Frances Cohen Praver Ph.D.
When Cheating Isn't Cheating
Does Transparency Sanction Extramarital Affairs?
Posted Jul 12, 2015
Tossing her long blonde hair over her shoulder, Sarah smiled, “Stan wants me to marry him.”
“Do you want to marry him?” I asked.
Her dazzling smile turned to a frown. “I’m thinking about it. It’s a problem though.”
I asked, “Why’s that?”
“I’m married to Evan.” She said in a matter of fact tone.
“That is indeed a problem, unless you divorce Evan.” I said.
Sarah contemplated my remark then explained, “I don’t really want to divorce Evan. He was my first love. We met when I was 17 and got married two years later. He’s become a successful business man. We have two beautiful children, live in a magnificent home, belong to an exclusive country club, the kids go to private schools, and I have help at home.”
I said, “So life is good with Evan.”
Her dark blue eyes glistened as tears welled up. “On the surface it is, but not really. Evan is a workaholic so I rarely see him. He travels a lot and when he comes home, he’s on the computer. He doesn’t know I exist”.
I empathized with her, “That’s difficult.”
“It sure is. We don’t even have a sex life. He’s too tired” She looked sad.
I inquired, “How do you feel about all of this?”
Looking down at the floor, she sighed, “I feel like I’ve lost myself in the marriage and I’m lonely”.
“Have you discussed how you feel with Evan?” I asked.
Sitting up straight she said, “Yes, I did and he suggested I get a lover. So, I did”.
“Does Evan know about Stan?” I wondered.
Anger crossed her face as she said, “Yes, and he said that was a good idea as long as Stan is healthy – no STD’s. So you see, I’m not cheating.”
“Uh huh…” I remarked.
“I’m seeing another man, but since Evan sanctions it, I’m not cheating.” She reiterated loudly.
I interpreted, “Whether you’re cheating or not seems to be an issue with you.”
She explained, “Even though Evan has hurt me, I don’t want to hurt him. I didn’t exactly like what he just said about my relationship with Stan. ”
“Aside from not liking what Evan said, what other feelings come to mind?” I asked.
Looking forlorn, she said, “I should be happy that it’s OK with him, but I’m not. Evan’s so cold, like he never loved me.
I offered an alternative explanation, “Perhaps he’s hiding his feelings.”
“Why would he do that?” She asked.
I interpreted, “Maybe it’s his way of saving face, his pride, keeping up appearances.”
She quickly responded, “Actually, he’s into appearances. Money is more important than love for Evan. Stan is the opposite. Love is way more important than money to him. I’m his priority. He puts me ahead of his work.”
I asked. “What kind of work does Stan do?”
“He’s a carpenter and he doesn’t work all that much.” She said
I remarked, “So he has time for you.”
“Which is great, but I don’t want to marry him.” She said emphatically.
“You have reservations about divorcing your husband to marry Stan.” I interpreted her dilemma.
Sarah explained, “It’s perfect the way it is now, but Stan can’t accept that he’s not the only one. He really loves me.”
“Do you think Evan loves you?” I asked.
She said in an angry tone, “He says he does, but I don’t know about that. He buys me wonderful gifts, sends flowers, and when we make love it’s great. But if he loves me so much, how come I rarely see him?”
“It sounds like he’s addicted to his work.” I interpreted. If that is the case, perhaps you could go into some couples’ therapy with him. He might get some insight into the causes of his addiction.” I suggested.
Looking dismayed, Sarah said, “But if Stan finds out I’m working on the marriage, he’ll want out.”
“That’s a chance you take, but if the marriage becomes more satisfying and Evan fights his addiction and chooses you, you may not need Stan.” I offered some positive hypotheses.
“I have to think about it.” She said.
In the following sessions we examined the impact Sarah’s childhood had on her love life.
Her parents divorced when she was five and her father moved out of town, so she saw him sporadically − on vacations, and in the summer. Her mother grew seriously depressed and was hospitalized twice.
Sarah does not recall any warm embraces or affection from her depressed mother as her mother was too preoccupied, and miserable. As a result, Sarah grew up feeling neglected, unworthy, and unlovable. The research shows that depressed mothers are too preoccupied to respond to children in an optimal way, so that their children grow up feeling neglected and unlovable. Unwittingly, Sarah replicated the pattern of a preoccupied mother and a lonely neglected child with a preoccupied husband and a lonely neglected wife.
A beautiful child, Sarah began modelling at a young age and got a great deal of attention. She grew up in the limelight, but she told me when she got home she felt the profound loneliness and sadness. She worked for fashion magazines, and attracted lots of men who doted on her. Her attempts to feel loved and whole did not really work as she felt she was admired only for her outer beauty.
Evan was different, in that he recognized her inner beauty, her kindness, her generosity, and her sensitivity. Unfortunately he did not always show it because of his own inner demons. Sarah has ended the relationship with Stan and is learning how to recognize where Evan is coming from and not to take it so personally.
Sarah is also taking fashion courses with the aim of becoming a fashion designer. To her surprise she sees a hidden talent that gives her a lot of satisfaction. Evan still works hard, but he has curbed his late hours and his travel − except when it includes Sarah.