Whilst some may argue that the reason why so many men are unfaithful to their partners is based on a biological impulse to spread DNA, humans are primarily emotional beings. Studies into voting habits testify to this: whilst voters will swear that their choice of candidate is based on logic and reason, it is not so, it is based on emotional response – fear, loyalty, admiration, belonging and a whole lot of other emotional factors governing both hidden and expressed needs. We are driven by our emotional needs.
There is not a single reason why some men are unfaithful, whether that be a single incident or choice, or a habitual response or based on sexual addiction. Within the scope of this article I will not be able to cover them all, lest I write an entire chapter for a book, but within these words I invite you to consider possibilities beyond ‘he’s a scoundrel and a cheat’ or ‘I’m a bad man for doing this’ – perhaps an opportunity for healing can emerge.
There is also an aspect of culture that simply expects it, condones it and allows it. It is very clear that for many it is far easier to forgive a man for infidelity than it is to forgive a woman. In some sense some men are unfaithful to their partners simply ‘because they can’. We live in a culture of double standards in which men and women are viewed, judged and assessed differently for similar or identical behaviours. However, this article seeks to address the underlying and perhaps somewhat hidden issues rather than engage in sexual politics directly.
As you read this article I invite you to read to read it to the end for there is no intention here to make either gender ‘more right’ not ‘more wrong’ but simply to present the many different factors, some of which are known, some of which are hidden and may be something new for you to contemplate.
The Shame of Vulnerability
It is not secret that vulnerability is rejected, looked down upon and even shamed in our culture. We are often admonished to ‘be strong’ and even out of the mouths of friends and family can come the words ‘Please don’t cry’ or even worse ‘If you don’t stop crying I will give you something to cry about’; such is the abhorrence we have for vulnerability.
Vulnerability has been shamed as a great weakness, especially in boys and men. Boys get laughed at and teased or chastised for crying, and not just by their peers, but at times by girls and even their own mothers and fathers. Generations of war have taught men that vulnerability and the expression of deep feelings is not only dangerous, but that it is an abhorrent weakness.
As human beings our heart is found through vulnerability – it is only when we surrender all of the defences that we’ve placed around the heart, can we walk the path that leads us into vulnerability and the deeper levels of intimacy that follow. In order for intimacy to be present, there must be vulnerability, and in order for love to thrive, we must surrender to it. This difficulty is not only the abode of men, if affects as many women too. However, it has become a cultural edict that men especially ‘show no weakness’.
How then are long term relationships maintained when a fear of vulnerability blocks the deeper path to intimacy? The irony is that it is our fear of loss that halts vulnerability in its tracks and some of the behaviours that emerge out of that fear are the very ones that can, and often do, lead to the very loss we fear.
Just as it takes ‘two to tango’, it also takes ‘two’ for one partner to be unfaithful. That is a bold statement but it must be clear that there is no blame here, not for either party, but what my years of Family Constellation work has shown me is that an event of infidelity simply does not have one simple answer and that it is the circumstances of the ‘couple’, not just the one who is unfaithful that has created the incident. Ultimately the one who stays must take responsibility for the choices that have been made, however, there are always contributing factors for both individuals and for the couple as a whole – it is not an incident that sits in isolation.
Vulnerability cannot respond to demand, vulnerability can only respond to gentle invitation and if we are to invite the other into the intimate space of vulnerability, how deeply are we prepared to step into our own naked heart in the process? How willing are we to become intimate with our won fears regarding adequacy and self-worth? What we all long for is a deep merging through the meeting of one other in deep intimacy, however, for many this brings up a form of deep terror.
Within us we have the deep memory of having been rejected, chastised, ignored and even punished for shoring our deeper feelings. As children we live in truth and in a procession of spontaneous moments, each moment filled with awe, exploration, inquisitiveness, simple expression, joy, tears, anger, laughter – authentically living our emotional world and expressing what we see and experience with a level of truth that is often uncomfortable for the adults around us. We have deep memories of these feelings and the clear truths we expressed being betrayed and silenced – this forms the core of our wounds as human beings. Men in particular often have great difficulty in expressing their deeper feelings as they have been frequently shamed into hiding and the response is either fight or flight, which often appears as anger or silence.
See also: Why Men Don’t Feel
The masculine and the feminine tend to mourn in different ways. Men often keep themselves busy, throwing themselves into projects and work as a way to either avoid deeper feelings or as a way to work through them, and yes, men can work through their feelings in this way, even if the feminine has difficulty in recognising that.
When a heterosexual couple come together part of the spoken or unspoken dream is to create the paradise triangle of love between father, mother and child. However, what happens when the first child is miscarried? What happens to paradise? It is perhaps easier to recognise that paradise has indeed been lost if the coming child is stillborn or dies at a very young age, but can it still be true for miscarriages? Yes, it can, and it is often also true.
Men and women mourn in different ways a whilst a woman may mourn the loss of her first pregnancy, and perhaps in silence, she may withdraw from her partner feeling that he does not see her loss or give it the same importance. In working with hundreds of couples I have found this often unspoken loss to have been the catalyst for many a man to wander from the nest in which he had found refuge. When this is brought into focus and the loss of paradise can be mourned, very often the rift between the partners can be healed.
Often very deeply hidden is the fear held by men that there may be something wrong with them, that they may in some way be responsible for a miscarriage, especially if there are multiple miscarriages, or blaming their sexual drive for the suffering of their partner. ‘Had I not impregnated her, she would not suffer’.
