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

Why Did He Choose Her?

“What in the world attracted you to her? She out-weighs you by 150 pounds! You’re disgusting!” Sandy screamed. Across town a similar conversation was going on between John and Margret. “Are you kidding me?” John said in disbelief. “You’re having an affair with an alcoholic who barely scrapes by? Do you really think he has the ability to support you? He only makes a tenth of what I earn.” And yet another: “Frank how could you do this to me? She’s 25 years younger. She’s practically the same age as our daughter! What in the world could the two of you have in common?”

Before I even start this article let me stress that there’s no way I could ever write something that will be able to fully answer why your mate chose their affair partner. Why someone becomes involved in an extramarital relationship can’t be explained in a paragraph. While reading, please don’t assume you know your mate’s motivations. I promise you’ll always get part of it wrong; it is impossible to pinpoint another person’s motives. I do hope however to give some general reasons for why your mate may have chosen that particular person.

In past articles I’ve addressed the justifications and motivations of those having affairs; this week I’d like to tackle why we (the unfaithful spouses) choose who we choose. What is it about that woman or that man that would cause someone to risk it all? Is it intentional or just chance? This topic could be a book, but hopefully I can help shed a little light in this article.

The Missing 20%

I’ve always contended that people affair-down if for no other reason than because it is an affair; it’s not real. Even if they believe they’ve found someone who does a better job of meeting their needs than their mate, it simply isn’t true. Their mate probably incorporates 80% of what they want and need. Affair partners possess the missing 20%. Why would someone trade the 80% for the 20%? In the moment, satisfying the longing created by the missing 20% seems like a good idea.

Two thirds of all marital problems are unsolvable, which means it’s impossible for one person to meet all your needs. No amount of searching for the right person will ever yield the perfect match. Unrealistic expectations are a core issue when it comes to this type of marital dissatisfaction, which may then lead one to search for the missing 20%. Take the example of John and Margret above. John is a steady, stable guy who provides for his family. His wife chose an affair partner who was just plain fun. She was chasing the 20%.

Seduction

Many won’t like hearing this, but at times the AP simply knew the right words to say. There are some “experienced APs” who’ve had serial affairs and are constantly trolling for their next victim. They are constantly casting a lure in the water to see if anyone will take the bait. That isn’t an excuse, but if your spouse is by nature insecure they are vulnerable to the person who knows how to say the right things to make them feel special. The person who takes the bait isn’t a victim, they volunteer, but they choose that person for the way they make them feel. Leslie Hardie, the author of Harboring Hope, says “If you meet someone who always knows how to say just the right thing, run away as fast as you can.” Someone that slick has had lots of practice.

Past History

Many affair partners are chosen out of past history. The attachments we form prior to marriage still exist at some level. When we reconnect with those individuals, rekindling past attachments is easy. The reasons that relationship went by the wayside are long forgotten and the nostalgic feelings associated with days gone by make having an affair with that person simple.

Excessive Time and Familiarity

Many affair partners are chosen because of attachments created due to excessive time spent together in a shared activity that is exclusive of their mate. Online gaming, shared projects at work, serving together at church, or recreational sports drive the choice of the affair partner. When time spent with another exceeds time spent with their spouse, choosing to connect with this individual seems natural.

Authority Rape

At times the affair partner is chosen out of envy and magical thinking. Mentors, pastors, therapists, teachers and other authority figures are often chosen in this scenario. The respect and trust placed in this individual as well as the hope generated by what they represent causes the potential AP to overvalue the relationship and an attachment is created. Magical thinking on the authority figure’s part allows them to distort their mentee’s respect and admiration and, through an abuse of their role as an authority figure, they take advantage of the mentee. This is called “authority rape” and is a criminal offence. In this instance the affair partner chooses their victim.

Trauma Bonds

Past abuse can also drive how the AP is chosen. If there is unprocessed abuse in your spouse’s past they can be vulnerable to someone who treats them the same way as their original perpetrator. Choosing this type of AP is particularly confusing for the betrayed spouse because they can see the abuse and it makes no sense why their mate would hook up with an abusive AP. In reality the trauma bond compels them to choose someone with whom they can reenact the abuse.

