There are many different factors that cause someone to become unfaithful in their marriage. We’ve been helping couples in our private practice Marriage Solutions approaching 10 years at this point and have helped thousands of couples.
We don’t just study what makes a healthy marriage and family…we’re in the trenches every day actively working it out with each couple one at a time.
In this article we explore the deep hidden desires that cause someone to fall into infidelity. The goal here is to help you heal, prevent this, or keep it from reoccurring again in your relationship.
We dive really deep into healing couples in our marriage counseling practice. But we don’t always have the time to explain what we can here on our blog in session because…well…we only have so much time.
So in this post we’ll talk about…
- The hidden desires that lead to an affair
- The real lack of trust that leads to infidelity...it's not what you think
- How islands become unfaithful spouses
- What’s the root of it all
- Giving the best away
- Giving what we don’t have
- So what seeds are planted early on that leads someone to infidelity?
- Why do Pursuers pick Islands?
- Why do Islands pick Pursuers?
- What is the solution?
Hidden Desires That Lead To An Affair
Am I attractive? Am I lovable? Some people will have an affair because they want to feel attractive and desirable. They want to know that someone’s interested in them. People who have those types of affairs are usually what we call “Tired Pursuers.”
They are tired of trying to get their needs met from their spouse and they’ve felt constant rejection. Over time it becomes too much and they lose hope.
Many affairs happen because the opportunity presented itself. They’re not always seeking out infidelity consciously. Sometimes while simply looking for friendship and innocent connection someone attractive pays attention.
The connection is alluring and deceptive. When someone shows them attention it naturally feels good. It sets off a chain of events that encourages the Tired Pursuer to distance from their inattentive spouse.
The opportunity says that there’s a life beyond the lackluster relationship they’ve been tethered to.
The Real Lack Of Trust That Leads To Infidelity...It's Not What You Think
An Avoider will have an affair for different reasons. They stop trusting others at some point in their life….usually early in their childhood. They can be someone who is really happy, cheerful, and outgoing but they stay on the surface level.
They're avoiding their vulnerable emotions. They're uncomfortable sharing deeper more transparent emotional situations. It's a foreign territory for them. They don't know how to navigate their emotions because they’ve never been taught.
So an avoider would say, "I am somewhat uncomfortable being close to others. I find it difficult to trust them completely. It's difficult to allow myself to depend on others. I am nervous when anyone gets too close, and often, others want me to be more intimate than I feel comfortable being."
They would say, “I don't really trust you” and at the same time, “I’m nervous about you getting too close to me.” So they're kind of an island, they really thrive on feeling independent, and not needing other people too much.
The problem is they DO need other people. Because we all need other people. We’re human.
How Islands Become Unfaithful Spouses
So the Avoider turns off their emotions, and feelings. It’s important to realize that they’re turning off EXISTING emotion. All normally functioning human beings have these emotions but some of us haven’t learned how to access them. Avoiders are the definition of those people.
They’ve gotten really good at dismissing and minimizing the emotion in themselves and in other people.
Avoiders withdrawal, they shut down when there's an argument, they get quiet, and they hold back. They don't like conflict at all. So they'll hold back these important vulnerable emotions. Over time they build a lot of resentment.
What’s At The Root Of It All?
At the root both the Tired Pursuer and the Island are really afraid.
Islands are scared of giving themselves completely over to another person. Fully trusting another person is really hard. So sometimes they have a really low commitment to a relationship.
They keep their commitment level low as a way to feel in control. You can’t hurt me…I have all the power. I will leave you first….by not committing or not sharing all of my deeper needs.
Tired Pursuers are afraid that if they keep trying in their relationship they will experience more rejection. They’ll never get their needs met. They fear they will keep putting in all the effort and their partner won’t value them. They’ll keep minimizing their desires and dismissing their needs.
They fear they’ll never have the relationship they really desire. They fear they’ll never have true happiness. They’ll keep giving the very best of themselves and they’ll never get the best of their spouse in return….
….or maybe they’re seeing the best of what their spouse has to offer. Maybe there’s not much there. Maybe they’re simply not capable of more. In that case they often feel they should just cut their losses and seek happiness where happiness is possible. Maybe they just married a dud?
