Tag Archives: Scott Haltzman

Can Marriages Survive Infidelity?

haltzman book coverFollowing up on my last post, Why do affairs happen?, I want to share some responses from psychiatrist, author and marital therapist, Scott Haltzman, M.D, to my questions. He recently released The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity, which has certainly shed light on some new areas.

The short answer to the question, “Can marriages survive infidelity?” is “Yes.” They can, and they do. He estimates half of all marriages stay together after infidelity.

Here are some questions I asked Dr. Haltzman related to the book:
Q: Can you briefly define flame addiction and explain why the brain chemistry affects reasonable decision making?
A: Flame addiction describes the psychological and chemical process by which a person become infatuated with another person who is not his or her spouse. This person is a “flame,” and, like a moth circling a candle, he or she provides an irresistible pull to the married individual. Flame addiction is based on the phenomenology of infatuation, in which excitatory brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine are elevated, just as they are when people are abusing drugs like cocaine. It’s further complicated by a dip in brain serotonin. When people have normal levels of serotonin, their brains get messages to relax, but when levels are low, a person can feel restless, unsettled, and have increases in obsessions.

Q: Why is breaking off all contact with the affair partner the hardest step for the offending spouse?
A: A very strong attraction develops between the spouse and the one he or she is having an affair with. This third person might be seen as source of enrichment or excitation for the spouse, there might be powerful feelings that the flame is a soul mate, and the possibility of losing him or her may feel like too great a loss. Or, the person having the affair may simply feel a duty or obligation to the paramour. Often the position of the unfaithful spouses is that the third party didn’t do anything wrong, so they can’t justify hurting feelings by breaking things off.

Q: How can you tell if you’re in a relationship with someone who made a serious—but one-time—mistake versus someone who will hurt you again? Or in other words, how often is “once a cheater, always a cheater” true?
A: There’s no surefire way of predicting who will end the affair, and who will continue to have trysts. Good predictive indicators include individuals who are willing to take a careful look at their behavior, minimize defensiveness and blame, and make sincere efforts to put energy back into the relationship once an affair has been discovered. Those that insist they still need to maintain all of their Facebook friends, or their own private cellphone, are simply asking to hold on to their old ways. That’s not good.

Q: Why do your odds of an affair go up each year you are together?
A: The best reason is that simply the longer you’re married, the more chances you have to cheat. In the first 10 minutes after your wedding vows, there’s about a zero percent chance you can fit an affair in, and in the first day, about the same. But each day you are married is another day you go out into the world and meet possible affair mates. Another reason that the chances may go up is that couples tend to get into ruts, and the excitement of infidelity seems particularly attractive if you are bored in your marriage.

Q: In your experience, you believe half of couples stay together after infidelity. Why is this fact helpful to others? And why do you believe that is the biggest secret for surviving infidelity?
A: Secrecy is the hallmark of infidelity, both during the affair and afterwards, so many people have no idea that their next store neighbors (or their parents even) have had to deal with infidelity. Knowing that you are not alone helps reduce the feelings of shame—and knowing that people can survive infidelity gives you options when the culture may be insisting that you should leave the marriage no matter what.

Q: Is there one piece of advice you have for couples to prevent affairs from occurring, particularly for couples who have been together for more than a decade?
A: Don’t take each other for granted. You should always be working on maintaining a good quality marriage, in which your partner feels like you are making his or her needs a priority. One of the advantages of being with someone more than a decade is you really get to know him or her. You can see that as a negative, as in, “Now that I know my partner, I realize what a pain in the butt he/she is.” But I believe this knowledge can be used to your advantage, as in, “I realize that my partner sees things differently than I do, and I have often assumed I know what he/she needed when I really didn’t know him/her. Now that I know my partner better, I can really see the ways I can improve the quality of our relationship.”

Thanks to Dr. Haltzman for these insights! Leave a comment if you wish to be included in the drawing for a free book.

I feel fortunate that infidelity has not impacted my marriage directly, however, the book is a reminder not to be complacent and to keep proper boundaries in place. I’ll have a followup on these prevention tips from Dr. Haltzman at a later date. For those who have been impacted, pick up a copy for yourself or a loved one.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Why Do Affairs Happen?

shadow couple morguefile
A new book written by Scott Haltzman, M.D., sheds light on The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity. You may remember Dr. Haltzman from one of my most popular posts, “We all married the wrong person.” Dr. Haltzman, a psychiatrist and marital therapist, has written a helpful and hopeful book for couples who have been or may be impacted by infidelity. If you want to learn why people have affairs, why they are so difficult to stop, how to protect your marriage, and how a marriage can recover from it, these are all addressed.