Envy and Magical Thinking

Some choose their affair partner out of envy. They are drawn to characteristics in that person that they envy. Magical thinking causes them to believe that somehow connecting with that person allows them to possess those qualities. They tell themselves that being with that person somehow soothes the places where they feel inadequate. They think the AP makes them a better person.

Common History

There are times the AP is chosen out of common history or common circumstances. For instance, in cross-cultural marriages, an AP from your spouse’s country of origin may give them the feeling of being understood and that they have more in common with this person than they do with their mate. This can happen if two people grew up poor and felt ostracized, if both are children of alcoholics, or countless other “connections” they may find. The perception that this person understands them draws them to the relationship.

Misery Loves Company

This affair partner is also chosen out the perception of things shared in common. If the husband or wife begins commiserating with the AP about their miserable marriages, the validation they receive from telling the other person creates the bond for the affair. What’s sad is this process causes them to focus only on the negatives in the marriage in order to justify the validation they are receiving from the AP.

The Willing Partner

Some individuals, as a result of sexual addiction or because they’ve given themselves permission to stray for whatever reason, are looking for anyone willing to have an affair. Once they locate someone willing to interact with them, that person becomes the affair partner. The qualities they are looking for determine who that might be. For instance, if they just want sex then they hook up with someone who also wants to avoid attachments. Many relationships created on dating websites fall into this category.

Midlife Crisis

Those in a midlife crisis typically choose an AP who can help them feel young again. They are likely to choose someone who’s 20 years younger then them and is willing to be with an older man. It’s the youth and beauty of a person that makes them feel young again that drives their choice.

This is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully it provides some understanding for what drives the choice for the unfaithful spouse. As I said earlier, none of the above-mentioned items are excuses for having an affair. I do hope however they provide some insight as to what drives the choices made by the unfaithful spouse. If you are the unfaithful spouse and want help discerning why you chose your AP, consider Hope for Healing. We’ll walk though how you got here and learn how to avoid this place in the future.

 

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Why did I choose that.......???

I could check all but 2 of the above! The hardest part for my spouse is understanding my choice to affair had zero to do with him and absolutely NOTHING to do with the AP. It was ALL about me and my unaddressed crap that I conveniently blamed on my spouse. I has semi truck loads of baggage straight out of the gate entering my marriage and expected my spouse to be my ' be all end all' for my every problem or insecurity. Talk about unrealistic expectations and pressure on a spouse, not to mention living in fairy tale land. I had work to do on me and refused to do the work. After taking EVERY class AR had to offer there is no doubt that my selfishness and 'all about me' started from the get go. So why did I choose to do that? I didn't want to see the ugly crap in ME. It was cheap and immature just to get a few words to make me okay with me from a third party, even if it was for a few minutes to deny my junk. MY JUNK- not my spouses issues or my AP's words of crap! Words don't mean anything-actions do. I can confidently say today since I have stayed accountable with my past groups the blame game is no longer. If I'm off, then it's my junk not my spouses responsibility to fix. If AR comes to the table with a new womens class I'll be the first to sign up! Thank The Lord sweet freedom at last.

Rick, this was another OUTSTANDING article...

Rick,

You covered a lot of excuses and reasonings of the 'why' of an affair. Early after the discovery, the wounded spouse, wants to know everything. Answers from the guilty spouse don't always come easy. As you stated, the memory grows foggy. Cognitive reasoning was tossed aside along with moral - core values. But, I believe, if both husband and wife can sit down with a well trained professional like yourself and explore this article together - there can be some closure.

It is always my belief that healing for both partners begins with an honest assessment of the history (below the surface) for the affair(s) coupled with a deep desire for both to work on the "missing 20%" as a catalyst for growth. Both may not be ready to do that at the same time. But, if this opportunity for healing is addressed by participating in clinical sessions - Spiritual devotion - support groups that address the issue of unfaithfulness - and constant attention to 'the hard work' within the marriage, then the marriage will not just survive but grow stronger and flourish.

