I wondered this same question: Why do people in seemingly happy relationships need to go outside for some extracurricular activity? I’ve personally been approached with this question several times, and frankly, I didn’t have an answer. Luckily, I do have Cathy Chambliss as my go-to therapist for all puzzling relationship-related questions.
EML: Why Do People Cheat in “Happy” Marriages?
Cathy: Just because someone is happy in their marriage, does not mean they can get every need met from their partner. For example, if one spouse is an intellect and loves learning or reading, and the other has no interest in these things, one spouse may look to other people in their life for that connection. It does not mean they are unhappy with their spouse, but they realize their partner cannot meet that specific need. However, if you happen to be interacting with the opposite sex in order to have certain needs met, you may start to develop feelings for that friend. If you do not have very clear boundaries with the opposite sex when interacting with them, you may start to develop an attraction towards them.
I have heard many men in my practice, who have cheated, say they never stopped loving their wives. I have learned from listening to these men, that they can indeed love more than one person at a time. Ultimately, it is very important to have very clear boundaries with the opposite sex when interacting with them, so you can stay away from crossing the line into infidelity.
To tag onto this, I recall a therapist telling me that women expect their mate to fulfill all their needs, which of course, is unrealistic. Which, of course, I didn’t realize until those words came out of her mouth. I thought my (ex) husband should’ve fulfilled all my needs. Why? I had no idea, other than: isn’t that what mates do? Nope, not exactly. The therapist stated that women have a harem of friends to share thoughts and feelings. Men, unfortunately, don’t engage their friends in the same manner. It was a huge aha moment. The light bulb shone brightly and directly.
My marriage didn’t last, but the lesson did.
Unmet needs cause immense issues where infidelity is concerned. The key is; address the topic honestly, openly, and as soon as possible. It may be hurtful, but if the “need” is communicated effectively, the hurt can turn itself around into a positive result. If not, it’s time to bring in a reliable, professional third-party to hear you out and find a workable resolution.
Cathy mentioned boundaries with the opposite sex. I think friendships with the opposite sex can be valuable, but I do find her assessment to be spot on. I also value boundaries of a different sort, which I cover in my aptly titled post, Infidelity and Boundaries. A brief rundown: A boundary is a tool for growth. Yes, it can cause discomfort, resentment, and be interpreted as an ultimatum. No, it shouldn’t be overused or threatening. Otherwise, it diminishes forward movement and becomes an excuse for manipulation and disrespectful power plays.
I felt the need to place a certain boundary in a past relationship. My ex (boyfriend) was not one bit of happy about it and expressed it. Yet, I stuck to my boundary—and word. I didn’t waiver, nor did I throw it in his face. It was uncomfortable for both of us and caused some conflict, but eventually, he understood why it was placed and our relationship experienced a positive growth spurt. I was fortunate enough to have someone who willing to learn.
Willingness to self-examine and make changes is paramount to building a solid relationship foundation. Our relationship didn’t last, but we each gained insight.
Growing pains don’t come in nice, neat packages, but thankfully, the gifts are everlasting.
* (You can reach Cathy here: firstname.lastname@example.org)