How did my marriage to a model and former pageant queen with three adorable children end in an affair and divorce?
I created conditions where vulnerability met opportunity, all in the name of survival and self-preservation. In fact, there were five specific reasons why my affair happened. They are themes that explain why many other people engage in the same destructive choice to commit infidelity:
I was a hypocrite…
Being a highly credentialed licensed clinician, I became adept at spinning and distorting truth. I believed my own press clippings and rationalized my character defects with psychological justifications. The casualty, of course, was the truth itself – the one essential ingredient for self-reflection and personal evolution. I hid behind the cloak of “expert” and “professional”, dispensing anecdotes and sophisticated interpersonal principles, while barely believing them myself. There was little congruence between what I sold and what I lived. Simply put, I was a hypocrite masquerading behind a socially sanctioned mask.
I was a liar…
Men have an uncanny and dangerous ability to compartmentalize their lives into mutually exclusive containers with walls. In this split dissociative state, anything can be justified, including leaving a woman recently diagnosed with cancer. I had convinced myself that my wife, Julie, was the reason for my unhappiness. I believed she had taken advantage of me, she didn’t love me, and I had to leave to “find and reclaim myself”. After all, if I don’t take care of me, who will?
This quality of self-deception knows no boundaries. It is capable of delusions on a grand scale where “truth” is relative. Rooted in your distorted perception of the world, deceit in word and deed becomes the technique for protecting yourself. I made Julie wrong in our relationship to justify my unavailability. As long as I was not available, intimacy was not possible, thus setting the stage for the lie that “we are simply incompatible, I can’t get my needs met and, therefore, MUST do something to survive and get my needs met.”
I was a sex addict…
I refused to be responsible for how early in life I learned to use sex as a drug or means of escape. Instead of coping with stress or conflict, I elected to cop out through fantasy to fill an existential void in my soul only a legitimate relationship with another could satisfy. Due to emotional deprivation in my childhood, I confused sex for love, causing me to interpret any sexual attraction for something more than it was. This set the stage for my flights into fantasy and my many frantic efforts to legitimize what could never be. Affairs are predicated on deception and, therefore, can never be legitimized. True love it is not.
In choosing this behavior and not being responsible for managing it, I sabotaged any possibility for true intimacy. Mature love requires transparency, self-disclosure, and bold vulnerability, none of which I was equipped for or present to give Julie.
I was mentally ill…
I have suffered from clinical depression since childhood. I grew up in emotional and financial poverty, was the by-product of an unwanted teenage pregnancy, and was raised by a mother and several stepfathers consumed with their own emotional demons and addictions. I entered into adulthood alone, deeply wounded and highly compensated through my choice to be a psychologist, a desperate attempt to rescue myself by becoming a savior to others. As long as others needed me and I was indispensable, I presumed I was safe from the fear of my illegitimacy.
Bottom line, I failed to manage my depression, evolve beyond my psychological wounds, and attend to my own mental health. These requirements only I can do. It is my responsibility, not the responsibility of Julie or my marriage. However, even if I attended to this essential responsibility, I was, at best, only half there and not present, available or equipped for loving another human being.
I failed to be responsible for my feelings, my needs and my life…
Due to my need to compensate for my inadequacies and personal character failures, I became a workaholic intent on achieving at any cost. Since the stakes were so high I could justify any means to accomplish it. I falsely believed my only value and worth to others was based on my ability to provide for them, and my self-esteem could only be enhanced by my professional and material success. And succeed I did. I built a large practice with multiple revenue streams, then expanded to executive and corporate coaching, training and consulting, quickly becoming one of the most successful and financially independent consultants in the country with a large data base of Fortune 500 clients.
The lifestyle we built around the grand illusion of a working marriage required me to work twenty-four/seven. It empowered me to justify anything in the service of the consumption monster Julie and I had created.
Like so many others who commit infidelity, I failed at saying what I needed. I had allowed myself to be alone, under-supported, and I neglected many of my personal wants and needs for a lifestyle that maintained an image of normalcy. I did not effectively communicate the anger, resentment or frustration I felt around the lifestyle we constructed. Instead, I allowed myself to feel victimized by my invention, ultimately blaming Julie for being the source.