Your article

In reading over the different reasons and we will never know for certain 100%. The one that makes the most sense to me is the Seduction. The AP is a predator. He was our sons freshman high school basketball coach. My wife met him playing co-ed softball. His line was he was looking for a team mom for basketball team and my wife gave him her email and the rest is history. I am self employed, my wife didn't have to work and got to spend quality time with our children as they grew up, we had home 1 block from the beach, owned a boat that was kept in the harbor, members 15 years of a prestigious country club and I make more in one month than the AP makes in a year! I know my wife and she is a bit naivete, gullible, caring, compassionate and he knew exactly how to play her. She was prime prey for this guy. The affair lasted a year and I caught her with text messages from him on her cell phone. It is mind boggling that my wife feel for a guy like this. They say in affairs people don't improve up finding better people it is usually people who are much less than their spouse. Thanks for your article

Why did he choose her? / Why did she choose him?

Very insightful. Thank you. It helped me a lot!

YES.

THIS makes a LOT of sense; I can see my husband/his affair partner fitting into several of these categories. Thank you.

and then what

Ok, so it is all about the 20% and the affair is exposed and the two affair partners hate each other (or so it seems), each of their spouses know and there is all kinds of trouble. My husband now thinks I am great, wants to save our marriage; will do whatever.

What about that 20% and the magical thinking? What about seeing themselves through someone elses adoring and appreciative eyes?

During my husbands eleven month affair, he was mean, removed and uniterested in anything and now the opposite. He acted like he was King Kong and I was a villain; now the opposite.

It's like, why would you want the marriage now--it's broken, it's work, it has hurt in it. Is it because the Affair Partner is unavailable?

and then what.......

Hi Butterflies....

I feel the same.....I was stupid, I didn’t do anything right. Complaints and unhappiness was all he could say to me.
I wasn’t good enough for a 2nd chance not even for our kids.
then the affair partners husband found out and called me and she dumped my husband.
Then he comes home and for months he idealizes her and acts like a moron.
NOW, it’s been almost 2 years, and HE is happy. I am the best.
I still ask WHY am I perfect NOW...Is it because he can’t have her, so he is settling for HIS WIFE.

By his selfishness, he in turn killed me. I’m not sure how I feel anymore.
Did you get any other responses, because this is a question I would like to know the answer to myself.

And then what...

My story is also the same. My husband was distant, grumpy, argumentative and critical. Nothing I wore looked appealing, rarely did he support an opinion, never did he ever reach out to touch me during the day (walk with his hand on my back, take my hand, touch a shoulder or arm). This treatment lasted for years and my husband's affair was on and off for 6 years with a woman 19 years younger. Now, I am his everything. He listens intently to all I have to say, touches me constantly, makes me coffee each morning, never let's me carry a bag, every day tells me I am beautiful and he was a fool. What is the pattern here? The Unfaithful Spouse finally awoke to appreciate the 80%. He finally realizes how much he risked losing to gain that little bit of comfort the missing 20% provided and he is scared straight. He is deeply grateful for this second chance. The Fog has lifted and the man I married (a slightly improved version if I am being honest) is back. Why do we the Betrayed Spouse have such trouble accepting this? I think we need to go through the stages of grieving for our old, dead marriages before we can more forward and embrace our new marriages. This takes time but I am still in this fight 18 months after Discovery hoping one day I can accept my new and improved husband and move on.

Adultery partner choices & anger about adultery to begin with

Amazingly well put! Other than the particulars to fill out the edges of each "case", I think you have hit the nail on the head, Rick.

I think what is so difficult for us "betrayed spouses" to get is that the "reasons" our unfaithful spouses give for choosing that other person are really sometimes just their excuses, and justifications, in the form of criticisms of their spouse that they had to capitalize on in order to justify this act to themselves; while the "real" reasons are oftentimes a LOT more along the lines of what you have stated here.

