The Deep Question You Must Answer If You’re Thinking Of Having An Affair

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Young woman gazes at young man.

Are you having an affair or thinking about having one? Before you decide to take the leap or dive deeper into the relationship, consider the wisdom of an 18th-century German philosopher. Yes, really! 

Immanuel Kant said, "Virtue and happiness together constitute possession of the highest good in a person."

What he meant is that, as we seek goodness and happiness for ourselves, we should also seek the same for other people. When we do that, we're approaching the highest good for all.

But how can we best do that if we're in a relationship and, yet, drawn to someone else? The answer lies in another Kant quote: "Only the descent into the hell of self-knowledge can pave the way to godliness."

So, let's descend together and ask ourselves, "What's in my highest good?" 

I promise, this will make sense (and be super helpful!) once I explain. 

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What happens when you're having an affair and how can you avoid it?

I know all about this because I, myself, went through an intense — and, mercifully, short — emotional affair several years ago. The fallout from the affair was not so short and not so merciful.

I found myself in extraordinary pain, and I undertook extraordinary measures to understand it.

Basically, every source of affair-related information I could find, I read.

And this is what I found: Those of us affected by an affair — no matter if we’re the betrayer, the betrayed, or the accessory to the crime — tend to be some pretty self-focused folks.

We never think of asking this one important question: "What's in my highest good?"

We all need to introduce ourselves to this concept, no matter which corner of the triangle we’re on.

In the immediate moment, this seems laughable. Some of us are thinking of the 20-year-old our husband is cavorting with and going, "Why should I care about her? I’m going to be alone with two kids!"

That very same husband may be looking at that very same wife and thinking, "I gave this person 20 years of my life and she froze me out!"

And the girlfriend is going, "You know, I’m sorry, but she had her chance and I can make him so much happier!"

(Yeah, been there, done that.)

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When we’re thinking like that, chances are, we’re considering the circumstance from an emotionally immature, selfish viewpoint.

Face it, many of us go shopping for relationships, looking to be taken care of.

I don’t only mean taken care of as in having a helpmate to do the lawn while we vacuum and dust and thaw out the chicken for dinner. Or somebody to help turn the wheel so that we can afford that nice house we want our kids to grow up in.

I mean taken care of as in: We never felt this loved before and we want somebody to take the place of our parents and help us feel loved, valuable, and secure in ourselves in all the ways they didn’t.

And when somebody violates an unspoken contract like that one  —  wow. That's really when "Hell hath no fury..."

When we rise up out of our myopic little, "But she hasn’t given me any sex in eight months!" or, "He owes me fidelity and he went and touched another woman and broke my heart!" or, "But he told me he was leaving her!", the shocking news is that those things aren’t always in our highest good.

And sometimes, what’s in everyone’s highest good turns out to be the same thing.

You see, we all have this nearsighted, wounded-self view of what our highest good is — and then there’s what our highest good really is.

Many times, we have to rise way up out of that wounded-child, little perspective we have in order to see this thing called, "Our Highest Good."

Remember that great Steve Miller Band song, "Fly like an eagle ... To the sea ... Fly like an eagle ... Let the spirit carry me"?

That’s what we need to do here.

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What is your highest good?

The truth is, the guy was unhappy for a reason. Their relationship was like an ouroboros, a dragon consuming its tail, feeding itself the same problems over and over again.

He was an adult child of an alcoholic and had never felt lovable, so he tried to earn love through self-effacement and pretzel-ing himself into whatever it was that earned appreciation and approval in the moment.

However, 10,512,000 of those "moments" later (that’s 20 years), that’s when I started to hear things like, "Everyone else is happy and I’m unhappy. What’s wrong with me?"

She was used to getting her own way and often did so through shouting and sarcastic remarks. Every time she got her way in that manner, she did it more and more.

He never stood up for himself because he didn’t have any self-worth, so he thought he deserved to be treated like that and groveled harder and harder to please.

The more he groveled to please, the more demanding she got. The more demanding she got, the more he groveled to please.

Where was he in that relationship? Thinking he was unlovable and dumping on himself, that’s where.

Yeah, he could leave. But he’d still be thinking he was unlovable and dumping on himself — and that dynamic would start over again no matter who he was with because you can’t run away from yourself.

Seems to me as if, from the eagle’s point of view, his highest good would be standing apart for a while to think about where he got all that low self-worth from, and asking for some of his own needs to be met for a change.

Hers might be, instead of trying to pound him back into the way he used to be, stepping out of that and taking this act of moving out, together with the message, "This is how unhappy I am," seriously.

"What am I doing that’s making this person so unhappy he needs to take his things and move out after over 30 years?"

And me? I had a lot of work to do finding feelings of self-sufficiency, taking care of myself, entertaining myself, and enjoying my time alone without needing someone there to "get" me and "make" me feel valuable and loved all the time.

You can really only do that work alone.

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Getting that relationship back again at that time was most certainly not in my highest good.

Rather than trying to solve deep feelings of unhappiness using an affair, each person needed to go off by themselves and work on those feelings on their own for a while.

Therapy might be good here. Actually picking up a book, journaling, doing some deep processing. To me, that looks like the highest good for everybody in this situation.

If you just cry or try to hammer everything back into place without fixing anything, nothing will get better whether you stay in an old relationship, take a new one, or remain alone.

Whatever relationships we chose, they would have their best chance of working out happily and meeting the needs of the people in them if we all stood apart and worked on what was ailing us alone.

This is what we don’t see when the news of an affair hits us.

All we see, in those low, low valleys, crying in our bedrooms in our wounded-child selves, is that My world’s been shattered! and It’s your fault!

When the main ingredients for that shattering have actually been there a long time, and the affair is the symptom and not the problem.

What’s in everybody’s highest good?

Moving out of woundedness to consider that vital question can be the hardest thing you ever do.

But it’s also the one thing that’s going to help you the most.

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P. D. Reader is the author of the forthcoming ebook Struggling in or With an Affair? For more, visit her on her website, The Thinking Other Woman.