Giving The Best Away
When a Tired Pursuer feels they are giving everything to the relationship while their Island spouse is not, it’s extra difficult when they discover the Island has been unfaithful.
One of the first things a Tired Pursuer thinks is, “you’re sharing more with that person then you’ve shared with me”. They envision their stoic, non-emotional, non-intimate spouse having deep meaningful conversations and hot sexual encounters with a stranger.
They imagine they’re a completely different person with the affair partner than they are with them. The irony is the Island is not really giving anything extra or special in the affair than what they've already given in their marriage.
You might be thinking, “What?! How is that possible, right?”
They have clearly had sex and we haven’t had sex in months or years. Or they clearly aren’t the person I married so how can NOT be giving more to them?
Giving What We Don’t Have
Remember: They don’t know HOW to give what you need from them. So they aren’t giving it to the affair partner. They can’t be truly vulnerable and really let someone in. So they’re not necessarily giving more to that relationship than they have given to yours because they don't know how.
They might be having sex or something with this other person but they don't necessarily let them into their vulnerable dark places…which is where true intimacy is developed.
It may feel intimate because there are love letters, flowers, pictures, sexting, different things like that. But they’re not giving anything more of themselves. They don't suddenly become a different person emotionally. Typically that's not what happens.
So What Seeds Are Planted Early On That Leads Someone To Infidelity?
It starts early in their life. It starts in infancy.
Part of it starts with parents who are consistently indifferent and inattentive with their child. Another part of it is big events where you need your parent to support you or protect you but they don’t. If the event is big enough they can lose trust for their parent and just decide I need to learn to lean on myself.
That’s when they become an Island. That’s when they begin to shut down and pull away. That’s when they start to form the habits that lead to a dysfunctional marriage relationship.
Why Do Pursuers Pick Islands?
The Tired Pursuer starts out as just a Pursuer. They are taught at a young age that if they want to get their needs met they have to pursue it. They have to get loud, they have to get angry, they need to fight for their needs to be met.
Sometimes we get hurt. When we get hurt Pursuers begin to fear other pursuers and we get caught up with hard core Islands. But the Island feels safe. But over time they can’t meet the needs we talked about earlier so we feel we have to pursue even harder. Until we just get burnt out. We’re tired.
Then a Pursuer begins to look more like an Island. That’s when the Island gets scared. The roles begin to switch. The Island begins to look more like a Pursuer and the dance has changed.
Why Do Islands Pick Pursuers?
A client the other day asked, “so if they’re plan was just to shut me out and not give themselves totally to this relationship then why did they choose me to begin with? Why did we even get married? Are they purposely trying to be cruel and destroy my life?”
First of all, they didn’t choose their avoidant attachment style. None of us choose to be an Island or a Pursuer. It’s given to us. We inherit it from the care givers who raise us. We learn it.
Second, we all really desire connection at our core. We really want to love and be loved because we’re human and created for connection.
The problem is we’ve learned destructive ways of getting our needs met. Sometimes we learn these mechanisms in a time when we really needed to shut down in order to survive.
But when we try to use these poor mechanisms in our love relationships we only get so far. We have to learn new ways of relating. It can be really scary because it requires us to put down the defenses that have helped us in other parts of our life.
It requires a great deal of trust. When we’ve never had someone we could go to, rely on, and trust in our lives believing that there is someone we can have that with can feel impossible.
What Is The Solution?
That is what we help create in our office. We help to identify what a person needs to have in order to feel safe and lower their walls. Then we create the situation where they can feel safe to do that.
Most of the time a Pursuer needs to understand what they mean to their Island spouse. But if the Island spouse starts to profess this new sense of vulnerability to a TIRED Pursuer then the TP doesn’t usually believe it. It can be harder.
So we help to process the feelings of disbelief, anger, hurt, and the myriad of emotions felt throughout the changes. We help both partners to respond in a way that supports the changes. Then we solidify the changes for the long term.
No one wants to spend time and money on something that they can’t take home for the length of the marriage, right? You want the work you do in marriage counseling to stick. So we put the important things into place to make that possible.
Some of what we put into place are strategies for having healing conversations. Ways to identify when we’re falling into our old habits. Ways to break out of the habits. Ways to turn it around on your own. The more you practice it the easier it gets.
The first step is a desire to change and a willingness to consider trusting someone again.