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

Why Did They Cheat? Part 2: Entrapped or Enchanted

Why did they cheat part 2

Series: Why Did They Cheat?

Part 2:  Entrapped or Enchanted

 

“I love you,
but I’m not in love with you.” 
 

It’s one of the most devastating statements a spouse can make to their mate. The reasoning behind the statement is not only flawed, but is coming from an irrational state of mind. I hear this statement so often, I decided I needed to explain what your spouse is referring to when they mention being “in love” (spoiler: it’s not at all love) and to dissect what they are really saying.

Remember that feeling of falling in love? We feel renewed and invigorated. The volume control on all our senses is cranked to high. Smells, music, colors, tastes and even textures take on new dimensions. The theater of our mind plays only one film, that of being with our eternal source of life. Simultaneously, a heartfelt ache consumes our soul when separated from what we know is our source of true happiness. In this state, hope springs eternal. As a caterpillar is transformed to a butterfly, we too are transformed and with new wings we soar into a fresh newness of life.

What are the magic elements of this elixir of life? There are three neurotransmitters primarily responsible for the natural high of love: dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.

Serotonin

Serotonin is the neurotransmitter believed to be responsible for mood stabilization, appetite, sleep, motivation, social behavior, memory, and sexual desire and function. Some researchers believe that low levels of serotonin are responsible for conditions such as depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive thought. On a day to day basis, how we function seems to be largely determined by serotonin levels.

Dopamine

The initial excitement created by testosterone and estrogen triggers the release of dopamine. Dopamine is the primary player in what’s known as the reward/pleasure centers of our brain, and it’s this brain chemical (along with norepinephrine) that creates the incredible high we experience when we fall in love. Creating an amazing high is not dopamine’s only function. Not only does it spot activities that bring intense pleasure, but it creates an intense drive to experience that same pleasure again and again.

Research shows that the intense feelings generated by the high arousal state of an extramarital affair are the byproduct of the release of dopamine, which then labels that experience as pleasurable and creates a “habit loop” (reward center) to assure we’ll repeat the necessary routine to achieve the reward of that pleasurable experience. Long after an affair ends, that habit loop can be triggered and the urge to repeat that routine to experience that reward can still occur. In no way does that mean relapse is imminent, but it takes time for the intensity of these memories to fade and to lose the desirability programmed by the dopamine.1

Not only is dopamine the messenger telling us what feels good, but other research suggests it also tells what’s important to pay attention to in order to survive. The more intense the emotional experience, the stronger the drive to recreate that experience for our very survival.

Think about that for a moment…..

Dopamine creates an intense need, similar to a drug addiction, which tells the brain you must have that pleasurable experience to survive. This explains why individuals involved in high arousal relationships become so oblivious to the damage being done to those they love and to themselves.2

It’s Like A Drug

Remember, I’m not making excuses for those who’ve been unfaithful. These are the same chemical reactions cocaine addicts and alcoholics face when coming off their drug of choice. My purpose in explaining the chemical realities of infidelity are to let those involved in high arousal relationships know that what they’re feeling isn’t love. It’s a series of intense and intoxicating chemical reactions being created in the limbic system of our brains and it’s only going to last for so long before it progresses to a different kind of experience. My second purpose is to inform the betrayed spouses on the kind of dysfunction your mate is experiencing. Not to excuse it, but to relieve you of any illusion of comparing yourself to the AP. That would be like saying to an alcoholic, “Why can’t I make you feel as good as liquor makes you feel?” It’s apples to oranges.

Norepinephrine (adrenaline)

The third neurotransmitter, norepinephrine, is the final contributor to what we call “being in love.” Norepinephrine, also known as adrenaline, is the excitatory neurotransmitter. It causes us to experience heightened sensations. It’s the chemical that makes life seem more vibrant, even though nothing really changed but the level of norepinephrine flowing down the nerve cells to the parts of our brain that create those heightened sensations. It’s norepinephrine that creates the rush you feel when scared or excited. If you think about it, it’s the same rush you felt with your first kiss. That rush of excitement and emotions does not mean it’s love, it’s just norepinephrine. At this point in the unfaithful spouse’s chemical reality, they are probably feeling hooked by the intensity of emotions and their ability to discern what is real from what is fantasy is highly skewed.

