Emptiness and Despair: the Affair as a Solution (Part 2)

Article by Dr. Michael Tobin

This is the ninth installment of the Marital Labyrinth Series, a series published simultaneously at Psychology Today. In this blog, we take a minor detour to follow up on the previous post to dispel the illusion of the affair as a solution to emptiness and despair. You can view all articles in the series at this page.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Dispelling the illusion that an affair is good for a marriage

This post is a response to a message sent to me from the CEO of a website that manages affairs so that cheaters won’t get caught. In order not to inadvertently promote him, I’ve changed his name and the name of his website.

My response to the CEO of a website that helps adulterers not to get caught

The day after I published, The Affair as a Solution, I received the following message submitted on my website

You should look at the study recently done and published in the NY Post which says that from 2000 men and women who cheat, 77% reported that it improved their marriage. Also you should look at my website. I’m the CEO. A properly managed, well executed affair brings many benefits to both participants. A better sense of well being, a new desire to live life, and a newfound appreciation for their primary partner. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Email me any reply you might have.

Best regards, 
John X, CEO, www.how-to-cheat-on-your spouse-and-not-get-caught.com

In lieu of accepting Mr. X’s suggestion to email him, I will respond here instead. 

By creating the illusion that a marital affair positively impacts the marriage and the adulterer — perhaps easing their emptiness and despair — Mr. X makes a mockery of truth, human nature, and marriage. Let’s examine his statements and the research sited in the NY Post.

77% of cheaters say their marriage improved

  1. Their marriage didn’t improve. The affair distracts adulterers from their marital loneliness, boredom, and frustration. As I wrote in Part 1 of The Affair as a Solution to Loneliness and Despair, the adulterer always believes that an affair improves the marriage.

Why? Because the despairing spouse at first feel satisfied and alive: Their lover initially meets their emotional and physical needs so they’re less angry at their partner for being unavailable. Those reporting that their marriage improved have mistakenly projected their subjective feelings of newly found happiness on to the marriage. 

  1. As I’ve written in previous blogs, the defining ingredient of an affair is secrecy not sex. An open marriage and swinging are consensual. Whether it’s helpful for a marriage or not is another question but it’s not based on lies, coverups, or clever deceptions like Mr. X offers (for a fee). The consensual couple isn’t living a masquerade. 

The consensual couple isn’t living a masquerade

Dr. Michael Tobin
  1. The same research that Mr. X sites to prove that adultery is a solution to a dull marriage also claims that “94% of the ‘happy’ adulterers admitted they’d be furious at their spouses if they were the ones cheating.
  1. Dr. Judith Wallerstein, in her groundbreaking research on good marriages, interviewed couples who both acknowledged that they’re happily married. The emphasis here is on the word both. Hard to define a marriage as good when the adulterer says it is and the spouse is ignorant. 
  1. Despite Mr. X’s solution to the problem of being caught, cheating has a way of revealing itself. Here’s how: 

There’s no fool-proof affair

While I was reading the unscientific research that Mr. X cites, I stumbled across another NY Post article about a divorced woman with a huge number of Instagram followers who proudly proclaims that she “loves to have sex with married men.” 

Her backstory: her husband cheated; she detected unusual behaviors on his part and experienced that same emptiness and despair; she caught him; and she divorced him. Now she’s out to prove that all men are scoundrels. Her mission is to teach unsuspecting spouses how to detect the subtle signs that their partners are cheating. 

Those signs are: 

  1. For no apparent reason, your partner is nicer. 
  2. Your partner might start giving you gifts.
  3. Adulterers seem to be more concerned about their hygiene and appearance. 
  4. They might suddenly change their style of clothes or hairdo.
  5. Adulterers tend to be more distractable and forgetful. Their minds are obviously elsewhere. 
  6. Adulterers tend to check their phones more frequently.
  7. They also tend to exit the room more often, phone in hand. 

One of the defining qualities of a good marriage is honesty

Most of us are not pathological liars. We’re not built to lie with impunity. We don’t marry with the idea we’ll have an affair. It’s a basic human need to desire a relationship based on honesty and integrity. The fact that 97% of all adulterers admit that they’d be furious if their spouses cheated on them proves that each of us needs and expects our partners to be trustworthy. The woman I cited above wouldn’t be on a mission against men if it weren’t for her profound hurt and rage, emptiness, and despair for being deceived.

One of the defining qualities of a good marriage is honesty

Dr. Michael Tobin

To believe that an affair will improve your marriage you have to deceive yourself in the following ways: 

  1. You can’t expect any possible improvement from your spouse.
  2. You’ve tried everything to save your marriage and failed. 
  3. You believe an affair is a better option than a divorce.
  4. That lying and deceiving won’t take their toll on you.
  5. That you won’t get caught. 
  6. And if so, it won’t have a seismic impact on your future. 
  7. That your guilt might overwhelm your pleasure.
  8. That your lover might turn out to have larger blemishes than your spouse. 
  9. That being honest with your spouse will only make things worse. 
  10. That integrity no longer counts. 

There will always be individuals like Mr. X who will take advantage of human vulnerability, will use misinformation and rationalizations to convince us that truth is fiction, and will turn the sacred into the profane. Mark Twain once said that a lie will be halfway around the world before the truth has time to put on its shoes. 

Mr. X peddles lies

Yes, marriage can be difficult. More than that, a bad marriage is the worst kind of hell — a torturous trap from which you must flee. And an affair is, at first, a pain-free escape with the added benefit of immediate gratification. 

But if you really want to feel good — not the chocolate kind of ecstasy that briefly soothes emotional emptiness and despair — then I hope you’ll do the opposite of what Mr. X suggests and act according to your principles. 

Being honest with yourself and with your spouse takes courage. But here’s the good news:  When you act with courage and integrity, you sleep well at night. 


Poll Marital Labyrinth Series Poll 9
Would you consider having an affair if there were no chance of being caught?
Would you stay with your spouse if he or she cheated on you? Yes or No

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