I’m going to give a copy of the book away on the blog this week, so if you’d like to read it, leave a comment below. Today, I want to give just a short intro from the book on why affairs occur. Strangely, Dr. Haltzman says most affairs take place between two people who had absolutely no intention of cheating. That’s why we must be careful about the kinds of interactions we have with people outside of our relationships.

People of course have various reasons for affairs—sex, curiosity, excitement, companionship, an ego-boost, career advancement, or getting even with a spouse are some of the reasons given. But in order for an affair to take place, three elements must be in play: (NOD) Need, Opportunity, and Disinhibition.

Need—As for the needs, Dr. Haltzman says spouses spend too much energy determining which exact needs were not being met when the affair happened. In truth, we all have needs that our partner will not be able to meet. In addition, there may be confusion about needs vs. desires and what we believe our partner should be fulfilling in us.

Opportunity—Not everyone is prone to cheating, but those who are may find an opportunity almost anywhere, from meeting someone at the gym, at PTA meetings, church, bars, work, on Facebook, or any other location we happen to be. “If no one is around to cheat with, cheating simply will not take place,” says Dr. Haltzman.

Disinhibition—In medical terminology, this means the inability to inhibit an instinctual reaction, says Dr. Haltzman. These are people who have been trained or trained themselves that “I want what I want when I want it.” They may be impulsive, unthinking of the consequences of their behavior. Some medical issues may contribute to increased disinhibition, including ADHD, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, brain illnesses, and other psychiatric problems. Others simply justify one choice after another, leading down a slippery slope into an affair.

Dr. Haltzman explains in detail the role of neurotransmitters/brain chemicals that affect our emotional balance, particularly during affairs or potential affairs. The bottom line is that the excitement produced in a new relationship affects our emotions and energy levels, and they make it difficult to make good judgments. Therefore, someone in an affair will conclude that this person is their “soul mate” and believe they “need” them. This is because when they are with this person, the tension that has been developed is relieved, the level of worry and sleeplessness decreases and they feel “complete.” It’s not because the relationship or the person is ideal, it’s because the brain chemistry (low serotonin, high dopamine, high norepinephrine) has been affected. But of course, this state of mind can’t be maintained, because that brain chemistry level can’t be maintained.

The book is definitive on affairs being wrong and bad for the marriage, but it’s also relatively compassionate toward the person having the affair, helping them understand the reasons they find it so difficult to untangle themselves from this other person while insisting on it and explaining the steps. It’s almost half intended for the spouse and half for the person who had the affair, helping couples to both prevent affairs and to recover one. I thought the book was really well thought out, and I would highly recommend it, having read many others on the topic.

Tomorrow, I’m going to share some questions and answers directly from Dr. Haltzman based on my interview with him. Remember, if you would like to be in the drawing for the book, add a brief note below and I’ll put your name in.

You can find Dr. Haltzman at Facebook.com/ScottHaltzman or at secretsofmarriedmen.com. His book, Secrets of Surviving Infidelity is available in bookstores or at Amazon.com.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

The Biggest Marriage Myth of All and How it Could Ruin Your Relationship

Last week, I talked about Five Marriage Myths shared by Scott Haltzman, M.D., in the Secrets of Happily Married Women. The last myth was the biggee, and I wanted to devote a full post to it. Dr. Haltzman says, “assuming infidelity, violence or addiction are not the problem, marriage myth 5, above all others, is the greatest cause of unhappiness in marriage.

Myth 5: If your marriage makes you unhappy, the best solution is to get out. 

Dr. Haltzman says a Centers for Disease Control poll from 2006 showed 44 percent of men and 50 percent of women agreed with the above statement. It seems odd to me (and to many who are committed to marriage) that “get out” would be the best solution to being unhappy when there are so many causes of unhappiness and so many possible solutions. Of course, most couples don’t take divorce lightly, but the point is it’s not seen as a last resort. Don’t look at an “unhappy marriage” as an unchangeable situation.

The good doctor (a psychologist and a marriage therapist with more than twenty years of experience) goes on to report that the top three reasons cited by women who initiate divorce (and let’s face it, women initiate two-thirds of divorces) are 1) gradual growing apart, 2) serious differences in lifestyle and/or values, and 3) not feeling loved or appreciated by my husband.

