I recently discovered a book that delves into the reasons why married women have affairs and I wanted to share some of the information with you. The book isn’t based on theory but on the author’s interviews with hundreds of women who had extramarital affairs.
I received an iPad for Christmas and even though I have not yet explored all of its wonderful features I have discovered something that I just love. I discovered that I can download free books and magazines from my local library. No more searching the library shelves for new informational books or paying my numerous fines for overdue books. Instead, everything is right at my fingertips.
Last Friday while Doug was looking at his basketball tournament brackets and settling himself in for a long night of watching games, I started searching for some new books to read. Basketball is my least favorite sport and I really only get interested in the last few minutes of a game – which seems to last about an hour anyway.
While I was searching I found a book that caught my eye “The Erotic Silence of the American Wife” by Dalma Heyn. The book discusses the various reasons why married women have affairs.
Now, this is not a book I would normally go out and buy seeing that I am the BS, but I did find some of the information and interviews interesting, and it did give me an insight into why so many women stray.
The author begins by discussing when women get married they have this ideal inspiration that they will be the perfect wife and have the perfect marriage that will last forever. Many of us grew up believing we should be like Donna Reed, even though many of those role models were purely fictional and only existed on TV shows.
I know I aspired to be the “perfect wife and mother” and even though I had a career, I believed that I could do it all without any support from anyone. Heyn states that while many women would not want to completely fit into the Donna Reed model, they begin a process of self-revision.
The ideas they knew about themselves and understood about men, sex and relationships slowly collapsed, yielding to imagines of what they believed a wife’s feelings should be. They changed themselves to fit the image of the “perfect wife” while burying their sexual past and keeping their opinions and feelings to themselves.
This all caused them to lose the person they were before they got married while being neutralized both sexually and emotionally. They buried the woman that their husbands fell in love with and began playing a role of someone they thought they should be.
Several women stated that “pleasure was not available to them” and that they perceived the role of wife as an “appointed renunciation of pleasure,” a fact for which they didn’t blame anyone. It was a role one adopted when one married – this position of being less needy emotionally and sexually.
One woman cheater wrote:
“I’ve struggled to be the real me in my marriage and I just am not, either in or out of bed, and I don’t know why. It’s a strange thing, something happened, early on; nothing dramatic, mind you. Just got a little less cozy, more professional , like we were running a business together.”
While the author is not promoting infidelity or making excuses for these women cheaters, she states that many of them begin to experiment with affairs to find their “real selves.”
“The women cheaters find that the affairs are surprisingly rewarding because there are no social rules governing it, no pattern for its development, no precedent for how to behave and no defined goals for an affair. Because it is temporary with no predictable outcome, a woman is free to create an unusual entity, a sexual relationship in which she has no prescribed role…”
“It will be she who decides if this relationship takes place, where, when, how often and just what her part in it will be. She does not have to win a man, because she already has one; she does not have to plan a future, which is already planned with someone else; she does not have to worry about whether the relationship will end, nor if all her needs will be filled. She has a life, it will be day by day, this friendship; its only goal is mutual pleasure, without which is has no reason for being.”
Of course this only can be achieved if there is an equal amount of power in an affair. For example, if the cheater is a single woman she is perceived to want more out of the relationship, therefore has less power and is in a classic unrewarding role. The married woman will have no less than equal power if her affair partner is married, more power if he is not.
This power gives the woman cheater something new that often characterizes women’s relationships: the absence of emotional neediness. They don’t have to choose between being themselves or being desired. They could be whoever they wanted to be.
When these women were asked to describe their feelings for their affair partners, they had a difficult time articulating their thoughts. The author states that they feel powerful and equal and freed from having to be pleasing. It may not be the person they are with but the experience that is so enticing.
It was interesting to note that most of these woman felt little or no guilt. They also had no intentions of leaving their marriages, as the affair was just an added bonus to their lives. They justified their affairs by stating that it made them a happier person therefore it benefited their husbands and families as well.
Many of these women however, were oblivious to the effect the affairs had on their domestic relationships – how putting their emotional energy somewhere else was depleting their emotional connections at home.
And of course most of these women’s affairs ended – as most affairs do – mostly because the balance of power in the relationship changed. Affairs thrive on secrecy and pleasure and when this happens the relationship disintegrates.
For example, if the affair partner is married and his wife finds out, the balance of power changes, which thrusts the cheating woman into pleasing mode and makes her become emotionally needy. She is no longer there for her own pleasure as she changes into her wife mode, which is not very desirable for the cheating husband. He already has a wife at home and he doesn’t need another one.
Same if the cheating wife’s affair partner wants more of a commitment. She wants to have the best of both worlds and has no intention of leaving her family. The relationship becomes more of a hassle therefore diminishing some of the pleasure.
After the affairs ended many women made the choice to keep it a secret. It was surprising that many of the husbands had no idea their wives were being unfaithful. The author suggests that husbands would never entertain the idea that their wives would cheat and also are somewhat oblivious to their wives emotions, believing that if their wives are happy then they must being doing a good job. They are unaware that their wife’s happiness is generated by another man. Often the only way most husbands find out is if they receive a phone call from the affair partner’s wife, or the cheating wife becomes sloppy and doesn’t cover her tracks.
It was also interesting to note how these women changed after their affairs and how they tried to bring their “real selves” back into their marriages. Many women were successful if they were completely honest about their affairs and emotions and their husbands were on board with their transformations. These women typically stated that the affair was a big mistake and that is has taken years to repair the damage, but their marriages are more rewarding than ever.
The women whose affairs remained a secret often went back to their old marriages, still unhappy and oftentimes blaming their husbands for their less-than-desirable lives. They also ended up in other affairs, still trying to find the “perfect” relationship.
As I finish this post I worry that many of you will think that I’m justifying these women’s choices or actions, but truly I am not. I felt the need to write about this book not because of the explanations/justifications for the cheating itself, but more for the message it conveys.
I feel that many of us have lost ourselves in our marriages over the years and that the person our husband fell in love with is buried somewhere deep within us just dying to resurface.
I truly believe that finding another person to bring it out in us is definitely not the answer. The answer lies within ourselves and in the authentic life we choose to live. The answer involves much self reflection and work but I believe that all of us could have a marriage that gives us the pleasure and freedom that affairs offered these women, as well as the security and comfort that we have in our marriages.
It is ironic that I have been able to find much of my old self due to Doug’s affair. I have learned so much about myself both sexually and emotionally that I am a different person than I was four years ago.