Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

31 Reasons to Stop an Affair: Part 1

reasons to stop affair part one

3 Part Series:

Several years ago, a client named Harry, who had achieved six months of sobriety from cocaine, entered my office and announced that this was the day he was going to use. I first met Harry one year earlier after his wife had coerced him into entering treatment by threatening divorce. The first six months of treatment were frustrating for Harry as he discovered his powerlessness. It was particularly difficult for Harry to surrender his pride, and desperation finally persuaded him to let go and take a new approach. At first, this new life was filled with excitement and hope, but the days grew more difficult with the passing of time. Even after Harry completed his work, he still felt undone. He felt pretty sure that no matter how much he changed, he'd never be good enough. Discouragement began to creep in, and his old feelings of hopelessness returned. Harry decided he was finished with abstinence. He was tired of trying to do the right thing and of always pleasing others. Now it was his turn.

I drew a simple matrix on the board and asked Harry what his motivations were for wanting to use cocaine. He quickly replied, “To be free, to be with friends, because it was fun, to feel better; and because I’m tired of doing the right thing and I want to let loose.” When I asked the disadvantages of using, the only disincentive he could think of was increased conflict with his wife. When I queried the advantages of not using, he stated an improved relationship with his wife, but he couldn't identify any others. When asked the disadvantages of not using, he replied, “A dull life, increased boredom, missing my friends, missing being high, and feeling trapped.”

My only reply to his list was that it looked like he was going to use today, and if it were my list, I'd do the same. Puzzled, he asked why I wasn't trying to stop him. I began to ask some important questions, “Did he really want to be talked out of following through with his desires? Can someone be talked out of something they have already decided to do?” The answer is yes, but the solution to Harry’s dilemma had nothing to do with deciding whether to use again or not. He had great reasons for both choices. We know right from wrong, but at times seem incapable of making good choices. We often spend hours wrestling with the dilemma of what to do in certain situations. We struggle with the battle between conflicting desires within ourselves, with thoughts such as, “Is this who I am or isn’t it?” and “Maybe I should stop or maybe not,” and, “I know this is wrong, but I don’t think I can ever be happy if I have to give it up,” and finally, “Is life worth living without this?”

In reality, individuals trapped in affairs or sexual addictions are ambivalent about their actions. Part of them wants to leave the marriage, while the other part feels badly about leaving. These two sides effectively cancel each other out. It's not a matter of not caring; instead, it is a matter of caring a great deal about two mutually exclusive things. Harry's problem wasn’t a lack of cocaine, but rather a loss of vision. He was focused on the wrong thing. Harry either lost sight of what had motivated him to quit in the first place, or he never established solid reasons for not using. I reminded him of his original motivations, which were just as valid as they had been on the day he entered recovery. It was just in that particular moment that his emotions were overriding both his good judgment as well as his ability to recall his motivations. When trapped in the two-pronged dilemma of the “want to’s” and the “ought to’s,” there has to be a majority of motivators on one side or the other if you are ever going to break free. Our dark side will always be capable of providing plenty of reasons for the “want to’s,” but it's difficult in the heat of emotion to think of reasons we know are good and right.

My goal in this series is to provide a list of sound reasons for ending these destructive behaviors. Once consumed by the emotions of an affair or sexual addiction, your ability to identify positive motivators will naturally be impaired. Here are a number of items that have been helpful for my clients throughout the years. As you wrestle with what to do, you'll find it helpful to keep these, as well as other personal motivators, available for review at those times when emotions are in danger of overriding reason. You may want to write some of them down and keep them handy.

THE 31 REASONS – Part 1: 1-10​

1.  Your baggage never gets lost in transit- it always shows up at your new destination.

This fact is sad, but true. The myth that the grass is always greener on the other side is just that— a myth. The belief that a geographic fix will cure your misery is only an indication of deluded victim thinking. Your mate isn't your problem. Rather, your mate only reveals the problems in you. If you eliminate your mate, all you've done is temporarily remove the spotlight illuminating your own defects of character. Once in a new long-term relationship, the light will once again shine on your weaknesses. Why choose a solution that doesn't address the problem? That is the same as putting gas in your car, when the engine is out of oil. The action doesn't address the problem. Why don't you start by trying to discover what is driving your life, as well as why you keep making harmful and destructive choices? There is a solution, but it's not in an affair.

