we talked about before, there are a whole host of needs. And that could also include obviously having some physical problems or some depression, even attention deficit disorder can lead to it. What I would say is that this really part of the addictive quality of affairs. There's something...
REHMAll right. We got to take a short break here. After the show ends, Dr. Haltzman will answer email and Facebook questions.
REHMAnd let's go right back to the phones to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. Wayne, you're on the air.
WAYNEHi there. Thank you. As a former therapist working a lot with couples with this kind of issues I just want to say a couple things real quick. One is if you're a couple out there with this issue, find a therapist, the people that are on your show, that have some experience in this. It's a complicated issue and people need to have experience with this. It needs to be dealt with in a systemic way. So I urge that.
WAYNEThe second thing is to say that many couples are able to work these things out, as people on your show have indicated. But it does take commitment and it takes two people to roll their sleeves up.
REHMAll right. And say hi to your dog in the background. It does. It takes two people to work it out if they want to, Lindsey.
HOSKINSAbsolutely, it's a process. And, you know, the process of forgiving and being forgiven, you know, it's not something that we repair in two therapy sessions. It's a long discussion that we have together. And both partners have to really be willing, as the caller said, to roll up their sleeves and get down to business and work at it.
HALTZMANWell, I'm going to take a slightly opposing point of view, both on what Carolyn said earlier about the spouse that it becomes distant even though you're doing the right job and the idea that it takes two. Sometimes the other partner's not ready at that moment to do the work. And I say at that moment. And they may not be ready to do it that next year or even a couple years later. It takes a lot of patience.
HALTZMANSo one of the flaws of the whole psychodynamic premise of it takes two is that when one partner says, well I've done what I've done. My partner's not done theirs. It's time for me to either look outside the marriage or to become -- to divorce. You know, my view is, be patient. Sometimes your partner's not there. I'm not saying be patient if your partner's out having an affair and continues to have the affair. Look, that's dangerous. You don't want whatever diseases that person's bringing back home to your house.
HALTZMANBut if you're feeling you're not getting the love you want or the attention you need and you're doing the right things and your partner's not responding, be patient and don't just assume that that should -- that's a sign that the marriage has to end.
REHMHere's an interesting Tweet saying, "I've been involved in an extramarital affair for 12 years. He is happily married. An affair can be good for a marriage." Carolyn Hax.
HAXI hear that and I'm trying really hard to say it takes all kinds and people are entitled to live their lives the way that works for them. But I don't want that to be my marriage. I really -- I mean, I would have a problem with somebody assuming that I would be okay with that. I mean, if I were aware of it, if it were an open marriage, that's one thing. But if the spouse who's getting cheated on is under the illusion that the marriage is intact than I have a problem with that. I don't think the other person gets to decide that, yes, this affair will make my marriage work or my...
REHMAnd Chris writes, "I feel the declining morality of media and the easy availability of pornography contribute to the increasing rate of infidelity. The media injects sex into everything possible, which makes sex commonplace rather than intimate and personal. My wife and I have been married for 13 years. We do not watch hyper sexualized media." Scott, what's your thought?
HALTZMANThe media definitely plays a role, particularly in the idea that we're all supposed to be searching for our soul mates so that when we have difficulties in the marriage or when we quote "drift apart," it's time to move on. It's more controversial about whether pornography helps increase the rates of infidelity. It depends on whether you define -- some people actually define looking at pornography as infidelity.
HALTZMANCertainly the interactive nature of pornography on the internet these days is problematic so that you can actually have porn -- you know, have sex with a live person online. I think that also will increase the risks.
REHMAll right. To Jacksonville, Fla. Good morning, Julie.
JULIEGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
JULIEI've been married to a gentleman who has poor impulse control. And for the last five years he has cheated on me numerous times. And I basically agree with what you've been saying as far as the impulse control is there. And it shocked me about the availability of the women that were so willing and didn't even care whether he was married or not. But I stayed calm. But what I learned was when I did not react and I stayed calm and I listened to him, we got to be very close and good friends and he would tell me what his problems were.
JULIEAnd one of them was he was looking at porn and he was taking Viagra. And when he would leave and go out, the Viagra was still in his system. And every time he felt an arousal, he saw a woman, he would pursue them. So we worked on this together. We're very happy now. And it does take a lot of patience and it took him three years to get to the point where he realized that any woman that wanted to sleep with him was dysfunctional. And she knew that he was married. And he did not want to have any part of poor impulse control and dysfunctional relationships.
