Why Do Affairs Happen?

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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.

11 responses to “Why Do Affairs Happen?


    Nice one indeed

  2. I’ve found over the years that it takes two to make a good marriage and it takes two to cause infidelity. If both person are not committed and loving sacrificially then it makes one vulnerable. As Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says “Two are better than one – a three strand rope will not break.” It takes both to remain faithful. One spouse can push the other into infidelity – not purposefully but by some “intentional” unloving actions. And by the way, infidelity is more of a heart issue and not a brain chemistry imbalance.

    • Thanks, Derek. While I agree with most of your comment, I think there are probably some wronged spouses out there that would disagree that they “caused” infidelity by their spouse. Some individuals would even say they continued to love their spouse while they began an affair. However, I would agree that both spouses’ actions may contribute to the problems in a marriage, and I understand your point. Thanks for the comment.

    • uniballer1965

      I tend to agree with Lori here. The betrayed spouse doesn’t push his wayward wife into an affair. She owns the choice to betray her husband and children herself.

      I do agree that both create the environment. But keep in mind that both are part of the same marriage, and it’s unlikely the marriage was any better for the faithful spouse thant it was for his unfaithful wife. Yet she cheated and he didn’t.

      It’s a question of character and boundaries, not a question of how do we blame the betrayed spouse.

  3. So much devastation is left behind when marital trust is broken by an affair, but recovery is possible!

  4. I have seen recovery from affairs. It is difficult for both partners, but possible. Such a book will a great blessing in helping couples do so.

  5. It is hard to have sympathy for people who destroy the lives of people whom they claim to love. Children suffer greatly from the trauma cheaters cause.

  6. Pingback: Can Marriages Survive Infidelity? | Marriage Gems

  7. The innocent spouse did not cause the affair. Its cruel to say that they do. Some are more loving than many people whose spouse doesn’t cheat on them. Adultery is caused by the person committing it.

  8. Trying to recover from an affair in a 20 year marriage is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I was more then anything to recover from this and I need all the help I can get!

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