2.  I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto.

When it comes to extramarital affairs or sexual addiction, this statement couldn't be more true. Dorothy's life was one of mediocrity. There was little or no color to her existence at the homestead, and she felt constrained by life's hardships and by those who controlled her life. She believed that no one understood her. In frustration, she tried to leave, only to find herself directly in the path of an ominous tornado that sent her helplessly spinning into a strange new land of fantasy. Unlike her old life, this new life was painted with vibrant colors and was full of song. Furthermore, Dorothy was no longer alone. She found a strange troop of friends leading the way: a scarecrow that lacked brains, a tin man missing his heart, and a lion with no courage. This motley crew committed their lives to assisting young Dorothy and her dog Toto in her search for the Wizard of Oz. Interestingly, flying monkeys, wicked witches, and deception left Dorothy pining away for the very thing from which she had tried to run. She just wanted to be home again where she belonged.

I wonder if the author of the Wizard of Oz might not have been writing about some pitiful person trapped in an affair. How often do these indiscretions begin with feelings of mediocrity, or a desire to feel alive and understood, free from the constraints of life's responsibilities and no longer alone? The ambivalence generated by life's circumstances and frustrations results in finding oneself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Catapulted into a strange new fantasyland, the individual is left to wrestle with what to do. Only then do they end up operating with a series of handicaps like Dorothy's team, that had no brain, no heart, and no courage.

What do you decide to do when somebody has lost their brain? If you've ever observed someone in an affair, it is apparent they are operating a few cards short of a full deck. They lose the ability to make even the most simple decisions. I have seen successful men and women in extremely influential positions transformed into inept and incompetent individuals who cannot make a rational decision. They become willing to jeopardize career, family, and future for this momentary pleasure. If the behavior of being “in love” were not socially acceptable, they would be certifiably insane. Instead, they are allowed to stumble through life like the emperor with no clothes. Everyone else can see they have no brain, that reason and common sense are gone, but often they are too polite to say anything.

The loss of heart is also apparent. There is an illusion that if one is in love, they are finally in touch with their heart, when in reality they've just lost what little heart they had. The selfish pursuits of personal gratification and self-glorification have nothing to do with heart; rather they are based on self-centeredness. The total lack of consideration of how the betrayer’s actions will impact others is one of the most astounding aspects of an affair. Like the tin man, the person involved in an affair has no heart and no empathy. On the other hand, people with heart are actually able to feel the impact their actions have on those who are connected to them. They care about the pain they are inflicting upon those they love. The total lack of consideration of how the betrayer’s actions will impact others is one of the most astounding aspects of an affair. The path out of this dark morass requires that they acquire a heart, not only to begin to experience awareness of the pain that's been inflicted, but also to learn how to truly love.

Finally, courage is certainly not a term used to describe those indulging in affairs. In fact, their betrayal seems to rob them of courage. Instead of exercising the necessary courage to acknowledge and own their feelings and actions, they hide behind a veil of secrecy, afraid of discovery and the consequences of their actions. Rather than having the courage to face the reality of the deficits in their marriage or address the issues resulting from their betrayal, they attempt to avoid conflict and hide their feelings and actions. Ironically, it is this lack of courage that keeps them hopelessly trapped in the life they claim to want to escape. The only way they can stay immobilized in this state is by the continued avoidance of life's realities. Instead, why not be honest and stand up and own what has been done? This simple solution creates immediate change as well as a loss of control. It requires courage to take personal responsibility for their life and actions. Frequently, those lacking the courage to stand up will hide behind the rationalization that they don't want to hurt their mate, claiming they are acting in their mate’s best interest by keeping secrets. In reality, however, they are controlling and robbing their mate of the information necessary to take responsibility for their own life, to make informed decisions, and to address the issues in the marriage. It takes courage to be authentic in a marriage, but like the lion of Oz, courage is a trait that is often missing.  

