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*Understanding Affairs and Why They Happen    By James Earl

Affairs are like hand grenades under relationships.

When a couple asks me to help them repair the damage, I usually offer them some plain facts first.

• In the UK, about 50% of long term relationships end in separation or divorce. (Most people have heard that statistic). But more surprisingly:

• The estimated incidence of infidelity of one or both partners in long term relationships isover 50%, according to one reputable UK source.

If this latter figure is right, infidelity is much more common that normally acknowledged.
This fact can sometimes help a couple understand that the crisis they are experiencing is part-and-parcel of many, if not most, normal relationships – not so-called failed ones. And that thousands of people have trodden this ground before and have managed to get back on track, together.

John and Julie, who I saw recently, are a good case in point. John asked me, 'doesn't it make you depressed how bad humans are at keeping their promises?' I replied, 'you can look at it that way if you want. But how
about considering how impressive it is that we struggle with really,really difficult ideals despite our weaknesses, and keep on trying?'

Is marriage a 'difficult ideal?' Well, experience tells us it is. We ask ONE person to be our best friend, to be our business partner (most couples share the biggest financial commitment of their life in property), to be a co-parent in raising children, to be the centre of our community circle: and then also to be our lover. That is one incredible demand: difficult to ask, and difficult to deliver.

Most couples find, after the first five years – though the honeymoon phase varies enormously – that the relationship settles down to a comfortable normal life offering warmth, security and a feeling of home (the sort of experience we last had when we were kids, if we were lucky). At the same time, we may start complaining that despite the feeling of love and stability, desire has started to diminish, and that the intimate side of things is not exactly 'hot'. In fact, it may be quite difficult to see your best friend/business partner/co-parent as a lover at all: or perhaps you become aware that they aren't seeing you like that any more.

Either way, it isn't really the diminishing of sex that is the issue (that's just a symptom): it is more the loss of a side of oneself that the other person once brought out, and now seems swept aside by everyday life.

Julie said: 'the thing is, I still love John.' He snapped back, 'how come you did what you did if you still love me?' She said, 'I think I just felt re-connected again with some part of me I'd forgotten.' 'You mean, sex?'

'No, not sex, just a sense of youth, difference, excitement, unpredictability.'

It is worth trying to understand why affairs happen, if you are going to recover from them, or to avoid them. The person that strays rarely does it for (just) sex. Nor do they do it in the hope of a new relationship. It is usually down to a lost sense of self that can happen even inloving marriages. A lost sense of self that often another – even random – person can accidentally reawaken in you. (I believe Julie when she says he still loves John. The affair was not to do with her loving John. It was about another side of herself that the marriage had inadvertently crowded out.)

We all want stable marriages, yet complain about them being boring or routine. This is a built-in paradox: security versus excitement, or love versus desire, if you like.

I work with couples all the time who ask me how they can avoid the hand grenade of an affair.

The best general advice I can give is to realize that, alongside stability and certainty, we all crave excitement, change, individuality, difference and growth.
To achieve this, the most successful couples let the other person develop as an individual, not just as a half of a couple. It means a degree of unpredictability, and even risk, to allow your partner their own space to grow as themselves. But it can be our best security, in the long term.

You might expect a relationship counselor to say 'it's good to be close'. I would suggest: 'it's even better to make space for each other.'




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