Evolutionary theory, gender differences, stereotype, media myth and cultural expectations invite us to recognize that men have more sexual desire than women both in frequency and intensity, are wired to have many partners, have more difficulty with monogamy and that as such, married men are more likely to have affairs than married women. The reality is that while married men have more affairs than married women –The difference is not that great.
The other reality is that while extra-marital affairs by definition involve a romantic and emotional relationship that has a sexual or sexualized component, research suggests that sexual drive is not the primary reason married men have affairs.
Most couples know the positive sounds of silence–the mutual experience of sharing time and space together without needing words. Be it walking the dog together, cooking side by side or listening to music–it is the silence of connection and love.
Many couples also know the silence that reflects tension, conflict or disconnection. Unable to speak beyond the necessities of daily life, these couples report, “ We just don’t talk anymore!”
If we recognize “ talking together” as a metaphor for the communication of confidantes, the special interest of partners and the pillow talk of intimates, then we understand that this is a silence that can start to feel emotionally deafening.
Why do couples who once had so much to say end up feeling this way? Is it inevitable as time passes in a marriage? Is there a way back?
Years together need not result in negative sounds of silence.
Yes, events can disrupt harmony and patterns can erode vitality, but if couples are curious rather than blameful about the silence between them, they may find some reasons and remedies to speak together again.
If we look closer at those partners who end up sitting in a restaurant with nothing to say, painfully aware of the couples happily chatting around them, we find that partners are often unaware of what they may be doing or what has happened to shut down the verbal connection.
Here are some possibilities:
Recently the American Psychological Association reported the latest findings on what makes love last in a marriage. The results of one series of studies by Shelley Gable and colleagues were particularly interesting because they were unexpected. They invite speculation and application.
Responding for Better and For Worse
These studies revealed that although we need our partners to be there for us during the “worst” of times, it is our partner’s positive responses to the “best” of times that we receive best and remember most.
Adding to this and surprising is the finding that our partner’s responses to positive events directly contribute to the perception that our partner will be available in the worst of times-regardless of the specifics of their actual support during those times!!
How Do We Explain This?
It seems that context matters. Crisis, be it the aftermath of surgery, the lost job or family problem, makes giving and receiving support challenging and more complicated.
In difficult life situations, a partner’s attempted or enacted support is often not well received or not perceived as helpful for a number of reasons:
Missing the Mark
“ You should know that I didn’t want any visitors.”
“ I didn’t know what soup to get so I got a few…you don’t want soup?”
Can’t Work the Miracle
While the definition of intimacy may vary depending on the relationship, it is generally felt to be the “ authentic” connection between two people. As such, the connection reflects a mutuality of loving feelings shared and expressed in thought, affect and behavior.
A host of factors including safety, trust, effective communication and sexual exclusivity have been identified as important for intimacy between partners.
Less discussed and perhaps surprising, is the importance of the “capacity to be alone” in establishing true intimacy.
What Is The “Capacity To Be Alone?”
Why Is This an Asset To Intimacy?
You won’t have to be what someone else wants or needs you to be.
You don’t have to cling to someone to avoid abandonment or avoid someone for fear of rejection.
Neurochemistry supports …
We have once again been faced with a high profile marriage scandal. This time the lovers included the CIA director, a married and much decorated military officer and his biographer, a married women, herself an Army Reserve intelligence officer.
What is predictable is the media focus on the man. In this case the articles addressed the question of military code of conduct, possibility of security breaches, the explanation of male infidelity in terms of power and narcissism, and the apology and compassionate sentiments to the betrayed wife.
What is curious is how little focus was given to the married woman in this affair. Other than a redundant account of her school success and running time, she was rarely seen as more than the idealizing audience to the man. There seemed little interest in her motives and even less in addressing the broader question- Why do married women have affairs?
Perhaps we don’t ask the question because culturally we prefer not to know the answer. After all, with matters of infidelity, the stereotype is of the married man in an affair with an unmarried female. In the case of married women the presumption is that women are more monogamous then men. They are – but not as much as we may want to believe.
Having worked for many years with men, women and couples trying to hold on to marriages, recovering from betrayal or caught up in the pain and passion of an affair, I suggest …
It can also be just as shocking to observe the public interaction of a couple only to wonder, “Why are these people together?”
Having worked many years with couples, I’ve come to understand that no one but the partners involved really know the differences in the private or public versions of their relationship.
While some differences in the private and public versions of a couple’s relationship are inevitable and even desirable, differences that cause or hide pain, rejection and disdain are destructive.
How different are the private and public versions of your relationship?
In this fast paced world of expectations, social media, instant communication and blurred public and private lives, it’s worth accessing whether the differences in the public and private versions of your relationship are desirable or destructive.
The Private Version
Are you trusted confidantes?
Can you hold on to your relationship ties despite outside family demands?
Do your friends know how important your relationship is to you?
The Public Version
We all have a public version of our private self that is adjusted to fit the role, demands and expectations of our public lives. While your public “image” might be at times very different from your role as a spouse or partner, it shouldn’t disqualify it. In the …
According to the urban dictionary, ‘friends with benefits’ are defined as “Two friends who have a sexual relationship without being emotionally involved.”
Wait a minute… didn’t someone say that once people see each other naked they can’t be friends?
In my experience working with people, I have found that those who have acted on what is now termed, “friends with benefits” often end up as “friends with complications” – or not friends at all.
Both men and women who sleep with a friend often start out believing, or telling themselves and each other “It’s no big deal. Why not?”
The reality seems to be that it is a big deal emotionally – if not for both, often for one. Sleeping with a friend changes the definition of the relationship in terms of physical boundaries, emotional connection, conscious and unconscious expectations, view of self and other.
Thanks to a plethora of self-help books on relationships, most partners, whether dating, committed or long married, have become aware of the value of listening for improving understanding and connection. Most recognize or are reminded by their partners when they are not listening.
Validation is much more than listening or even active listening. It is a verbal affirmation of another’s right to think or feel a certain way.
“I can see why you felt embarrassed when I said that in front of our friends.”
“Most people would feel betrayed in that situation.”
The problem with invalidation, and the reason it is so caustic to relationships, is that it is not simply the absence of validation.
Invalidation is actually the disqualification of another person’s thinking or feelings. It carries the implication that you must be crazy, bad, over-sensitive or inept to feel a certain way.
While there is no doubt that striving to be your personal best and feeling good about your efforts is healthy as well as relationship enhancing – perfectionism is something else.
Perfectionism is the belief that a state of completeness and flawlessness can and should be attained. The literature on perfectionism underscores that there is an important difference between adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism. It is a difference worth considering.
Whether you have just begun dating or you are celebrating a Golden Anniversary, most partners are aware that communication is a crucial component in relationship happiness and satisfaction. Most self-help books extol it, and most experts working with couples encourage and facilitate improved communication.
Dr. Marianne Legato, author of Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget contends that without effective couple communication, there is no relationship at all.
A crucial but often overlooked communication skill for partners is knowing when it is best not to say anything.
This skill is not about suppression, quiet compliance, the silent treatment, dismissal or neglect. It is a choice that reflects attunement, empathy, regulation of emotions and prioritizing the bond you share.
It is knowing those times when your comment, critique, opinion, question or news not only fails to add value – it makes matters worse!