Interestingly, this trip to affair fantasyland usually culminates in a longing for home. Like Dorothy, they often realize that “there's no place like home.” But how do they return? It would be nice if they could click their heels together and repeat, “There’s no place like home,” but more is required. The journey back is more exciting, and ultimately more rewarding than the fantasyland, but it takes time and effort. It is, however, one’s best hope for growth and happiness. Come back to reality. Rediscover your brain, heart and courage, and you’ll find there truly is no place like home.

3.  Emotional decisions are never our best decisions.

If you don't believe that emotional decisions are never our best decisions, consider the times you've made an emotional buying decision. How many of those decisions have been your best? If you’re like me, the majority of those choices have been serious mistakes because when lost in emotions, we lose the ability to be rational. Who can deny the power of the emotions experienced in an affair or sexual addiction? I have seen wise grown men who I greatly respect do things that are totally insane. In fact, in society, we make excuses for those who are “in love” and label their insane behavior as “romantic,” when in reality, family and fortune are being sacrificed for this make believe “true love.” Interestingly enough, we laugh pityingly at people caught in the snare of greed who fall prey to the wiles of a con artist. We commit to never allow ourselves to be so duped as to lose large sums of money on obvious scams; however, the same emotional forces that seduce those vulnerable individuals are the very ones that ensnare those involved in affairs and addictions. In the midst of an affair, sane and logical individuals begin to experience feelings that far exceed normal emotional states. And in such states, we make radical and irrational decisions about the future, decisions that affect not only our lives, but also the lives of those who are connected to us. It's frightening to have to live with the consequences of decisions made in a state of virtual insanity.

4.  People almost always "affair down".

This is an axiom I have observed over the past twenty years of studying and working with affairs. I have never seen a situation where I felt an individual “affaired up”- meaning that they end up with a better person. It may seem like a better decision at the time, but it will prove it to be a step down. A dear friend of mine once shared a close call he had with a woman in his study group at church. He said that he had been aware of the spark between the two of them for some time, but had pushed away the reality of their synergy until one night when they found themselves alone. He told me, “Rick, she was so beautiful, and she truly cared about me and wanted me. It was the moment of truth. I looked at her, took a deep breath and told her I didn't know what she thought was going to happen, but this was going nowhere, and I walked away. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but there's one thing that had confused me- you'd always talked about the fact that people affair down. Now I understand. I can finally see how I would have been “affairing down” if I had chosen her, because although she may have been more physically beautiful than my wife, in terms of maturity, character, integrity, intelligence, loyalty, spirituality, and those types of character traits, she was no match for Carol. ” Open your eyes- there is no such thing as a move up when it comes to an affair.

5.  You'll stunt your growth.

Marriage is God's primary tool for growing people. It is in the marital relationship that a person stands to gain and lose the most. It is where someone has the most opportunity to grow in their capacity to love, and to be loved. It is true that admist an affair, you may be receiving an abundance of accommodation, appreciation, adoration, affection and affirmation, but getting your needs for nurturance met through an elicit affair isn't going to produce maturity (or a successful long-term relationship). In fact, the love generated in an affair is not love at all, though it may feel like it. It is an illusion. It is build around how that person makes you feel, not about how you truly feel about them. It consists of the belief that another holds the answer to your felt needs. True love, on the other hand, is the love you receive after your mate learns of your betrayal and chooses to love you anyway. Growth comes from embracing the difficult situations in your life and having both the courage and fortitude to face them, but not by avoiding a challenging situation.