Jumper Cables

With the foundation laid we can now begin talking about the forces behind high arousal relationships. To jump-start a car there has to be an additional source of power flowing through the electrical system. In the same way, high arousal relationships receive a jump-start from hormones released when they find someone with the qualities they’re drawn to. That initial jump-start creates the amazing cascade of neurotransmitters.

As the dopamine and norepinephrine increase, the person caught in the web of these feelings begins to feel alive in ways they haven’t for years. Increased levels of norepinephrine light up senses that seemed to have been lost forever. Increased levels of dopamine trigger intense emotions they most likely haven’t experienced since adolescence. Not only that, but a habit loop is created to cause us to continually pursue that intense emotion. It also informs the more primitive parts of the brain that it’s as important to pay attention to this as it is to breathing because it’s become a major component to what our brain believes we need to survive.

One would think, with the euphoria created by the increased levels of dopamine and norepinephrine that levels of serotonin would also be up since serotonin is responsible for happiness: surprisingly, the opposite is true. The euphoria this person is experiencing has nothing to do with happiness or finding their soul mate, but rather an intense chemical high. The stress created by higher levels of dopamine interfere with the brains ability to absorb serotonin and the drop of serotonin results in increased obsessiveness, making it even more difficult for the person caught in this web to extricate themselves from the situation. Additionally, with lowered serotonin levels, if the high arousal relationship is terminated or if the dopamine runs its course and stops providing the desired high, depression is sure to follow.

Advice for Betrayed Spouses

“I love you, but I’m not in love with you.” That statement embodies the high arousal state created by the stage one chemical cocktail. Trying to talk sense to someone in this state is nearly impossible, because they’re not concerned with what makes sense. There’s a good chance they already know it’s crazy and they can’t even convince themselves to stop. Remember, they feel they can’t survive without the one they believe is bringing them this new found life. It’s hard for them to see that it’s the opposite. Most likely they are willing to sacrifice everything to keep from losing their new high.

It’s imperative at this stage of such chemical entanglement that we are strategic in the approach taken towards sobering up the unfaithful spouse. One size does not fit all and we can’t simply bonk them on the head and hope they wake up. Freedom is possible, but it will take a process oriented approach to unlock the truth and help this disentangle. 

Yes: There Is Hope

It’s not impossible to break free from this type of relationship, but it’s every bit as difficult as an alcoholic getting sober. You have to be willing to do whatever it takes. It will probably never be something you feel like doing without some sort of expert, third party support system.  Breaking free requires cutting off the relationship with the other person and allowing the intensity of the chemical reaction to fade. You need a community of others like yourself who understand and you need the right steps to find freedom and clarity. Our EMS Weekend can start the process and pave the way to long term healing and relapse prevention. If you’d like to know more about our weekend or the process we use to help couples heal, please call 888-527-2367 or email us.

 

 

  1. “Drug addiction and the brain: effects of dopamine on addiction.” Harvard Health Publications. Harvard University. Jan 2007. Web. 28 July, 2014.
  2. McGowan, Kat. “Addiction: Pay Attention.” Psychology Today. 01 Nov, 2004. Web. 28 July 2014.

 

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It makes sense

but it's terribly painful to know my husband experienced this high with someone other than me. We are coming up to hear six since we reconciled and this still hurts.

How to move out of this high?

How do you get to this 'secure relationship'? I feel I am always needing this high in my marriage. Especially in recovery, I want to feel romanced and that he is in love with me all the time, when life turns normal or conversation turns unromantic, or he doesn't communicate with me for a day, I panic and feel that he doesn't love me and he will leave again. It's disfunctional and I don't know how to leave that beginning relationship high, where I expect us to think about each other 24/7 in fact I am not sure I ever have in our 20 yr relationship.