Anyway, hurting people, I pray you don't beat yourselves up by believing the "lies" involved in adultery. Those lies are lies that your spouse has told himself/herself in order to justify adultery. If you are married, then adultery is sin, pure and simple. Don't blame yourself. Help your spouse blame himself for his/her choices. Go way into being angry about it, and venting your feelings -- and get it out of your system, before you EVER even agree to discuss any kind of "mutual blame" for the breakdown of the marriage. You want to see that person take responsibility and work hard to win YOU back, and see them repent toward God. Wait for that. If they don't know Him, they need to, and if you both don't -- read the gospels in the KJV, and see for yourself what adultery is.

Anyone with a conscience, HAS to have had come up with "something" to use as an excuse. They peddle the lie to themselves, first; to their affair partner next; and finally to you -- when it comes out. Sometimes they peddle it to friends and colleagues and family members as well, but it is always "peddling", and it is always a "lie". The real reason they did this was because they wanted to. They were drawn aside by their own lust (even of their own mind, having little to do with sex appeal of affair partner etc.), and enticed, and sinned. You did not MAKE them do anything! Any honest person on the adulterous/adulteress side of this will admit they have come up with a justification, that involves blame, or excuses, and has nothing to do with the responsibility of this act being someone else's.

I have the unique perspective of having been on both sides of this, more than once. I know that if "I" had been allowed to vent and process the first time this happened to me as a "victim", I would not have later been able to come up with "he did it to me" as an excuse for my own affairs. If I had had my spouse (at the time) vent and process with me (after I did commit adultery), I would have dealt with "all of it", and it would have changed my thinking in my next relationship.

I believe I would have seen my own emotional affairs sneaking up on me, and prevented them -- seen them for what they were (sin) and been truly sorry to my spouse; and I might have actually seen the danger coming with my second spouse, before he cheated.

Live and learn! It's best to learn from someone else's mistakes if you can, before you have to learn the hard way.

Yes, I am a flawed person, and I did contribute to the breakdown of my marriages, through lack of communication --- but not because I did (or didn't do) x, y, and z --- excuses used by my mate(s) to commit adultery. The flaws of the injured spouse should NEVER be addressed anywhere close to the time of disclosure of an adulterous affair though.

This is a mistake I made over the past year and a half after the disclosure of my husband's adultery. My husband is still involved in his second emotional affair (long-term fantasy) and has left me, believing his problem is that I am flawed, and refusing to examine himself.

I have truly learned the hard way! And now, thanks to information, such as this article, I can begin the arduous task of healing alone, and planning not to make any of these mistakes again. I am really thankful for this article, Rick. Bless you for being on target with it! And bless those of you who are going through this. Try hard to be straight with one another. It IS sin, and it does bring forth death. Don't try to sidestep the issue and miss real repentance, healing, and reconciliation. You need to get clear of the real flaws inside the perpetrator (first that they can and will make excuses, and second that they probably don't communicate their own emotions very well, and third that they may have past baggage that has not yet, but needs to be dealt with so they can really relate to another person lovingly).

David Clarke in his book: What to do when your spouse says, "I Don't Love You, Anymore." says that you need to get out of the shock & denial -- and bring on the buried anger as quickly as possible. This would have been good for me to hear up front.

I stayed in shock and denial a LONG time in my second marriage after "discovering" my "loving" husband's long term entangled (sexual & emotional) affair (lasting 5 years total).

If I had been truly angry, perhaps he wouldn't have been able to "hide" his second (becoming long term) "emotional" affair, from me for six whole months after initial revelation, or to take six months to completely tell me about the first affair. Anger has a purpose, and it shouldn't just be a day or two or on occasion that you let it out. You need to let it out until it is gone! Don't hide your feelings and chase your adulterous spouse, like I did. Learn from my mistake. Oh sure, he knew I was mad, and in pain, but he also thought I was a nice door mat -- to take his affair with such "grace". He decided he still needed the one he "hid" from me. These really ARE "his" problems, they are sins, and they affect me. Adultery is Never "fair"; it is "cheating"... Let the anger that this causes out. There is a good chance your adultery spouse will be shocked at your righteous indignation. There is a 100% chance they need to know it exists. If you don't get good and angry, and get it out of your system, there is a chance you will not be able to fully forgive when the time comes! Don't lie to yourself or your mate and forgive early. Be real. God does understand.