These seem like big problems on the surface, but Dr. Haltzman and many other marriage experts assert that these are most certainly solvable problems. Taking the first problem first, it’s very likely that we will all have periods where we are closer and periods where we have drifted. That’s the nature of our growth and development as individuals. As one spouse grows in one direction, the other doesn’t necessarily follow the same path or exact course. However, even after drifting apart, a couple who is committed to one another can drift back together with effort.

The second problem (differences in values or lifestyle) can be more severe when the differences relate to drug or alcohol abuse, but he says the majority of couples are not talking about this kind of a severe problem or destructive behavior (which can certainly be justifiable reasons to leave). More often, he says it’s related to how the couple spends money or raises the kids, issues that have many gray areas of disagreement. In these sort of cases, the couple (perhaps with help) may need to listen and learn the basis for one another’s concerns and ideas, see things from one another’s perspectives, learn to compromise more and pick their battles.

On the issue of not feeling loved, “They walk away from marriage because they are no longer feeling happy about the relationship,” says Dr. Haltzman, who adds this category falls under the definition of no-fault divorce. “These feelings are true and honest expressions of personal distress—but…they’re no reason to break the marriage vows,” he says. Instead, it’s often an opportunity to grow and develop with your spouse to create a stronger, happier marriage. There may be a time when a couple needs to focus on the indirect benefits of marriage—such as family security, social comfort, financial advantage, a safe sexual partner, etc., while they work on their marriage. Often, especially when the wife takes the lead, the spark returns while they are both focusing on the positive aspects of their relationship.

Remember our spouse can’t “make us” happy, but we can each take responsibility for creating a positive environment in our marriage and supporting one another as often as possible. Search for something to make you and your spouse feel happy today, then make it a priority. It could be something as simple as a walk together around your own garden, or something as elaborate as a planning a special event or trip for the two of you.

Related Post:

I recently came across a series of articles in Psychology Today by Rachel Clark starting with How I got my ex back—the story of a marriage that reconciled after she read the research on the effects of divorce, followed by part 2 She Blinded Me with Science. Rachel’s experience shows that even after infidelity and divorce occur, there can be hope to reconcile a family. She also conveys why knowledge of the effects of divorce is so important to pass along, since it was strong enough to convince both her and her ex that they had made a huge mistake, but one they worked hard to correct.

 Photo courtesy of Stockvault by Boris A. Nesterov

 

5 Marriage Myths that Keep You from Being Happy

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series

It sounds rather simplistic to “Choose happiness,” or “Take charge of your happiness,” but in his book Secrets of Happily Married Women, Scott Haltzman, M.D., suggests we can choose to be happier in our marriages.

To begin with, this means unearthing five marriage myths and explaining why they make it impossible to feel happy in our marriages. These are the five most destructive myths he came across in his practice as a psychologist and marriage therapist. These are particularly true for wives, who initiate two-thirds of U.S. divorces.  However, I think husbands may also fall prey to these myths.

Myth 1: Marriage automatically makes you happy. While it’s true more married people (43 percent) report being happy than unmarried people (24 percent) despite age or gender, marital happiness and personal happiness are separate issues.  Dr. Haltzman says married people must put marital happiness first, considering how their actions and desires affect their partner rather than pursing personal happiness as their priority.

“It is an essential truth that sacrificing one’s own needs for someone else’s is a necessary and worthwhile part of human relationships. When that truth is denied in a marriage, the results can be especially destructive; abandoned spouses and children get left behind in the dust of misguided soul-searching for personal fulfillment focused on ego-driven needs,” he says.

Myth 2: Good marriages are always passionate and heart-throbbing. The number of women who report, “I love him, but I’m not in love with him,” of their husbands is astounding, says Dr. Haltzman. What it means is they have lost their connection or that their love is going through a temporary down phase, not that it is doomed. Falling out of infatuation may also be misconstrued as falling out of love, when the initial passionate loving feelings and heightened hormones dissipate. (Unfortunately, some people never understand this and move from relationship to relationship thinking they have the wrong person.)

Myth 3: In happy marriages, child care and housework are evenly distrusted. If this is a major divisive issue for you, I’d suggest you read the book, particularly chapter 6. There’s not a quick two-sentence explanation, but rather plenty of data and a need to understand the issues women grapple with regarding work and home responsibilities. The fact is that most wives do more household work than their husbands, but many of them have still found a way to be happy.

Myth 4: Both partners are responsible for the level of marital happiness. By taking charge of our own mood and actions, one partner can certainly improve personal happiness and affect his or her spouse, improving happiness within the marriage.