I love you , I'm just not in love with you

Just last week my spouse said these words to me. It was like a slap in the face. It has been three years since I found out about my husbands affair with hi ex-girlfriend. We have been through marriage counseling three times and all without any resolution.

My husband seems to be one of those people who believes because he says he is sorry for his actions everything should just go back to the way they were before his affair. Now three years later it feels like we are still at day one.
I have wanted to leave the marriage several times but I didn't because I had hope that one day things would get better and we could begin to build a better marriage for ourselves. Now with him telling me he is not in love with me anymore, I feel like maybe there is no hope at all.
I told him being in love is something you have to work at and if you don't put in the work those feeling become unfamiliar and fade like a distant memory.
What I find strange is less than two months ago he was telling me how much he was in love with me and could not imagine his life without me as his wife. Now he feels only love for me. What is wrong with this man? I asked if he is having an affair again but he says he is not. It is something broken in him and he feels like he is just empty.
What am I supposed to do with this latest breaking news from him? When I tell him the marriage seems to be over he swears he does not want me to leave but how can I stay with someone so broken?
The past three years have been like a nightmare that I am not able to wake up from. There have been so many lies , so much heartbreak, and so many disappointments. Every time I start to heal there is always something from him that pulls back the scab to expose the womb again. I am starting to believe my husband has some kind of mental problem or he is grieving for his lost affair partner. Either way I am at the end of my rope and I think it is time for me to just walk away.

This weeks article

OK I can buy the chemical reasoning. But, He still has a choice in the situation. Just like I had to make a choice to walk or to stay. In my opinion, he had to have made a conscience choice. How do you get to the why? That question still needs to be answered. And why if he "was not in" love with me why did he not say so before?

It's not the same

If he's not in a first stage high arousal state it doesn't mean he's not in love you. The high arousal state isn't the same as marital love. If he still loves you there's no reason for him to tell you he's not in love with you. Rick

It's been 2 years and it

It's been 2 years and it still feels like it's just happened. It's very hurtful knowing that they prefer the high with someone else instead if with you, even though you have been with them through a lot of ups and downs.

I hope to to provide more clarification

Are you sure your mate prefers being someone else rather than you? Just because someone has those feelings doesn't mean that's what they want. Alcoholics crave alcohol, but that doesn't mean that's what they prefer. I'll be writing more about this in a couple of weeks. Rick

I'm with Iris

I agree with Iris. It is good to have certain aspects explained. However it does make the pain go away by knowing my husband sought out to experience this high with someone else. Knowingly husband did not care to lose his family and his kids and all of our respect makes it hard to not compare yourself even when you learn this person he choice to have an affair with is not good. Why not chose something else as a source of dopamine or just be a stronger person. To suggest and compare it to alcoholism is troubling. Maybe I'm missing something. I am one to like my alcohol yet I never would betray my spouse by having sex with someone else and chosing that person over the family I helped create. I feel it's a serious character flaw. I'm wondering as I look down years from now do I want to deal with that nagging suspicion he places in my heart? If my 100% trust and loyalty was not enough and the two outstandingly smart kids we have weren't enough to keep him faithful what will? Books and counselor say the couple has to be willing to do the work. I am tired of hearing that. Just being here is hard for me some days to know he shared his body with someone else and liked it enough to repeat it and never chased after me when j left then magically what's his family back when it's over with the tramp ? No, just working on visions and all the problems he brought on us is work . He should clean up his own mess. I've told him I still don't know if I'm first. That's hard when he chose three times the other person. I need something big. Maybe reality is he isn't capable of giving it to me. Thanks for your post but I think it pushed me more away from him. I would have rather a gambling problem or alcoholism. You can be faithful doing those. This sleeping with someone else is being am enemy-- traitor all because of what goes on in your head ? Who wants to be with someone weak in that area? Disease comes to mind like stds etc. all done without my consent.

This stuff is painful

This stuff is painful

Right steps

So what are some of the right steps to unlock the truth other than saying you need to quit? And how can the caring spouse be strategic, especially if the mate is in denial.

