Frances Cohen Praver Ph.D.

Love Doc

Lust on the Loose

Affairs A La Mode

Posted Jan 10, 2016

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Slim of waist, statuesque of build, Samantha strode briskly into the room. Flashing me a winning smile, she sat down and tossed her long auburn hair out of her eyes. Her smile quickly turned to concern. Scanning the room as though she lost something, she addressed me.

“I feel as though I’m losing myself.” She slumped into the couch.  

I queried, “Losing yourself?”

Wringing her hands, she explained, “I’ve always prided myself on having control of my life, but now it seems to be running away from me. I’m out of control.”

“In what way?” I asked.

Conflict registered in her furrowed brow. “I have this great marriage and I love my husband, but I’m having affairs. I know it’s wrong and I feel terrible, but I can’t stop.”

“Tell me about your marriage.” I suggested.

In a modulated cadence, she said, “Allen, my husband, is a great guy who loves me to death, and he’s a terrific father. He’s good to me, brings me breakfast in bed, cooks when I work late,  plays with the kids, puts them to bed. He’s not intellectual so he’s not a challenge. I have enough challenges during the day with my patients and the hospital.”

“I know you’re an ER doctor, on your feet all day, with nothing but life and death decisions. It seems Allen is your comfortable shoe.” I interpreted.

Soflly, she said, “Yeah, I guess so.”

“What else do you like about him?” I asked.

“He’s loyal and would never cheat on me. He’s that he’s great looking; actually he’s short, squat, and baldish, but that doesn’t matter because he is so sweet, sensitive, and dependable.” She said.  

I interpreted, “So he’s not only comfortable, he’s safe. It sounds like you have comfort, safety, commitment, love, and reliability with Allen in your marriage.”

“Yes, and I love him. I want this marriage and am so scared that he will find out about my affairs and that will be the end. I’ve always been able to keep my cool, but now I’m terribly anxious.” She said in time with her tapping of foot.

“I can understand your anxiety as the marriage is meaningful to you.” I commented.

Emphatically, she stated, “It is, and I really want this marriage.”

 “I notice you mentioned affairs so I guess there have been more than one affair.” I remarked.

Blushing and looking down at the floor, Samantha muttered, “Yes, I’ve been married twelve years and was faithful for eight of the twelve, but not so faithful the last four years. I’ve been a terrible cheat.”

“Uh  huh…” I said.

The smile returned and her tone became animated. “It’s that I work with a lot of male doctors who come on to me. I love the attention and one thing leads to another. I just can’t seem to resist them. Don’t get me wrong as these affairs are not about love, only about sex.  Roy, an orthopedist, made me feel week at the knees. He’s tall, distinguished looking, some twenty years older than me, and so incredibly sexy. He said his wife was frigid and it was a sexless marriage. That’s not the case with me, as Allen and I have good sex, but it’s just not the same. I feel satisfied with Allen, but I with Roy there’s the excitement, the thrills that I need.”

“So there’s the rush,” I interpreted.

“I need this rush! She exclaimed.

“Uh huh…” I said.

Samantha resumed her story. “Well anyhow, Roy told me he was thinking of retiring which was OK because I got involved with Len. He was a plastic surgeon working on trauma victims and I respected him a lot. Len couldn’t keep his hands off me, and it was so exciting. We had to sneak out in between patients to a motel where he ravished me. I never had sex like that before, and the high I felt with him was addictive. The only problem was that he pulled away from me immediately after sex as he felt guilty.”

“And did you feel guilty?” I asked.

She responded, “Of course I felt guilty, but I need this high. I then met Bruce, a younger man, who is doing his residency in gynecology. He loves women and wants sex with me constantly. He likes kinky sex and wants me to do it with him and another woman. I’ve never done that, and it sounds so exciting. Still I am not a lesbian and that’s what he’s pushing. Nevertheless, I can’t give Bruce up. I feel such passion, such thrills with him.”

“Is he good to you?” I wondered.

Clenching her fist, she raised her voice and said. “No, he’s not at all good to me. He breaks dates with me the last minute, squeeze me into his schedule, and he’s told me he’s too busy to give me the time I deserve.”

 “How do you feel about it?” I asked.

“I feel hurt, angry. Yet, I told him it was OK, that all I wanted was an occasional tryst.” She said.

I asked “Is that what you really want?”

“No, I want more from him. I don’t want to marry him, but I want to feel important to him,” she said as tears streamed down her cheeks. “I feel desperate.”

