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

Infidelity's Trifecta - Why Even the Strongest Can Fall

There is an elixir so powerful that exposure can cause even the strongest of men to fall. No matter how empty or full one’s purse or the purity of one’s intentions, ongoing exposure to infidelity’s trifecta inevitably leads to betrayal. Taken by themselves these three elements pose little danger, but when combined vulnerability skyrockets placing all at risk. What are the elements in this potion? Opportunity, pride and envy; but more about these later.

Food has a similarly addictive trifecta. Ask yourself when is the last time you overate carrots or gorged yourself on Brussels sprouts? Odds are it’s never happened, but how long has it been since you scarfed a bag of chips or downed a carton of ice cream? Rarely do we over eat healthy foods, but when supplied with foods containing salt, sugar and fat our self-control seems to go missing. According to experts, our bodies aren’t evolved to handle this over-stimulating trifecta. It turns out that these ingredients create a drug like response in our brains which makes them potentially addictive. As it turns out the old slogan “Bet you can’t eat just one” is right. As a result we get hooked on foods with little or no nutritional value. Instead of vegetables we crave French fries. Instead of fruit we want ice cream. We crave food void of nutrition because these foods over-stimulate our brains, resetting what’s called the hedonic set point. Once that happens watermelon will never do; the only thing that can satisfy is more ice cream. ( 10 Most Addictive Foods)

Infidelity’s trifecta is no different. The intense reaction created by an affair also resets the hedonic set point and what is normal no longer satisfies. Cravings override what we once valued. Integrity goes out the window in the pursuit of what we now need to feel satisfied. Ultimately, we become like Edward in C. S. Lewis’ “The Lion Witch and Wardrobe,” so craving Turkish Delight that we throw family and values out the window in our efforts to get the next drink. Let’s take a closer look at the trifecta responsible for such an intense reaction:

Opportunity: In and of itself opportunity isn’t a problem, but combined with the other two elements it becomes an accident waiting for a place to happen. Pride has a way of placing itself in harm’s way falsely believing nothing will happen. Rarely do men of integrity seek out affairs, but the better someone is, the more vulnerable they are to the tactics of pride. If you believe you’re not vulnerable, why would you heed caution’s warnings? It’s humility that assumes vulnerability and remains on guard, avoiding opportunity. Without humility, people will make a series of SUDs (Seemingly Unimportant Decisions) placing themselves in high risk situations that abound with opportunity.

Pride: One characteristic of pride is compartmentalization. Pride has to continually perform to prove its worth. This need to achieve results is an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. What’s important is obtaining the validation of those in front of you. Little if any thought is given to those who aren’t present at the time. The lack of awareness of one’s mate only increases vulnerability. With pride little if any thought is given to the impact on one’s mate. Those with pride think, “I’ll never get caught,” which provides a green light when opportunity and envy present themselves. Interestingly, without envy, pride can serve as an inhibitor to infidelity. Without envy, pride doesn’t want the shame associated with infidelity, preferring to hold the head high and condemn those who have fallen. However, pride also creates an Achilles heel. If opportunity presents someone with a person they admire or respect who views them the way they desire to be seen, then vulnerability increases.

Envy: This third element of the trifecta may be the subtlest of all. Envy is about wanting something that someone else has. Humans tend to be attracted to qualities in others that they personally value. We tend to want that which we don’t have and we’re willing to make the necessary sacrifice to get it. But without pride there’s no sense of entitlement telling us we deserve it. Without opportunity we’re never faced with the choice.

In many cases, envy triggers magical thinking. When a pupil or “mentee” shows adoration or appreciation, pride can delude the recipient into thinking those feelings are for them rather than understanding those feelings belong to another and have been temporarily misplaced. Magical thinking deludes us into thinking that having someone like that would be incredible. We desire that which we don’t have and make the necessary sacrifices to take what we want even though it’s not ours. Even worse, to obtain that which we want, we give away what others have first rights to.

When the trifecta of opportunity, pride and envy come together, in a moment of intense desire we’ll sacrifice that which we value most. No human being can meet all our needs. Love is a process of give, take, and grace. Even if we’re fortunate enough to marry someone with whom we’re compatible, at best they will only meet 80% of our needs. Love will have to suffer through those needs that aren’t met. But when the trifecta is in place, I’ll sacrifice the 80% to get the 20% that’s missing, only to find myself in a much worse position.

I can’t help but wonder if infidelity’s trifecta was operating in General Petraeus life. I assume he is a man who values integrity and believe he never dreamed he’d be in this position. Those of us at Affair Recovery hope and pray General Petraeus and his family are able to find healing.

Breaking free from infidelity’s trifecta is no different than breaking free from food addictions. It takes courage to own your failure and gain perspective on what’s happened. It takes humility to finally accept that the same thinking that got you here won’t set you free. You need others like yourself who have achieved freedom from similar situations to even find hope that change will occur. Hope for Healing is a course which allows you to suspend disbelief and discover that healing is possible. It provides a methodology that helps you alter destructive habits and begin living in a new freedom. Change is possible, but taking the right steps is imperative. To start your journey of healing, register for Hope for Healing.



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thank you

Thank you so much for this explanation . It helps more than I can ever express.

Pride and compartmentalisation

My cheating husband indeed wants to have his cake and eat it. He has spuriously begged for reconcilliation even if we will only be "friends", for now. But I sense that there is more than meets the eye. He agreed to give me his phone an pd I noticed that from the time of the affair discovery till October only a message appeared for each month whike November month was more full. He refused to give me his passwords to unlock his pc and phones as well as his email. His refusal is actually very harsh and stern. I somehow got to look at one of his pc's and saw that he is a porn addict and 4 messages from females popped up on the screen. When he found out, all he could say was that I was going too far and I had no right to look at his stuff. He was furious. It looks like he believes that since its all out, we both should all get along with our lives. His with his sex addiction life and me being the pampered wife. Rick is soo right about the pride and the compartmentalisation. He got bored with the marriage, needed excitement and feels that he is entitled to it perhaps because he is the sole bread winner. So with his ego/pride overriding moral values, he fed his sexual hunger. The porn is so repulsive. I thought he was a man who appreciated beauty, but these pictures where all about the most repulsive looking individuals. His pride is so tangible here.

General Petraeus and the Defence link

I agree with your observations, unfortunately, my experience being a betrayed Defence wife, allows me to understand another aspect of this that led to his opportunites, pride and envy.

The military lifestyle is conducive to affairs... many men (primarily, however the women are no better and often worse) in the military are away regularly from their partners and families... thus increasing their opportunity and the 'out of sight, out of mind' mentality. Chris Rock said it best "a man is only as faithful as his opportunities"

Their pride is constantly fed by the Defence Forces and the community at large... they are representing their country, they are defending our rights etc. Although they espouse the military values of integrity, loyalty and honour... many don't live them! I've seen plenty of Defence men primping and preening in their uniforms like roosters while they seek the adoration of women... Airforce boys think they're Top Gun, the women think they can have any man in the forces they want... most are right (at least for a night).

Finally, envy, well rank is a great way for a mentor to appear more attractive, active service adds to the allure... a woman who is in the Defence forces, just like them, shares a common interest, therefore they must be better than the wife at home raising their children and keeping their home, living chastely while supporting their husbands.

Yes, a little bitter, but experiences of many have coloured my thinking about these men/women and it comes as no shock that the General betrayed his family... the only shocking part is that he was actually held accountable for his actions by the forces... so often, although a unit is aware of fraternisation and affairs, they very rarely actually act on the information.

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