A woman or a man who has a fling is possibly doing their best to manage their feelings in the only way they know by acting out and having an affair. It can be hard to start a conversation with a partner about how dissatisfied you are with the lack of meaning in your life, about your envy, or your boredom. You don’t want to appear ungrateful. You don’t want to rock the boat. But still.
When unpicking the fallout of affairs in couples counselling, quite often the person who has had the affair says things like, “it just happened”, “it didn’t mean anything”, “it wasn’t anything to do with you”, “I was drunk”, or “it was just a one-night stand”.
But even if you do try to process how they are feeling with their partner, that partner might find it understandably hard to listen to and easy to dismiss. Feelings don’t go away just because we want them to, and unconsciously we look for a way to deal with them.
So, when a distraught couple is in the counselling room and the so-called guilty party is saying “it didn’t mean anything”, the counsellor might try to help them find out what it really did mean. It’s probably true that the straying partner does not prefer their one-night stand to their long-term lover, but it might mean that they do have unresolved issues with their partner, that they could not find a way to articulate or have heard. And the so-called innocent party may have even contributed to the event by not being sufficiently open and sympathetic to their partner’s feelings. Too often people in a relationship do not want to listen to their partner’s woes because they feel that means they are to blame, or that they have to fix them, but actually, being heard non-defensively and sympathetically goes a long way to restoring equilibrium.
An affair is often an enactment of some deep, pushed away resentment. The fling can seem to temporarily cure feelings of an imbalance or a lack of meaning. This is but one explanation for something complicated that probably has many determining factors. For example, there are people who seem to always need to have a lover as well as a partner because they dare not rely on just one person in case that person abandons them. This situation may be heightened if they are financially reliant on their partner. Likewise, some people feel they need secrets, otherwise they fear merging with their partner. This feeling may be heightened when their partner seems to have a stronger identity than they do.
There are probably as many reasons for why people act out in the form of an affair as there are people, but inequality between partners can be a problem, and it’s something worth considering in any relationship.