When approximately 36 percent of people have had an affair in the workplace, even the most committed married man needs to ask the question, “how do affairs happen?”
No one enters marriage thinking they will have an affair, yet how do so many slide into infidelity so easily?
Dave Carder, author of Anatomy of an Affair, explains there are a number of factors that cause people to wander.
“The reason is in human nature and in the relationship itself,” he says.
The root Carder points to is Luke 4, when Jesus Himself was tempted, noting this telling point: the Devil left Him “until a more opportune time.”
“There are going to be seasons in your life where you’re going to be more vulnerable. There are going to be times when you’re needy or hurt, or you need to talk… we say first-time affairs are always about comfort and distraction. So we look for stress factors.”
He says 50 percent of all first-time affairs happen in the nine months of pregnancy or the first year after delivery.
“If you think about your wife and what she goes through with pregnancy, it’s very easy to understand. She’s nauseous often the first trimester, she’s more tired, she’s gaining weight, she has a different emotional focus, she has this baby, again sleep deprivation sets in and you feel like you slipped down the totem pole in her interests.”
“You’re very vulnerable.”
When looking broadly at affairs across North America, he notes there are also three common aspects of every affair, whether sexual or emotional. Nearly every affair has some combination of:
- Admiration, an attitude someone has for you;
- Affirmation, a verbalization of the attitude, and;
- Accommodation, where you change your schedule to make sure the other person fits in.
“That’s the start,” he warns.
However, while a physical affair is easy to identify, many men often wonder: Is an emotional affair just as painful?
Carder says many studies suggest an emotional affair is just as painful for wives. In fact, he says emotional affairs become more painful as the infidelity moves through its multiple stages.
The first stage is the mood-altering effect when a man sees the other woman or a message from her. When you see her you feel positive emotions, Carder explains.
The second stage occurs when the conversation moves from professional to personal, “from what’s outside of you to what’s going on inside of you.” However, he notes it’s an insidious turn, “as you begin to share your internal feelings, you begin to starve the marriage and feed the friendship.”
The third stage is hiding the relationship. But the result is always the same, Carder says.
“You begin to realize if your wife knew about this she would be really hurt. So you hide it, and it becomes a secret stash you hide and come back to.”
These relationships become a real danger to your marriage. But Carder says it’s important to address the danger directly. He says it’s important to have an open declaration to your wife that you won’t cultivate another intimate relationship with another woman.
While men may unknowingly build a deep relationship with a woman, Carder says many still think they can manage it and it won’t overwhelm them, thinking, “it’s just a friendship… but you’re not just friends, you’re building a deep friendship and this person is beginning to know more about you than your spouse.”
If that person is filling a void in your marriage, it’s become an emotional affair.
“You feel like they’re more interested in you than your spouse is or they may be filling a void in your marriage you feel your spouse isn’t interested in filling.”
However, Carder isn’t the only one examining the anatomy of affairs. Scientists and researchers have long been curious about how affairs occur in committed relationships.
The research into “misattribution of attraction” began in the 1970s.
In a lab, scientists built two bridges: one wobbled and weaved while the other was tight and steady. Researchers then had two groups of college students walk across one of the bridges, each time with the same young woman waiting for them on the other side.
The students were then asked to rate the attractiveness of the woman waiting for them at the end.
Overwhelmingly, the young men rated the woman as more attractive while walking across the unsteady bridge.
“When you go through high levels of stress… a broken relationship, being fired, a financial reversal… you’re always going to be more vulnerable to another female’s efforts, or even just kindness towards you.”
For those starting to feel the pull of attraction to someone outside of their marriage, Carder wants men to know the danger they’re in. Carder says it could be wise to leave the environment or make a change, “but you can’t just continue on; it won’t go away.”
While he believes it’s possible to have friends of the opposite sex, there will always be a certain danger. “You’re either dead or in denial if you think it won’t happen to you. You have to be on guard.”
The “helpless maiden” scenario is an especially powerful draw. Carder says he’s seen wives withhold praise because they don’t want to swell the husband’s pride, so she keeps the praise to herself. When a man encounters another woman who is effusive with her praise, the contrast can be explosive.
Even worse, is that the wedding ring is no longer a protection, “but an invitation” Carder says.
He notes recent surveys have revealed more single people aren’t concerned about courting married people. The ring now indicates that “this man was able to make someone happy, maybe they can make me happy as well”.
The best guard is staying alert. In teaching AA, Carder says staying sober comes down to being aware of your emotional state. When you’re hungry or craving something, be careful. If you’re angry, be careful. If you’re lonely, be careful. When you’re bored, be careful.
“These are the mood states that will take people down.”
However, for all the snares and temptations waiting for married men, there are some simple and deadly counter moves that disarm them in a heartbeat.
For those experiencing boredom, Carder says the solution is a simple, ten-minute exercise. He encourages spouses to write a list of the eight most memorable moments with your spouse, not including moments with your kids or your wedding day.
Then merge your lists.
“That’s what you guys do best, that’s what bonded you together. Most couples get in trouble because they stop doing what they do best. Spend money on your marriage. Anything you do together as a couple after kids arrive is going to steal from the children. Kids are narcissistic and self-centered from the womb.”
Neither will kids tell you to take the weekend off and spend some time alone. “It’s not intentional, they don’t recognize it… so you have to steal from them.”
So few parents are teaching their children how to put marriage above parenting, Carder says.
While kids are a stewardship, they aren’t the center of your marriage.
To keep your spouse at the center, Carder says another simple exercise has tremendous effects. Together with your spouse, write one thing you admire about the other, once a day for a month.
“A good mom.”
“Makes great lasagna.”
“Takes short showers.”
Then get together with your spouse and pray, thanking God for that particular behaviour or trait.
Do this for thirty days in a row, and Carder says the results are always transformative.
“Most of us are starved for admiration. We’re taken for granted, we become a paycheque… we need admiration. And with admiration comes a sense of closeness and affection.”
The exercise has been done across genders and cultures and the follow-up results are always the same.
“It will revolutionize your relationship.”
Listen to our full interview with Dave here.