Myth 5: If your marriage makes you unhappy, the best solution is to get out. This very widely held myth is rich enough to write an entire post about, so stay tuned next week, and I’ll do just that. I’ll share Dr. Haltzman’s assessment of the most common causes of divorce that seem hopeless but are indeed solvable, and discuss why this myth may be the greatest cause of unhappiness in marriages.

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We All Married the Wrong Person

Couples in crisis often reach the point where they decide they are just two poorly matched people. This precedes the decision to leave the relationship and go in search of that “right person.” Unfortunately, the odds of a successful marriage go down for each attempt at a new marriage. Psychiatrist and author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men and The Secrets of Happily Married Women and The Secrets of Happy Families, Scott Haltzman, MD, says in truth, they are correct; we all married the wrong person. I found his comments from TV interviews so intriguing that I requested an interview with him to delve into the topic.

Dr. Haltzman says even if we think we know a person well when we marry them, we are temporarily blinded by our love, which tends to minimize or ignore attributes that would make the relationship complicated or downright difficult. In addition, both individuals bring different expectations to the marriage, and we change individually and as a couple over time. No one gets a guarantee of marrying the right person, says Dr. Haltzman, so you should assume you married the wrong person. That doesn’t mean your marriage can’t be successful, however.

“Most of us spend a lot of time filtering through possible mates in hopes that we will end up with the right match. Some people believe it’s an issue of finding a soul mate … the one true partner. Whether or not you enter into marriage believing your partner is THE one, you certainly believe he or she is A right person for you,” says Dr. Haltzman.

He explains that if the success of a marriage were based on making the right choice, then those who carefully chose a good match would continue to sustain positive feelings the majority of the time, and over a long period. The theory would be proven correct that choosing well leads to success.  “But the divorce rate in and of itself stands as a great testament to the fallacy of that theory,” says Dr. Haltzman. Even the couples who remain married don’t describe themselves as completely happy with each other, he adds, but rather committed to one another.

“If we believe we must find the right person to marry, then the course of our marriage becomes a constant test to see if we were correct in that choice,” says Dr. Haltzman, adding that today’s culture does not support standing by our promises. Instead, he says we receive the repeated message, “You deserve the best.” These attitudes contribute to marital dissatisfaction, he says.

Dr.  Haltzman shared some research with me about the negative effects in our consumer society of having too many choices—which may lead to increased expectations and lower satisfaction. A book called The Choice Paradox by Barry Schwartz shares research that flies in the face of conventional wisdom. (I will have another post about this topic soon, because there is much insight to glean.) I’ll cut to the chase and reveal that people are happier with the choices they make when there are relatively few choices from which to choose. With too many choices, we can become overburdened and regretful and constantly question our decision. Today, individuals may feel they have many choices of mates, and fear lost opportunities with potential “right” partners. This may happen even after a person is married, as he or she questions the decision to marry with each bump in the road.

“My basic philosophy is we have to start with the premise when we choose our partner that we aren’t choosing with all the knowledge and information about them,” says Dr. Haltzman. “However, outside of the extreme scenarios of domestic violence, chronic substance abuse, or the inability to remain sexually faithful—which are good arguments for marrying the wrong person on a huge scale, and where it is unhealthy or unsafe to remain married—we need to say, ‘This is the person I chose, and I need to find a way to develop a sense of closeness with this person for who he or she really is and not how I fantasize them to be.’”

That choice to work on the relationship can lead to a more profound, meaningful experience together. Dr. Haltzman offers the following tips to help us reconnect or improve our bond:

  • Respect your mate for his/her positive qualities, even when they have some important negative ones.
  • Be the right person, instead of looking for the right person.
  • Be a loving person, instead of waiting to get love.
  • Be considerate instead of waiting to receive consideration.

To underscore the last couple of points, Dr. Haltzman says many people will put only so much effort into a relationship, then say, “I’ve done enough.” But very few of us will do that with our children. “Instead, we say despite their flaws, we wouldn’t want anyone else; yet, our kids can be much more of a pain in the ass than our spouses.”

Finally, he advises, “Have the attitude that this is the person you are going to spend the rest of your life with, so you must find a way to make it work instead of always looking for the back door.”

For more information on Dr. Haltzman or his books, visit DrScott.com or 365Reasons.com. Many thanks to Dr. Haltzman for sharing his time, wisdom and advice.

Read More on Marrying the Wrong Person. (A new post to continue the discussion and share insights.)

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage.  Find it on Amazon.com or in your favorite e-book format.

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