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

Monotonous Monogamy and the Emotional Affair

Monotonous Monogamy and Emotional Affair

In the beginning my relationship with Stephanie was anything but monotonous. I first saw her on a church retreat she attended with her boyfriend of three years. From the first moment I saw her I knew he wasn’t right for her. The fact that he went to bed early Saturday evening, leaving me with opportunity to impress her with my skills as a singing troubadour, only confirmed my belief. Alas, as the weekend drew to a close I failed to get her number, but not to be discouraged I called her good friend and acquired the necessary information.

It was 8:17, only a few hours after I last had seen her, when I made my fortuitous call. “How would you like to get together next weekend?” I asked after her “Hello.” “John’s in the living room and he just asked me to marry him” she replied. “I first need to give him an answer.” (Her boyfriend had literally just said, “Will you marry me?” when the phone rang. In those days there were no answering machines so Stephanie had stepped into the bedroom to answer the phone. Without skipping a beat I asked, “When do you think you’ll know by?” “I think Wednesday,” she told me. “Then I’ll call back on Wednesday.” Thankfully when Wednesday came she said yes which marked the beginning of our relationship over 35 years ago.

The first stage of our relationship was torrid. I proposed within the first two months of our meeting. Nothing in life was more enjoyable than spending time with my girl and the only thing limiting that enjoyment was the 123 miles separating Lubbock from Amarillo. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” certainly seemed appropriate in our case. When apart, I was miserable, but when together I was lit up.

“Then We Got Married….”

Then we got married. At that moment we went from wanting what we didn’t have to, at times, having who we didn’t want. At the start our relationship had been about enjoying one another, but once married it became about pleasing one another. I now felt responsible for her happiness and began trying to meet her needs in the same way she now began trying to make me happy. As time went on, instead of enjoying one another as we once had we now felt the increasing responsibility for pleasing one another and meeting each other’s needs.

The only problem was, in my opinion, she was impossible to please and I’m sure she felt I was just as difficult. No matter how hard I tried it was never good enough and even more I was certain she wasn’t as committed in her quest of pleasing me as I was in pleasing her. As years went by further and further we seemed to drift apart. Where was the talk of man and mate that at first had captured our hearts? Why had things become so dull and commonplace?

Before I go any farther, I don’t think bad marriages cause affairs, bad choices do. Nor do I think good marriages prevent affairs, but they might help eliminate some of the temptation we face. It’s impossible to affair-proof a marriage, we can only affair-proof ourselves, but part of affair-proofing ourselves comes through our own journey of growing up both as an individual and in our marriage. Immaturity along with lack of investment in one’s relationship can set the stage for infidelity.

But certainly many couples can relate to what happened with Stephanie and me. Instead of ongoing flames of passion burning for our mate, we end up at a place of monotonous monogamy where life becomes routine and boring. What dulls the passion and energy from which our relationship’s spring? Typically it’s nothing more than expectations and routine.

Pitfall #1 of Monogamy: A Paradigm Shift

To begin, our goals shift. In the beginning we’re about enjoying one another, once married we move to a paradigm where we believe it’s about pleasing each other. It’s your job to meet my needs in the same way it’s now my job to meet your needs. But once I’m responsible for pleasing you, who then becomes responsible for my success? You!!! I can try has hard as I want, but if Stephanie’s in a funky mood there’s a good chance nothing I do will cause it to improve. However if my goal shifts to that of enjoying her, who is now responsible for my success? I am! She can be in a foul mood, but whether I enjoy her is now my responsibility. Once I made my goal that of enjoying her instead of pleasing her everything changed. Instead of feeling like a failure when she was short, I was now master of my own destiny; I controlled whether I chose to enjoy her. Even better, the more I enjoyed her the more she looked forward to being with me. She could sense I was excited to see her and interested in her.

It’s natural to feel what irritates, but we have to be intentional to find what we appreciate. After infidelity, if we want to build an extraordinary marriage, shifting the lens through which we see one another is imperative. The pain of betrayal causes the hurt spouse to be keenly aware of every flaw exhibited by their mate.  The guilt of the betrayal certainly tempts the unfaithful spouse to focus on their mate’s flaws as a way to justify their failure. Choosing to enjoy our mate and focusing on what we appreciate is imperative if we want to move from our ruts and back into our grooves.