REHMCarolyn, do you want to comment?
HAXWell, I just want to say, I'm very impressed with your strength that -- I mean, I think you're right about all those things. And I think it takes a special person to be able to put in the three years to understand -- I think mainly to understand that it wasn't personal what your husband was doing. And boy, that's hard. A lot of people instantly make it about themselves and I understand that. But to be as detached as you were as to say, this is your issue and I'm going to be patient with you as you work through it. I mean, that's extraordinary.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling, Julie. And to Ryan in Evansville, Ind. Good morning.
RYANGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
RYANI just wanted to get your panel's opinion on what they think about, you know, the spirituality or, you know, religion playing a part in, you know, the commitment to marriage. My wife and I, you know, we believe in Jesus and the teachings that he has taught. And we -- our first year of marriage was -- you know, as bad as some people say, you know, your first year's always the hardest . Well, for us that was definitely true. And we sought a counselor who, you know, was a Biblical counselor as well.
RYANAnd really having that, you know, foundation to lean on got us through that first year. And we did just celebrate our fourth year.
REHMGood. Congratulations. And Lindsey. What's your reaction?
HOSKINSYou know, Diane, I do a lot of premarital counseling actually, and so I work with couples sort of setting up their expectations and contract for what their marriage is going to look like. And I think when two people go into a relationship, into a marriage knowing that spirituality is going to be a big component of it for them and what that means for each of them as individuals and for them as a unit, it can really be a wonderful strengthening thing.
HOSKINSThe key is that they have to understand each other's perspective and have kind of a shared, you know, understanding of how that's going to work for them in their lives.
REHMI think the reality is that nobody knows who they're marrying until they've been married for quite a long while. Scott.
HALTZMANThat's right. There's that old joke, I hear that in some countries people don't even know their spouse before they get married, you know. And the American father says, yeah, that's everywhere. You know the research is a little bit split on this issue. We would like to believe that people that are religious and align themselves with a particular religious institution have a decreased risk for infidelity. Some studies show that's the case, some studies not. And, as we know, very religious people divorce rates are just as high as people that are not aligned with any particular...
REHMInteresting. All right. to, let's see, Dallas, Texas. Lee, you're on the air.
LEEYeah, hi. Good morning. Thanks. I'm kind of in the middle of this right now and so I have a question about the obligation to the other spouse. So, you know, I know that the other spouse has kids and they have a family but they don't know about the affair that I've just learned about. So my question...
REHMAnd what -- excuse me, what's your relationship to the affair?
LEEI found out that the affair was going on.
REHMNow is it your spouse?
REHMOkay. Your spouse is involved in an affair with someone else.
LEEYes. And that individual, his family, I'm assuming, doesn't know. And what -- do I have an -- you know, at times I've just wanted to kind of blow the world up and tell them but I don't know that it's the right thing to do. And I really haven't -- I really don't know what to do in that regard.
HAXThis is a tough one to answer because some spouses will hop into this discussion and say you absolutely have to tell because I would want to know. I would want to know. Tell me. And there are some who don't want to know and it's amazing. And it's just this real divide. It's like cat people and dog people. And I think, you know, we're supposed to choose based on what you think the other person would want and that's very difficult. So I think the way you go is you talk to the people involved and you say, you need to come clean or I might have to. And I think you sort of -- you try to put it on the people involved to do the right thing.
HALTZMANSo if this affair is ongoing, my view is that Lee ought to do everything possible to fight for his marriage, if there's any chance that his wife is still in the picture. So if that includes telling that other family, hey get your husband away from my wife or from my partner, then that's fair game.
REHMLee, are you still interested in maintaining the marriage?
HALTZMANAnd is your wife still with him?
HALTZMANOkay. Well then, in that case, why hurt more people?
LEEWell, that's kind of -- that's kind of where I've been, but I've also been on the other side where if that -- you know, I wish someone would've told me. You know, I didn't want to find out the way I did. So I'm with you. Why cause more damage? And I just wanted to kind of hear that iterated from the smart folks.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Good luck to you.
REHMLet's go to Paducah, Ky. Good morning, Chris.
CHRISGood morning. How are you guys?
CHRISSo, yeah, went through the affair probably three, four years ago where my wife cheated on me. And the -- you know, one fellow and she did it twice with the same guy. And we worked through it through counseling. A lot of -- you know, a couple of tough years there. We made it through. We're still together and she's now pregnant with our third child. And this child is supposed to signify in our minds our new beginnings, you know, our new life together.