6.  No man is an island.

I am astounded by the rationalization used by many involved in affairs that their mate won't care, or that their mate will be better off if the marriage is abandoned. What makes you think you're so insignificant? The reality is, what you do will literally alter the course of their remaining years. Among other things, your affair affects their ability to trust, it destroys dreams of a life with you, it forces them into decisions they never wanted to make, and it robs them of the opportunity of learning how to be in relationship with you and how to grow beyond themselves by loving you. It strips them of their choices. Ultimately, it will literally stunt their growth as well as your own. And that's just the effect it has on your spouse! It will also profoundly impact your family and friends, and will create any number of difficult situations for them to navigate. Are you being so selfish because you think only of your misery without considering the misery you are about to create in the lives of those who care about you?

7.  It is a trap.

What the world tells us regarding the wonderful outcome of affairs is a lie, pure and simple. If you look at the research done on affairs, you will see there is seldom a successful outcome, and people who so eagerly rush into affairs more often than not get trapped in a situation from which they have a hard time getting away (remember the movie, Fatal Attraction!). What looked enticing and exciting at the beginning can become a web that drains the life energy away from you and the people you love. For example, second marriages are more likely to end in divorce. Why would yours be the exception?

8.  Don't call it love.

Affairs are based on romanticism, not real love. Romanticism always consists of the dynamic of two individuals longing to be together, but who are kept separate by life's circumstances. Romanticism can only apply to love outside of marriage and the ingredients always consist of secrecy and mystery (such as the secret glances or stolen opportunities). Romanticized relationships, therefore, have a premarital or extra-marital association. Poets rarely write of the romantic love of marriage, the care required for children, or the mutuality of love in old age. Romanticized love by its own definition is something “beyond” or “out of this world” which cannot be contained in the defined walls of a marriage. The theme never differs, it is always the same song with a different verse. Consider the great romantic plots through the ages, such as Romeo and Juliet, Wuthering Heights, or movies like You've got Mail or Pretty Woman. There are endless examples, all with the same theme of two individuals searching for the fulfillment of love, longing to be together, but whose efforts are tragically foiled by circumstances. Even more telling is what happens at the end of these stories, when they finally manage to come together. The curtain falls, the movie ends and the sitcom goes off the air. Such is the outcome of the vast majority of affairs.

9.  Field of dreams.

Unfortunately, certain types of passion have the tendency to spend themselves quickly. Romanticized love and holding out for the possibility of perpetual passion raises unrealistic expectations. When little or no passion is experienced and the embers have cooled, many people think their marriage has failed and begin to look for the exit sign. The advent of the fading embers is not the indicator of a failed marriage but rather the beginning of the transition to the next stage of the relationship, a place where true unselfish love and real passion can begin to develop.

10.  Romance can be hazardous to your health.

There is no high more potent than the feeling generated by an affair. The reunion of affair partners after a season of absence produces overwhelming feelings. The sky is bluer, the sun shines brighter, the birds sing louder, and all seems well life. You and your partner are cloaked in ecstasy and the world, as you know it, ceases to exist. All that is real in that moment is you and your partner. Gone are the worries of the world and the pressures of life, for in that brief moment of time there are no concerns, only bliss. Who doesn't want to experience that type of high? But it never lasts! Reality sets in, and the temporary escape from life's problems ends. Just like a heroin addict, the next day comes and all of life's problems not only come flooding back, but get worse, or at least more complicated. One of the interesting dynamics of addictive behavior is the bubble effect. There is a tremendous high that comes from the drug of choice, but that feeling is temporary and leaves you wanting more. As time passes, you become obsessed with the thought of your next opportunity to escape. In fact, that obsession can become so intense that it is all you can think about. There seems to be relief from the anticipation itself, but as the process plays out, you actually lose the ability to experience life in the moment. You become so future-oriented you lose the ability to enjoy what is around you now. In fact, the life you are living is now filled with misery because you cannot be with the one you want. You end up living in a bubble of misery until you can once again experience your drug of choice. You can lose all of the joy of living as a result of craving the high.