Pitfall #2 of Monogamy: Following Old Scripts

The second pitfall of monogamy is the ridged scripts we create when we first marry. If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a thousand times, “I could express myself in the affair,” or “we were able to talk in ways I’ve never been able to in my marriage.” Why is that? It’s because marriages typically operate off scripts created by newlyweds in their twenties which don’t allow for new forms of expression as they mature. If a couple is stuck in a sex role script created by two twenty year olds, why wouldn’t the freedom afforded by an extramarital affair provide for a new and previously suppressed form of expression? What’s tragic is the marriage could have also provided a safe haven for self-expression if only they had known how to break free from old scripts and felt the freedom to express themselves in the marriage.

Lest someone thinks I’m condoning affairs, I am not; but I do think it’s tragic when marriages become monotonous. It doesn’t have to be.

Pitfall #3 of Monogamy: Just Being Close Isn’t Going To Cut It

Couples often settle for closeness and safety instead of intimacy. Intimacy is about a willingness to fully know another and a willingness to let them know you, not only who you are, but what you’re thinking and doing. Part of what makes emotional and physical affairs so appealing is intimacy. Almost anybody can be intimate in an affair, but can they do it in a marriage? That takes hutzpah.

In the beginning of a relationship there’s always a fresh newness of life as we share our heart and soul with another and find they still love and accept us in spite of our flaws. I know that’s part of what I enjoyed in the initial stages of my relationship with Stephanie, and it’s also part of what I enjoyed as I began my affair. Intimacy in my marriage had long since gone missing, but why? Once married, intimacy isn’t typically validated as it had once been in the beginning. In marriage, intimacy typically creates short term instability rather than closeness. If I share something I’ve done that I’m sure my mate won’t agree with, instead of validation I may get condemnation. If I share my wants and preferences about our sexual relationship and my mate isn’t interested in the same things, it may well create instability. What if what I find erotic and how I want to express myself sexually is different from my mate? Will they join me or reject me because I’m different than them?

To avoid instability we settle for closeness, which is a pseudo-intimacy. Instability is minimized, but stability comes at the cost of passion. We pretend our wants are the same as our mate’s in an attempt to avoid conflict, but in the process it often feels we’ve lost our soul. We have the security and safety we thought we wanted, but it leads to monotonous monogamy.

We’re not victims however, my passion is my responsibility not my mates, and choosing an emotional affair to address unmet needs is certainly easier in the short run, but it never helps us mature. Anyone can do intimacy in a romantic relationship, but can they learn to do it in a long-term committed relationship? In the emotional affair intrigue and mystery are abundant, but do you know how to keep intrigue and mystery alive in a marriage? The paradigm of closeness and security require us to truncate our mate, making assumptions about their motives and thoughts to fit how we choose to see them. To admit that maybe we don’t fully know them opens us up to a world of discovery and unpredictability. While that may be exciting for those in the beginning stages of a relationship or in an affair, it’s both challenging and rewarding for those in a marriage.

Pitfall #4 of Monogamy: Individual Sovereignty Is An Aphrodisiac

Passion and eroticism require distance, not sameness. The security generated by closeness can cause our mate to feel more like a sibling rather than a lover. Eroticism is about the ongoing expression of desire for our mate. It requires individual sovereignty where I take responsibility for my own desire and arousal, not abdicating my responsibility by placing that burden on my mate. It’s refusing to believe I know my mate and instead choosing to see them as a deep mystery that I could spend 100 years trying to uncover only to still be surprised. It’s not my mate that has to change, for passion to occur I have to change how I see my mate and be honest with myself about who I am.

Maintaining passion also requires the courage to accept the “shadow of the third.” How quickly we forget the gift given by our mate when they choose to spend their life with us. There is no shortage of people who would love to be with them, but they choose us. Devaluing our mate, by failing to remember there are others who would certainly love to be with them but for some strange reason they continue to be faithful to us, robs us of a true appreciation of their love. An appreciation for the shadow of the third reminds us of the value of our mate’s ongoing commitment.

We don’t have to settle for monotonous monogamy. There are better ways, but they take effort and expert strategy. As I said earlier, bad marriages don’t cause affairs, bad choices do, but that’s not to say there aren’t factors which make our marriages vulnerable. Why would you want to live in a lifeless marriage when there’s a wonderful alternative without embarrassment or shame?