CHRISBut, you know, to be completely honest, I still have recurring thoughts. And is that natural, or should I just be completely numb to the past? You know, I truly believe she's a good person. I was a drug addict when we got married and I think the actions that she took were directly a result of my behavior. And I don't condone her behavior but at the same time I know had I been a better husband that that would not have happened. So...
REHMOkay. Chris, let me...
CHRIS...my question -- yeah.
REHMGo ahead. Your question is...
CHRISI still have some thoughts...
CHRIS...concerns and is that natural or can I just completely be at a point where I'm like a newlywed? You know, I'm...
REHMOkay. But I want to ask you one question.
REHMAre you completely drug free at this point?
CHRISOh, yes, yes, ma'am.
CHRISAnd have been -- yep.
REHMOkay, good. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Scott, what do you say to Chris?
HALTZMANOkay. So the first point is, Chris, something that Carolyn had pointed out earlier, which is that trust is -- you know, there's never 100 percent trust. Even the day you turn off the altar and star walking down the aisle. So you may never get to the point where you totally trust her. I think another thing that Carolyn said was brilliant was to trust yourself in terms of how you're going to deal with it. But there's two other points that I just want to get across.
HALTZMANOne is that you notice that Diane's been getting a lot of calls from women who are committing infidelity -- in other words from husbands of women. So this is not just something about men going out and cheating. So I'm really glad that you're male listeners are speaking up. And the second thing is just a general pitch to everyone that's listening. You need to make constant -- you need to work on your marriage, improve the quality of your marriage, nurture it on a regular basis, whether infidelity is happening or not.
REHMSeveral emailers want to know what you all think about something called Imago or Imago Relationship Therapy. Carolyn, do you know about that?
HAXNo, that hasn't crossed my...
HALTZMANYeah, that's -- Harville Hendrix had written a wonderful book called "Getting the Love You Want." And he actually has a newer book out called "Making Marriage Simple." The idea is it's improving people's -- couple's communication. And it's also on the basis that the person that you married is -- somehow has these unmet needs from what you didn't get out of your relationship. And you choose a partner based on that.
HALTZMANAnd Harville and I have had discussion. So in other words, I'm choosing somebody because I didn't get something from my parents and I expect that person to fulfill it. And invariably they don't and so I become disappointed and angry and we have arguments. My only objection to that particular model is that in arranged marriages where you don't pick anybody, somebody's picked for you, couples still end up arguing and fighting over some of the exact same issues.
REHMSure, sure. So Lindsey, what would you say to Chris now that this third child is due and he's thinking, maybe I just need to forget everything that's happened, begin anew with great hopes that this third child will help me.
HOSKINSSure. You know, I don't think that you have to forget what happened in order to move forward in a healthy way. You know, that's the reality of a history of that marriage. And those partners need to continue to talk about and deal with that as long as it feels relevant for them. If he has some continuing feelings about it, that's a conversation he needs to have with his wife.
HOSKINSAs far as this third child being, you know, a symbol of renewal in the marriage, you know, that's a lovely notion. It's also a lot of pressure to put on a little kid, you know. And so I'd want there to be a conversation also about what that means.
REHMCarolyn, last words on how to keep marriage fresh and working.
HAXIn 30 seconds or less?
REHMIn 30 seconds or less.
HAXYou know what? I would say keep yourself fresh and interesting. And keep that commitment steady. Just -- through all the churning that goes on in your life, you just keep your foot on that rail of committing to your relationship. And again, as you expand and grow in your own ways, so that you can bring that to the marriage.
REHMAnd that's a really important point, it seems to me, because we're all changing, growing. We are not the same person 50 years later that we were when we began. Last work, Scott?
HALTZMANLet's hold onto that idea of making an exciting marriage. What draws people to infidelity is that heart-pounding experience. It's more difficult. It takes more work to get it in your marriage, but you can. Change things up, go to different places, spend time together without kids, go camping. Spend a little bit of time away from each other and then get back.
REHMScott Haltzman. He is the author of "The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity." He will answer email and Facebook questions that we didn't have time to address during the hour. Go to our website to find that Q & A. That's drshow.org. Carolyn Hax, Lindsey Hoskins, Scott Haltzman, thank you.
HOSKINSThank you, Diane.
REHMThanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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