The Secret to Surviving Infidelity

There are different kinds of 'affairs,' so you need to understand what causes someone to cheat in the first place

by Scott Haltzman, M.D. • Next Avenue
happy older couple image

Mark and Barbara Peterson (names have been changed) met during freshman year of college. Her blend of warmth and spontaneity was a perfect match for his nerdy, self-deprecating personality.

It was the first serious relationship for both of them, and they fell quickly in love. Exactly two years after they met, Mark proposed, and they were married six months before graduation.
Barbara worked as a secretary in Boston to support the couple while Mark was in law school. His career as a tax lawyer took off, and they had two daughters. Theirs was a storybook marriage — or at least it started out that way.
(MORE: 5 Reasons Not to Find a Husband in College)

Trouble in Paradise
Thirty-five years after their initial kiss, Mark and Barbara, now in their mid-50s, were in my office to talk about a major marital crisis. Barbara spoke first. She wasn’t angry, she wasn’t sad. She was committed to Mark, but had always worried that his lack of self confidence would make him vulnerable to other women’s advances. She held her head high and calmly announced, "Mark is having an affair, and we need to fix this."
Four years earlier, he had developed an infatuation with one of his paralegals, Lydia. Mark, who grew up in a Jewish community on Long Island, found this Colombian beauty exotic and tantalizing. He went to great efforts to befriend her and spend as much time as possible with her at work, plus he bought her gifts behind his wife’s back. While he felt a sexual attraction to her, to his way of thinking, he wasn't doing anything "wrong." They were just enjoying a "close friendship."

But when Barbara witnessed their interactions at a staff holiday party, she was alarmed at their familiarity. She confronted Mark, who acknowledged this secret friendship and assured his wife he would put an end to it then and there. 
For a while things returned to a normal working relationship, but passions are hard to quell, and Mark began to seek Lydia's company again. It wasn’t long before he was head-over-heels obsessed and having a hard time suppressing his sexual desire.
When Mark first met Lydia, a single mom, his feelings set a chain of events into motion, but neither he nor his wife knew what to do about it. If at that moment they had understood why infidelity happens and what to do about it, they probably wouldn’t have landed in the crisis situation they found themselves in.

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Next: No-Sex Infidelity

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