I’d like to encourage you to consider the possibility that maybe what you’re seeing and experiencing isn’t all there is to the restoration process? Maybe what you both need is a new paradigm shift? Maybe you’re not as messed up as you think? If that’s you, please consider attending our EMS Weekend. Over 97% of those who attend our intensive say they’d ‘highly recommend us to other couples in crisis due to infidelity.’ I hope you’ll consider getting the help you need, today. 




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Excellent article that

Excellent article that addresses so much. I can tell you've done the hard work of not only recognizing the affair was wrong and avoidable but also as to why and how it could have been avoided. I'm sure not only is your marriage healed and secure but also better and that you are as well. Kudos to you sir for your introspect and the necessary work (that is not easy) to repair yourself and your marriage. I'm sure your wife has greatly benefitted from such a luxury as having a husband who has worked to make things better than ever and not returned thinking things will right themselves on their own. My husband also had an affair two yrs ago. My prayer is that he too will do the necessary hard work one day. It's defeating and deflating when I have to keep asking for the work to be done. I honestly believe he thinks because he returned, all is well. Every step we've made to make things better has been me making it so. Walking him to the well and making him drink nuts exhausting. I've taken a step back but my heart hurts at the slow process because its not a priority for him. Hearing from men like yourself who HAVE done the work give me hope.

My Marriage Became a Victim of This

I thouroughly enjoyed reading this article because it explained exactly what I have been going through with my husband. Our marriage fell into Monotonous Monogamy. During the last few years of child rearing and family issues we neglected to see the damage we were doing to our marriage and ourselves by not communicating efficiently. We were married in our twenties and I can see how we had immature scripts that we followed that lead us to where we are. We stopped being friends and stopped communicating our needs, desires and wants.

After my husband's affair he has said all the same things written in this article, "I could express myself in the affair" or “we were able to talk in ways I’ve never been able to in my marriage” or "I never felt I could talk to you like I did her." These comments cut me to the core! I didn't understand how he could say those things to me, but looking back now I see the fear he had of being judged and of speaking freely to me. The guilt caused from his choice to have affair is something he will have to live with forever.

I take full responsibility for my part in the damage to our marriage caused over the years. I have attempted to reconnect with my husband many times over the last year but with no success. He recently stated that he feels the damage is just to much and the affair caused a new level of complexity. He is unwilling to put the work into fixing our marriage now after 15+ years together and 3 small babies. It is truely heartbreaking that we did not find these resources sooner, maybe they could have changed his defeated outlook on our marriage.

Keep up the great work with these articles. I hope the information will help others save their families.

Don't Give Up

My husband was also in adultery at year 15 of our marriage. Same scenario. Married young. Had kids young. Immature perspectives. My husband would not end his affair to work in the marriage. As a matter if fact he moved out and got his own place but I kept praying and waiting and I knew that the excitement of that affair wouldn't last and he'd want to return home. He did. Our marriage is so much better now. I was a painful wake up call to us both but it has made us closer, deeply connected and appreciative of what we almost lost. Don't give up! Feelings are temporary and that infatuated feeling will die and then he'll see the truth.

Spot on

This is by far the best article from your newsletters, or it just rings true to me at the point I am at right now. Especially this part is good: "I don’t think bad marriages cause affairs, bad choices do. Nor do I think good marriages prevent affairs, but they might help eliminate some of the temptation we face. It’s impossible to affair-proof a marriage, we can only affair-proof ourselves, but part of affair-proofing ourselves comes through our own journey of growing up both as an individual and in our marriage. Immaturity along with lack of investment in one’s relationship can set the stage for infidelity." Thanks for spelling this out so clear.

Monotonous Monogamy

I am committing to this post as a hurt spouse who has been thru a couple of affair recovery courses. My husband and I are 1 yr 1 month past d-day. We are in a much better place thanks to Affair Recovery.

I enjoy reading these emails, I feel they add value to our ongoing recovery. Rick makes some great points which in turn gives us a topic to discuss.

We truly believe you must WORK on your marriage to improve your marriage. So to keep your marriage from being too rountine, you need to have open communication. I can tell when we are not talking as much we tend to go about our day not considering the other person; more self absorbed. That is when one of us snaps out of it and brings it to the other spouses attention. We then focus more on each other and we get back on track.

Again, thank you Rick for your insight to relationships.


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