Extramarital Relationships Are Not Only About Sex
Discover why the emotional support from an affair can be far more important.
Posted May 24, 2019
We commonly blame extramarital affairs for creating marital rifts. But what about marital problems causing adultery? Might we be better off if we tried to discover why extramarital relationships take place? We might learn new things about marriages that will help us sustain them in good ways. People do not (usually) become adulterous because they desire the destructive effects which affairs create.
Adultery and Unequal Emotional Support
My colleague, Homer B. Martin, M.D., and I discovered that adultery is an attempt by either spouse to compensate for an unequal distribution of emotional support within a marriage. One spouse gets minimal support from the other and wants more. Another spouse may receive a tremendous amount of support, but insatiably demands more. Both may look outside the marriage for the emotional support they crave. At the same time, other people outside the marriage may see the married spouses differently than they see one another. Outsiders may become attracted, and the stage is set for adultery. Inflexible marital roles can make marriages lifeless and humdrum. The result is that many couples welcome adultery, not just for sex, but also for the new emotional support it brings.
Adultery Changes the Pattern of Emotional Support
Some people ignore extramarital relationships, but they rarely fail to discover them. By adding a third party to the twosome of the marriage, the movement of emotional support changes within the marriage. We discovered two roles in marriages that have distinct differences in the degree of emotional support given and received. We call these omnipotent and impotent roles.
Impotent Role Spouse
This spouse assumes a helpless, irresponsible role in the marriage and is overly demanding and self-centered. He or she expects gratification, sexual and emotional, at whim. Impotent role spouses demand more and more from their spouses and eventually exhaust them. Impotent role people participate in adultery to continue to get insatiable needs met. In adultery, they get increased emotional and sexual support from their lovers. In turn, we learned this makes them more agreeable and less demanding at home with their spouses. They do not feel guilty. They feel justified in having a lover. They harangue and point fingers at spouses who failed to satisfy them.
Omnipotent Role Spouse
Omnipotent spouses are overly strong and too helpful and give in to demands made by insatiable impotent spouses—demands that are both emotional and sexual. Omnipotents rarely get their needs met by impotents. When omnipotents become exhausted from trying to satisfy their demanding spouses and getting little in return, they may engage in adultery. However, they feel guilt over breaking marital vows. Impotent partners heap further blame and guilt on them. Omnipotent spouses feel worse and worse for being adulterous.
Adultery Perpetuates Some Marriages
Impotents persecute omnipotents for straying, but may be glad when omnipotents take their wants and needs elsewhere. Since impotents do not like to be supportive of omnipotent partners, they may be overjoyed that their omnipotent spouses have found a paramour to take their emotional and sexual needs to. In this way, impotents feel relieved of their marital responsibilities.
Omnipotents can be happy that impotents find sexual satisfaction elsewhere—satisfaction that they always demanded, but believed they never got in the marriage. Having a new threesome often means the new equilibrium feels better than the old, boring marital torment. But this still does not correct the dysfunctional marriage.
Sometimes neither role spouse wants their marriage to end because of adultery. Both partners remain committed to the marriage. Omnipotent spouses are steadfast with impotent partners and excuse their sexual indiscretions. Impotent spouses rarely want to make a commitment to a paramour and prefer to remain married, because it is easier. The result is many bad marriages that continue with third parties included, sometimes for both partners.