As men in general have great difficulties in surrendering to their often deeply suppressed vulnerabilities, the response is generally to withdraw emotionally from a miscarriage as if it has no meaning – leaving women feeling abandoned and it turn, withdrawing further.
If this loss is great and simply not acknowledged by either or one partner, then infidelity can be the ‘created’ reason for a break-up instead of facing the loss.
Sex with my Mother
As the children come into the world, very often a man’s perception of his partner changes as she transforms from being his lover into being the mother of one or many. As the children arrive he witnesses how her affections, attention and focus shifts away from him towards the child, this can sometimes lead to jealousy, resentment, anger, feelings of rejection and simply feeling as if his only function is to bring home a salary. For the mother on the other hand she may witness her partner leave the house in the morning and returning in the evening and display little to interest in her day or have little to no awareness of her stress, her constant tiredness and the feelings she may have about the changing shape of her body. Put all this together in one pot, it is not hard to see how a couple can go their separate ways.
Within this entire process men’s perception of their partners often shift. They can have great difficulties in seeing her as anything else but a mother – and as his main experience of motherhood has been with his own mother then his partner at times can simply begin to resemble her and all of her attributes – none of which are sexual.
From an energy anatomy perspective the situation of a couple in transition from lovers to parents, this can exacerbate a problem that already exists – a split between the first two chakras and the heart. The First Chakra expresses our physical needs, our need to procreate, our sexual drive and the Second Chakra expresses our basic human needs for affection and communion and creative expression. Very often a split is present between the Heart, the centre of our love, and our lower two chakras.
In its extreme it can lead to not loving those with whom we have sex with and to being deeply in love with someone with whom we are not sexual.
Given that this split exists, it is observable that some men are able to say ‘I love my wife’ and mean it, and yet still be having sex with someone else. What has happened is that he has shifted his relationship with his partner from his lower chakras into his heart. Somewhere along the line he learnt that sexuality and deep love cannot go together, that somehow the two together are forbidden. If he loves his mother, it will be through his heart, and therefore as his partner becomes a mother, he may make the same shift, love her completely, but no longer see her as a sexual being.
Part of the deeper problem here is how the transgenerational influence of religion has taught us that somehow love is sullied or made impure by sexuality. In very distorted ways, some men are ‘preserving’ the dignity of the women they love through not sullying them with ‘lust’ – that is reserved for someone who does not have such a treasured ‘maternal’ place in his heart.
The healing for this is surrendering to vulnerability and it is for all of society to look; not only at our relationship to vulnerability but to look at the expectations that are placed upon boys and young men.
For some men being unfaithful is simply a matter of attempting to conceal feelings of lack with behaviours that are designed to shore up and strengthen a mirage of self-esteem. Very often habitual infidelity seeks to give the man a feeling of ‘I’ve still got it’ and simple rush of the chase and the eventual catch can be a drug that serves to suppress, hide and conceal much deeper feelings that are intolerable – feelings of inadequacy, fear of intimacy, need for affirmation, feelings of guilt associated with having sex with someone they love, fear of commitment, fear of not being enough, loneliness and separation.
Habitual infidelity gives a certain certainty – it assuages feelings of lack, gives a certain charge and ‘feel good factor’, unlike a long term committed relationship which often has no certainty as it requires ever deepening exploration into the self and other.
At the root of all acts of infidelity lies fear. It can be a fear of vulnerability, a fear of visibility, commitment, fear of lack, inadequacy, abandonment and of surrender. Narcissism and outdated images of how men are supposed to act can play their part too – however, fear is at the root of these images too. It begs the question, if I am not ‘this’ or ‘that’ then who am I?
You may be able to come up with many reasons why you’ve been unfaithful to your partner or a myriad of reasons why your partner has been unfaithful to you. At the heart of it all is the lack of truth. This can only happen when one or both partners (usually both) are not being true to their needs, their feelings and their fears. It means that one or both are withholding a deeper truth of the relationship in an attempt to control one another in some way. If we are not living truth we are either controlling or being controlled by others. As we start to live authentically then intimacy can be achieved, as we start to live authentically then vulnerability has a chance to breathe and when vulnerability breathes, the heart is free to love.
It is very difficult to live in open authenticity when we fill our lives to the brim with distractions. This is often the very reason why we do it, fill our lives with being ‘busy’, giving the appearance of leading a ‘full and active life’ whilst the same time using all of our ‘busyness’ to either numb ourselves or to avoid the truth of our relationships. We attempt to control relationships through withholding the truth or part of the truth. It is this very withholding that deepens the rift and leads to alienation. Whilst everyone is responsible for their own actions, it is never that simply one person is to blame.
It is important to ask: What have I ignored? What truth have I withheld? What fear am I attempting to escape? What happened that I ignored? Is there a hidden loss I’ve not been willing to face?
Whether you are being unfaithful or your partner is being unfaithful to you, the honest answer to these questions will go a long way to seeing the truth.
Are you looking for deeper connections?
Do you long to experience deeper connection to your very own heart? Are you hungry for a deeper connection to friends, partners, your children and family?
As we connect to ourselves and to others we begin to experience that our lives matter and really do make a difference. We see the difference we make in the lives of others as we begin to experience the truth of who we are, and therefore the truth of the world. We begin to realise that we matter and what matters the most is connection and the contribution we are making to life through our ability to connect.
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For further insights, please refer to these articles:
When you are your Mother’s Best Friend