Betrayal: What's Wrong With Men?
Why do men cheat?
Posted June 9, 2011 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
Men have earned the scorn of women for their sexual improprieties, yet few will admit it.
My gender, arguably responsible for as much destruction as good in the world, has inherited a cultural contempt hard to defend. The fact is that more men (60 percent) than women (40 percent) betray their spouses, engage in compulsive sexual behavior, and likely account for the escalating divorce rates as a result of this proclivity (infidelityfacts.com; menstuff.org).
Since we're on the topic, might I add: If there were a reality show called Who's More Evolved: Men or Women?"—I posit the boys would lose that one. I truly believe women are more relationally sophisticated and manage their lives and emotions better than men do. Candidly, the average guy is clueless about what makes a good relationship and needs to grow up in order to succeed at love and intimacy.
That said, we as men cannot hide behind the "we're just not good at relationships" argument, and ladies, please, your disdain for male ineptitude in everything relational isn't encouraging men to do better.
Although the inclination to demonize male betrayers and burn them in media effigy is compelling, contempt never solves serious problems even if the emotional catharsis of it can be temporarily intoxicating. That's my concern about the current dialogue on betrayal, affairs, and infidelity, as well as the reason I decided to write a book about my transgressions.
Someone has got to tell the truth about betrayal, regardless of whether that's "sexting," philandering, one-night standing, or searching for so-called "soul mates" while already married. What is going on in relationships today, and why are so many men willing to sacrifice everything in homage to their penis, as Congressman Anthony Weiner did?
It appears that there is no lack of intellect to account for the "Betrayal Effect" prevalent in men; most are quite intelligent, at least according to Wechsler and the degree to which we attribute IQ to achievement. Should we dismiss the entire 60 percent of men having affairs as narcissistic sociopaths unfit for human relationships?
That's too easy and only scratches the surface. I think "not," although that species of man certainly absorbs the majority of sound bites when a famous person is found to have betrayed their spouse (e.g., Arnold, Tiger, Bill, Elliot, and now Anthony). Perhaps we are socially inept and are working with a dearth of emotional intelligence.
My progressive female colleagues privately confess their politically incorrect assessment that "They can't help it... men are relationally retarded and driven by their cocks." To which I quip, maybe some, but certainly there's more going on in the complex dance that makes a relationship, and the even more uncharted territory where internal experience and relationship habits interface in the marriage of intimate contact called modern love.
I would like to venture into dangerous territory and try to offer an explanation for what, to many, is inexplicable.
While I do not presume to have all the answers, especially to why men betray as frequently as they do, I have asked myself all of the tough questions about why I did. I have done my homework on myself and know something about the demons in play both in the psyche and soul of a relationship.
First, a word about "explanations." Explanations are only excuses if they are void of accountability and do not solve a problem. I offer an "explanation" for why I chose to betray my wife, and intentionally contributed to the betrayal dialogue, in the interest of understanding the complex context in which a decision to betray is made, not as an excuse to justify it. There is never an adequate "reason" to have an affair, period. And yet, they happen every day in epidemic proportions.
As I struggled to come to terms with my own infidelity, I became aware that while I was fully responsible for making the choice to betray Julie, that decision was made within a very complicated context in which I created the conditions for my own vulnerability to meet opportunity in the perfect storm—one that felt necessary for my survival, but quite clearly was self-indulgence.
What I also came to recognize is the dyadic nature of betrayal, a notion that makes many people's blood curdle when I say it, but having lived it, know of its truth. A betrayal, most often, is the failure of a relationship and the people within it to meet each other's needs adequately, despite the fact that only one partner may choose to be unfaithful. For Julie and me, this framework was critical to the path of healing that ultimately led to a magical reconciliation after an affair and a divorce. Unless you transcend blame and can compassionately accept responsibility for your share of what contributed to the betrayal, divorce will be the outcome.
In our book Surprised by Love, I outline six reasons I chose to have an affair, which touch on the main themes often seen in affair psychology. Instead of offering you psychological anecdotes, my intent here is to share with you my own painful experience of the events that led to my poor choices in the hope that it might help you to understand why this man, and perhaps many others, decided to betray.
1. I believed that the rules didn't apply to me... so I made up my own rules.
As a licensed clinician who should have known better, my fancy rationalizations gave me more places to hide. While significantly involved in the lives of my clients, I never showed up for and was disengaged in my own, therefore was never really available for what I said I needed and blamed Julie for not meeting my needs. If you don't take a stand in the relationship for what you want, you give up the right to have it. Sadly, I didn't understand this when I chose to have an affair.