A client I’ll call Joe once paged me at 6:30 one evening. He stated he was in front of his computer, and just had one more button to push before he entered the porn site. Joe reminded me of his promise to call before he used again, and said the thought of calling seemed to ease his guilt. I asked how long his affair with porn normally lasted, and he responded about one hour. I then asked how long he would be miserable as a result of what he was doing. Joe said about 72 hours. I asked if it was worth 72 hours of misery for 1 hour of ecstasy. He quickly responded yes, so I asked how many hours he had spent obsessing about using the porn. Joe said he had been obsessing since about 10:00 that morning. I stated it might be difficult to talk him out of something about which he had been obsessing for 8 hours. Joe was in the bubble. All life apart from the porn had lost meaning, and there were no motivating factors at that moment to stop Joe. The source of Joe's happiness had been reduced to an addictive behavior. Without getting to experience what he craved, there could be no happiness. The fate of those trapped in affairs is the same. Your drug of choice becomes your only hope for escape and happiness.

Sections: 

RL_Category: 

RL_Media Type: 

Add New Comment:

Comments

Wizard of oz

All I can say is AMEN!! Hands down, the most brilliant article I've ever read on affairs. Having just untangled out of a highly emotional affair, the segment on "Dorthy and the wizard of Oz" was spot on! I couldn't agree more and am astonished at how utterly self focused, and uncaring of others feelings I became during the affair, focusing solely on "my needs"... Insanity.

Agreed. Rick, just a

Agreed. Rick, just a fantastic piece, and I can't wait for the rest. Tahoe, just curious if there was an event, a natural progression or getting help that brought you to your realizations. You seem to have reached an understanding that probably all of us on the betrayed side pray our spouses would achieve to be able to heal together. Hope that healing is happening for you. Thanks much.

Bomb

Well goodness. It's actually taken months of unwinding. I got busted, and therefore had to deal with the bomb that went off, hurting many close friends, as the AP was a close person in our community.
Even though it was an emotional affair, the hurt that it caused was spread to multiple friends and family members .
The affair was like a drug addiction, and the further we progressed in it the less and less we cared about anyone's feelings but ourselves. Sickening, but true.

This is undoubtedly the best

This is undoubtedly the best article you have written on this topic. As a BS, it is hard to read but is so very thorough and objective. Thank you. I can't wait to read the next installment.

Thank you

I've been out of my affair for over a year, and struggled with all of these things. I just have to say, out of every article and therapy session I've experienced, this bit of writing is the most powerful thing I've read. I will use it when I feel weak.

Thank you.

Can't wait for the rest

Beautiful article! Can't wait to see the rest. My only problem is: do I send this to my wayward wife now or wait for the other 21?

I agree

I'm in the same boat. The first 10 seem powerful enough, but maybe the other 21 are worth waiting for before suggesting that she read it. Our divorce is only a few months away from being finalized and she doesn't listen to my pleadings anymore.

Healing in Florida

Thank you for the 31 reasons to end an affair. Part 1 gave me great insight into the betrayer mind set. It cleared up for me the myths and falsehoods of affairs. Understanding these concepts has helped me greatly. My D-day is but 31/2 months old. I hurt deeply. Your website and post are a God send. Thank you.

Denise

true

As a woman married 30 years, walking right into an affair 4 years ago and still in it, everyone of these are true. I don't want to end my marriage, I do love my husband but now I'm so emotionally attached to my affair partner it feels like my heart is being ripped in half. My husband doesn't know because he trust me so much. I came across this website through Living Proof Ministries, Beth Moore has a way of speaking directly to my heart. I'm working on cutting the ties with my affair partner.

Reply to True

Run, run as fast as you can! 30 years of marriage, family and everything that is yours will be lost. I've lived the nightmare and please STOP! Take this advice now, life is for living in happiness, love and trust/faith.

Spot on!

An extraordinary piece of writing, you have perfectly described my partner during his affair. Thank you for sharing your wisdom on this eternally complex subject. It certainly contributes towards my healing.

Outstanding!

Absolutely the most amazing write up about affairs I've seen. When does Part 2 come out? SO READY!!

What type of affair was it?

Our free Affair Analyzer provides you with insights about your unique situation and gives you a personalized plan of action.
Take the Affair Analyzer