Hear this article, and don't blame yourself or your marriage for "making" your spouse cheat on you. Realize they have real issues communicating, and with morality. Address this by communicating your anger (so they know it exists) and asking hard-hitting questions. Get a good counselor early on, one that doesn't have you "just hug" and make up, or be a better wife/husband.
Get a counselor that sees this as a sin problem and doesn't let up on the cheater until they break.

"I" would have appreciated it, as a cheater. It would have given me a chance to "clean my own clock" with God and get straightened out in my conscience and thinking (to really decide what I wanted to do, not just pretend everything was OK, and pretend I loved my spouse) and have prevented subsequent "sins" of adultery on my part.

And yes, emotional affairs are adultery, too. I've had both, and my current spouse has had both. I recall thinking, "If only this had 'only' been 'emotional' and not sexual, then maybe I could get over it easier." They really lie to themselves (and everyone else) if it is "only emotional", and it is actually harder for them to see it as "sin". It is. Remember what Jesus said. If your spouse is "in love" with someone else, I guarantee the lip-service they give you about loving you -- is just that, "lip service". Don't believe the lies, and get and stay angry -- until you see real changes! It's never too late to "feel" your feelings. Forgive, but not until it is "real". Give your unforgiveness to God, and tell Him what you are doing. I guarantee, if you are being encouraged to look at your "fault" in your spouse's adultery, you are setting yourself up for a prolonged amount of pain. Clean the temple of your marriage!

God bless you with healed marriage, or the dignity to walk away "well"!

That missing 20%

I think the missing 20% is more about the percentage missing inside yourself (appreciation, humility, self esteem), rather than anything really missing from the marriage.

choosing

They both chose each other. This is the second time around my husband had an emotional affair with her. First time =maybe a mistake. Second time = a conscious choice. He knew what he was doing and so did she. Apparently the first attachment was never severed and it made it easy to re-attach to each other when he moved into her building at work. What's to keep it from being a third time? Nothing. If they want to do it, they will and there is nothing I can do about it. Except leave and divorce. If I stay with him, I will always - until my dying day -be hypervigilant and suspicious and untrusting. I am no longer the same person I was.

Well said

Many of these reasons are things my husband has shared. I already understand why (though I'll never agree it was right) but what I struggle with and I hope an article is written about this one day is how does the betrayed spouse get over the pain. I have no anger anymore, no resentment, no bitterness. That's all gone, I have forgiven it's been five years since my husband gave me the I love you but I'm not in love with you talk and refused to work on the marriage and left continuing his affair after moving out and into his own apartment. I still have moments of extreme sadness and sometimes I think about my brokenness and I wonder if I ever will REALLY get over it all.

I'm also very disappointed about how little my husband works on the marriage. Everything we have grown past and done to mend things is because I initiated it or I read it, or I looked it up. He's willing to go along with whatever I propose but drops off from continuing it soon after the initial talk or event. I still to this day have never felt he tried to "win me back" and it hurts.

I never used to look at my husband through flawed eyes but I do now almost every day. I sometimes think I would have been better off moving on from where things were.

Great Article

He told me he thought I didn't love him anymore. We had drifted and he was horrible towards me. It got to the stage where we were just living in the same house but not together emotionally. I can understand why it happened but I don't understand how he could do it to me without giving my feelings a second thought. The AP is married too. She finished the affair before I "accidentally" found out. What I also find hard to comprehend is how they could still work together knowing all the hurt they've caused but I guess it's easy for her as her husband still does not know what she did. Coping is getting easier but will never be 100% 'cos she's still part of his work life. What's the chance of it happening again?

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