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Why do people have affairs?

Since the scandal hit Ashley Madison users I’ve been asked by a number of media groups the same question, although in different ways… ‘why do people have affairs?’

The answer could be ‘how long is a piece of string?’ – but that wouldn’t help…

In my experience there is really no one fixed reason people do this but there certainly is three common motivations I see in my counselling rooms:

  1. The love of the chase

  2. Boredom

  3. The need to be desired

The love of the chase person is someone who genuinely finds it hard to settle with one person. The hunter in them feeds their ego by flirting and eventually ‘winning over’ the person they desire. This pattern is manageable in relationships as long as you agree to the rule: it does not matter where you get your appetite as long as you eat at home.

Boredom is dangerous if not managed well. The bored person is the one who starts to explore porn to help stimulate feelings of excitement. This works well for a time, then it becomes ‘boring’ so online chat and profile sites start to enter into the equation – which could be fine if it stays at just viewing, but often what happens from here is emotional attachment starts with one or many others. Often these dynamics never lead to physical intimacy (occasional maybe some sexting or naughty chat room conversations, but not always actually physical touch) – the trouble with this is that it often violates the emotional intimacy and hence trust of our exciting relationships. This is not an easy thing to manage once it has happened, prevention is the best medicine here and that is to not allow boredom to enter into your relationship. Once it has, then add the spice together within safe boundaries and agreed rules. If such as act has happened, then a pathway of forgiveness is required…

The need to be desired is very real for all of us, and it comes on very strong as we move through life past our middle ages… This motive and drive is why senior executives have five minute affairs while away on conference with younger colleagues. It often has very little to do with the health of ones exciting relationship and lots to do with how the individual feels about themselves. It is where your partner can honestly say to you “it meant nothing” because it did not – they felt old, they felt sad, they felt ugly, they felt undesirable. The act of a quick f**k helped them feel good about them for a moment. The problem is that feeling does not last, it is only a band aid to the real issue. The solution again is to do something about the really feelings of internal yuck before one shags the secretary. If it has happened, then we need to deal with the hurt and grief – move along a path of forgiveness and get ourselves on track to deal with the real motivating drive.

As mentioned earlier this little note is by no means a comprehensive essay on the motivations people have affairs, it is only an insight into common factors. If your relationship has been affected by an affair my strongest advice is to step back for a moment and remember:

Don’t make permanent decisions based on temporary emotion!

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