Megan contacted me for counseling because she had just found out that her husband, Jim, was having an affair. Although she was feeling hurt and angry, she didn't feel justified in getting too hurt and angry because she had also been having an affair.
Megan told me that she and Jim still loved each other and they didn't want to break up their family, but her discovery of his affair took her out of denial. She had been able to rationalize her affair to herself, but she couldn't rationalize Jim's. She had to acknowledge that something was really wrong. She was worried that this meant the end of their relationship.
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I assured Megan that the affairs were not the problem but a symptom of the problem. It did not need to mean the end of the relationship. She and Jim could decide to learn about the deeper problems in their relationship and eventually create a much more satisfying relationship.
As a counselor, I hear this story over and over. Why is there so much infidelity?
Megan and Jim entered their marriage, as most people do, with the expectation that the other person would make them happy. They entered feeling some emptiness, unworthiness and insecurity, hoping their partner would fill them, validate them and complete them. Yet as time went on, neither felt happy, secure, filled or complete. They began to look elsewhere. Perhaps someone else— someone more attentive and more emotionally available, or sexier, or more playful would fill the emptiness, validate their worth and make them happy.
The problem lies in how most people in our society view what makes them happy. Any TV commercial will illuminate the underlying problem:
- Get this car—it will make you happy.
- Get this house—it will make you happy.
- Wear these clothes. Then you will look good and get approval and that will make you happy.
- Go on this diet—then you will look good, find your beloved and then you will be happy.
- Take this pill—then you will be happy.
- Go on this vacation—that will make you happy.
- Get this toy, this appliance, this new gadget—then you will be happy.
But Megan had the house, the car, the husband, the children, the money, the job, the antidepressants—and she still wasn't happy. So, she went looking for another person to make her happy. The problem is that as long as Megan and Jim believe that something external will make them happy, they will be unhappy, and they will keep looking for another person, better sex, a bigger house and so on to make them happy.
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