There is no fruit more costly, across the globe, than that which is forbidden: the affair. Further, affairs are often delicate terrains to navigate when a couple is trying to heal from the residual upheaval. There are few who have not been touched by the affair, whether it’s the couple, the lover, a child(ren), or friends; most have been affected in some way, shape, form or fashion by an affair. With costs as high as they are, what makes this fruit so sweet and incredibly prevalent?
Before diving into how most affairs occur, I want to state that though the terminology in this blog is affair, I am meaning anything that is outside the contracted partnership. This can include, but is not limited to, the one night fling, sexting with someone other than your partner, a long term ongoing romance, or even the emotional affair.
Affairs are often a collision of two things: vulnerability and opportunity. The vast majority of people are not seeking out a new partner. Rather, a vulnerability is in place and then someone presents them with their fruit. Depending on the level of vulnerability, a person will refuse that fruit, nibble on the fruit or eat the whole damn thing. My experience has taught me that affairs are rarely one-sided, though society tends to vilify the “offending” partner. While I am not condoning their behaviors, and I am not saying their actions aren’t hurtful, a therapist must be able to hear their story with compassion.
Most often the vulnerability is wrought with loss. Loss of the partner, as seen when a wife lives only for her children, the husband that constantly plays video games, the partner that stops expressing how attractive they find their significant other, or when couples stop discovering new things about one another. Vulnerability can come in the form of loss of self or loss of what they thought marriage or life would look like. It is common for a partner not to be seeking to leave the one they are with but rather to leave the person that they themselves have become. This is exemplified by the phrase I hear most frequently, “I felt alive…” while in the throws of the affair. The feeling of vitality is incredibly strong and to such a degree that at the time the price doesn’t feel so high. It isn’t until the discovery that the bill is received and the fee of betrayal is realized.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, cynical and hopeless in the propagation of such a common fruit. While anyone is capable of having an affair (a hard pill to swallow, I know); affairs can be preventable. Esther Perel posits that secrets don’t start with the affair, but rather with the un-communicating couple. I encourage couples to discuss what their vulnerabilities might be, before they come to fruition. It is imperative that couples are defining their relationship contract and what constitutes an affair. Couples need to be discussing both their emotional and sexual needs, wants, fantasies, desires and expectations on a regular and continual basis. Even if the information may be hurtful, the cost is often less than when a partner takes a bite of a forbidden apple.