I love you, but not in love with you

Funny how all comes about when reading article, I've heard and been shown the actual signs of this statement. I understand that no two stories or situations are the same and even the breakdown of feelings. There's no trust in my situation and plenty of folks interfering wit negativity. From her mom to girlfriend who aided, I placed my trust and surrounded myself with like minded people who viewed the actions and behavior just as they were and are. I trust God with my life and this situation, and have decided through what I believe He has guided me. The conclusion of it all is she has chosen the path she wishes to walk. My choice is to let her have her choice because I don't have the time to cater to and raise a grown woman.! She listens to girlfriend, still works closely and around AP, and has chosen. 2 years or better now since finding out, and I choose me. Pray for her and her happiness. But this time, I choose me, because I matter as well. I'm no good to myself, kids or anybody, if I can't love me and know my worth in all. Lies, Deceit and Betrayal will never heal what she's started and then wanted to sweep under rug. Thanks.

I am right with you. I have

I am right with you. I have given him almost 7 years to straighten up, and while I saw moments of doing better it never lasted. I feel so torn because I never wanted to walk away, but have held on until it has almost killed me. I choose me as well because I am no good to myself or the kids or anyone hanging in there trying to be there for someone who won't be serious and stop with the lies. I have been lied to for so many years now that I am not sure I or he even knows what is truth anymore. I mean when you can "forget" you went out and were unfaithful and came directly back to your wife to be with her... that is a depth I can't even begin to understand. The amount of lying and never knowing all the truth and him wasting all this time just is too much for me.

I am right with you. I have

I am right with you. I have given him almost 7 years to straighten up, and while I saw moments of doing better it never lasted. I feel so torn because I never wanted to walk away, but have held on until it has almost killed me. I choose me as well because I am no good to myself or the kids or anyone hanging in there trying to be there for someone who won't be serious and stop with the lies. I have been lied to for so many years now that I am not sure I or he even knows what is truth anymore. I mean when you can "forget" you went out and were unfaithful and came directly back to your wife to be with her... that is a depth I can't even begin to understand. The amount of lying and never knowing all the truth and him wasting all this time just is too much for me.

Depression is Sure to Follow

"if the high arousal relationship is terminated or if the dopamine runs its course and stops providing the desired high, depression is sure to follow."

Does anyone know whether a sex addict can learn to cope with depressed moods without using porn, anonymous sex, excessive masturbation, alcohol, binge-eating, or the like? How do they do it? Does having 90 days of complete sobriety reset the brain? We are one year into our marital recovery, and my husband is slipping into bouts of depression again for no reason. A drink tends to cheer him up, but he can never be counted on to stop before he gets sloppy drunk, which can happen with just two drinks. He also "accidentally" found porn videos through his smartphone, despite the filtering software and a vow never to use porn again. Within seconds he was masturbating (with the door open), then devastated by deep shame when I walked in on him. Our marriage has recovered from his infidelity, but the root causes of his addictive behavior seem to be alive and well. I try not to concern myself with his recovery, but I guess I'm looking for some hope that an addiction can be brought under control. Anyone been down this road?

This does not help

Is this article suppose to make me feel better?? Understanding that she was a drug to him. That he wanted her that badly and obviously didn't want me!! I'm sorry I read this. It doesn't do ANYTHING for. Good for him!! And good for the AP. What fun they must have had!! That desire. Yes this is what I needed to read today.

I love you but not in love

After 2 yrs of trying to understand why, I am no closer to recovering from the betrayal. I chose to stay for a multitude of reasons and find myself regretting that decision. Reading the information is helpful and I think it played apart but the bottom line is he had a choice. And I was tossed the curb. So why did he make that decision. Why couldn't he come out and tell me he wanted out ? Why did he have to deliberately hurt me? He knew and they all know that that particular choice will cut the other to the core. As I think about it, this article sounds more like giving the betrayer an excuse or justification.

What type of affair was it?

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