I went on to explain her dilemma. “You feel desperate, anxious but you’re addicted to the rush, the high of the affair. Indeed, sneaking around, feeling anxious your husband will catch you, and even being mistreated by some of the men, add to the excitement of the forbidden. Like a drug addict, the rush brings dopamine to the surface and you feel great, on top of the world, and you experience the greatest pleasure. So the affair is your fix and you are desperate for the next hit.”

“It kind of feels like that, but why am I doing this? I have a good marriage.” Pleading eyes beseeched me.

I began to explain, “My theory is that you have unwittingly bifurcated love and lust. So you now have the steak without the sizzle.”

Looking puzzled, she said, “I don’t get it. Doesn’t romance and passion fade in time?”

I responded, “I have a more hopeful theory but first, let’s go back to when you were in love with your husband and you enjoyed sex with him. That’s when love and lust went hand in hand.” 

“It was good back then.” She looked dreamy.

 I then explained, “Here’s a little of what goes on in the brain when you were in love. That was when your brain signaled the release of hormones and brain chemicals. In a flash these brain chemicals bathes your lover and you and ensures love and lust.  For example, testosterone enhances your sex drive, oxytocin and vasopressin promotes loyalty, devotion, and intimacy. Dopamine brings the heights of passion and pleasure to a peak experience.”

Samantha was listening carefully and she said “I see.”

“Alas, like you, so many of us, unwittingly, split lust off from love, placing this wonderful brain chemistry on hold. Everything is dampened down.” I said.

“But why? She asked.  

I responded, “An understanding of why flames get snuffed out in the relationship is the first step. Then we can find ways to relight red hot flames with long slow burning embers.  Much as you suggested, common thinking is that romance and passion fade over time. Familiarity, comfort, security take over. A newer theory is that we unwittingly degrade romance and passionate sex, place it in the background, and bring security and safety into the foreground. We squeeze the life out of the relationship. And we dampen down the brain chemicals and neurotransmitters. The reason this theory’s hopeful is that once we understand why and how his happens, we can see our self-defeating patterns and change them.” 

She asked, “Why sabotage the passion, the desire in the first place?  It doesn’t make sense.”

I addressed her inquiry. “Let’s say you have everything, both sides of the coin in one partner. Danger lies ahead. You may become dependent on your partner. Rejection or loss of your partner looms large. You have too much to lose. So unwittingly, you diminish the sizzle, the sparkle, the fun, the passion, the sex. The marriage becomes dull, boring, but safe.”

“I’m beginning to get it. But aren’t affairs risky and dangerous?” She asked.

 I said, “In some ways, but paradoxically, an affair may be a safer bet. Affairs are not really risky. They are safer than a real full love in marriage. You have less to lose. You’ve built a life together with Allen, —you have children and history together. The affairs usually signify passion, fun, adventure, novelty. Unfortunately they leave the marriage even more depleted and weakened. And now, you have even more reasons to have an affair. The cycle is complete. Lust and love are now split between your lover and your husband, your affair and your marriage.”

“What’s to be done then?” She was right there with me.

I responded, “Once you recognize the deadening dynamic, you’ll have to look at your role in it. Action begins in the mind, in the imagination. Begin imaging what it would be like to desire and be desired by your husband. Play with the thoughts. Thinking can enhance your love-inducing chemicals.”

“I guess thinking and fantasizing begs doing.” She concurred

“Yes indeed. The fantasies of a romantic evening, a romp in the afternoon, a hot week-end escape – just the two of you. No children, no chores, no commitments. Nothing but fun and games. Once the engine’s running who knows what’ll happen? And your brain will get into the act to bathe you once again with a cascade of testosterone, dopamine, oxytocin, and vasopressin. Not knowing, the uncertainty of the ride is part of the exciting adventure. It’s a chance you take, but without risk there are scant rewards.” I offered.

Samantha seemed more relaxed as I went on.

“You and your partner are headed in a new direction. Instead of a split between love and lust, your new path lies in the tensions between opposites - committed love and red hot sex, security and excitement, continuity and novelty, safety and adventure, comfort and passion. Maintaining balance is central.”

Samantha and Allen have been working on lighting the flames of passion and desire in their marriage and while this new path is arduous, they are enjoying the journey. She has placed Bruce on hold. She hopes to end her liaison with him shortly so can devote herself fully to the marriage with serious intention to bring love and lust back

For more on love, sex, affairs, and rekindling the flame of passion, read my book The New Science of Love: How Understanding the Brain’s Wiring Can Help Rekindle Your Relationship Sourcebooks, Casablanca, 2011.

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