Solution: Give up entitlement. Stop blaming and ask for what you need and want and raise your standards by asking for, rather than expecting it.
2. I confused significance and self-worth with certainty and success.
I believed I was worthy, and therefore lovable, only if I succeeded in business and that Julie found me attractive only if I was providing the lifestyle I thought she wanted. I was a workaholic who could justify anything in order to achieve since there was so much resting on it. I convinced myself I was a "success object" and lived in a story that Julie didn't care about me, she cared about the life I provided her, feeding the resentment that desensitized me to the entitlement growing within.
Solution: Define my self-worth and success based on "who I am" not what I produce. Show others how to treat me by changing how I relate to myself.
3. I made up the story that my wife was the cause of my unhappiness and disappointment in our marriage.
The arrogance and ego I acquired in chasing success allowed me to focus the blame on everything except who was really responsible—me. As I tirelessly provided for others, I slowly euthanized my soul, didn't effectively communicate to Julie the anger, resentment, or frustration I felt and assumed she "should have known."
No one is that good, nor should they have to be. But once you convince yourself you're a victim of something, you can justify almost anything—that thought alone allowed me to rationalize having an affair. After all, "If no one cared about me except for what I could provide, who else was going to meet my needs if I didn't?" There's nothing rational about affair psychology!
Solution: Stop feeling sorry for myself and become accountable for my role and contribution to the dissatisfaction.
4. I was an accomplished liar.
Men have an uncanny and dangerous ability to compartmentalize their lives into mutually exclusive rooms whose walls have no windows or doors. In this split, dissociative state, I rationalized everything, including the creation of the two worlds I relished, as "complexity," convincing myself I was being taken advantage of by Julie, and I was destined to be criticized, judged, and unappreciated and therefore "had the right to lie about anything I wanted to for my own self-protection." So, I did, under the guise of protecting her and surviving myself, failing to see that the deception in an affair is where most of the pain is.
Solution: Without integrity, life simply does not work. Raise my standards and ground my identity into virtues as a practice, not a concept.
5. I confused sexual attraction and fantasy for love.
Early in life, I learned to use sex as a drug and means of escape, where I could nurture myself and soothe the chaos of an abusive childhood. The seeds of compulsivity were sown, and my winning formula of not needing anyone except my fantasy life was created. When confronted with parallel lives, a child-focused marriage, and the perceived neglect and lack of appreciation I felt in our marriage, I turned to strip clubs and pornography as a cure that only made things worse.
A real relationship can never compete with fantasy, and sexual attraction isn't love. I confused an experience of excitement and novelty with a person I called my "soul mate" and chased that person as if they were the source of feeling alive. They weren't, because affairs are not real relationships; they're fantasies on speed built on a deception that cannot stand the light of day.
Solution: Live within boundaries. Identify the "soul mate myth" as a lie, and learn what true love requires of people in real relationships.
6. I didn't take responsibility for my mental health.
To love someone requires that we grow up, rise above our wounds, and take responsibility for what we need as adults. I made the mistake of trying to use people to validate what I thought was missing in me—a black hole of empty, cyclical dissatisfaction. I failed to manage my depression, something I had struggled with since childhood, to evolve beyond my family of origin ghosts, or to attend to my mental health needs.
By not doing the necessary work to grow and heal, I never matured into someone capable of giving and receiving mature love. Intimacy, what I claimed to want and crave, was actually not something I was capable of, yet I blamed the marriage and Julie for "denying it to me," further reinforcing my sense of entitlement to get that need met somewhere else.
Solution: Grow up by evolving as a man, commit to therapy and self-development, and learn the science and art of intimacy.
Betrayal will not cease until the masculine can evolve. Are men love challenged? No doubt we are; however, within the challenge lies immense opportunity. There is a unique resonance in the dance of healthy feminine and masculine energy that can only be realized by both being awake and conscious.
So, I say to my male brethren: Man up! Do the warrior's journey of introspection and encounter with yourself in order to contribute to a new male legacy worthy of our potential. The reward is worth it and found in the very lessons I learned through betrayal: Love is more powerful than any circumstance no matter how dire, and the possibility to reinvent a marriage, regardless of how broken, is available to anyone who is willing to evolve and learn how to love truly.