Following 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.