Monday, November 2, 2009

A Question Of Infidelity

Question: Okay, you self proclaimed guru, might be more than you wanna know, but my husband of almost 10 years recently ended an affair with a coworker. We're working through that, but- I was truly blown away by something he said to me a couple of days ago and you just might be the right guy to ask about it. One of the main reasons he was attracted to her, he says, is that she was positive and confident while I didn't seem to "care about" myself. This being evidenced, in his opinion, by the fact that I didn't care if I "fixed up" when I went somewhere.... Hmmm, and I thought that meant I was OK with me, but I guess not. So it's been about 5 months since we've started this 'work on our marriage' bit. I start nursing school in August and he made the statement that I'm prolly gonna run off with a rich Dr. (insert dumbfounded expression here-I'm not running off with a POOR one!) Anyway, I am trying to give the appearance of being confident and feeling good about myself when I tell him that "I'm gonna be so cute in my scrubs, they're ALL gonna want me!" To which he replies,"Don't think that highly of yourself Dana." Please understand, I'm not vain. I was joking. JOKING! And the truth of the matter is, he said he WANTED me to be more confident, even as he was pulling the rug out from under me with the epitome of "You're not good enoughs" by having an affair.
So my question is this:Why is it great for your girlfriend to be confident and present herself as thinking she's wonderful, but not your wife? Especially when you say that what you wanted? Hope you can help me grasp the concept. Thanks SO much!

First, you should know, Dana, that I while I don't condone your husband's infidelity, since you have agreed to move past it, I will not dwell on it. However, you should be aware that, different from women, men don't primarily have affairs because they are unhappy in their relationship with their significant others...they have them because the opportunity presents itself. While a man may be perfectly content in his relationship with his wife, the appeal of being physical with another woman is incredibly enticing. Why? Because men inherently crave variety in their sexual partners. The only thing they like better than sex with someone new. And no matter how wonderful you are in and out of bed, the one thing you cannot be is...someone new.

I mention all of this because it is likely that your husband straying has absolutely nothing to do with how he feels about you. It is far more a reflection on him, his desires and character. But what about his recent comments about you? How do those "fit in?" Very simply: It is those characteristics that she (the other woman) has that you don't that make her particularly attractive to him. Not that those traits are, by themselves appealing, but because they offer contrast to those he perceives you possess. In other words, it is this dissimilarity to you that make those differences especially appealing. So changing who you are (even if you wanted to), wouldn’t really accomplish anything.

But what about the fact that he said that you don't "fix up" when you go out? That actually may be related to another issue. And what is that issue? Quite often, as we get more and more comfortable in our relationships, we take less and less care with how we present ourselves to our spouse. It seems to be a natural progression and is equally common among men and women, with one significant difference. Men are primarily visually oriented. How you look is paramount to how much we are attracted to you. We're hard-wired to be stimulated by what we see. So if your "fixing up" makes you look more attractive to him, it is naturally something he desires you do as often as possible. And while this may not apply to you at all, if he perceives that in your 10 year together you have gradually "let yourself go," he may be harboring resentment that you no longer care enough about him to take care of yourself and make yourself desirable to him. And it doesn't matter if in that same decade he's gone from being a dreamboat to a gross, tub o' lard, he still associates your caring for your appearance as an indication of your love for him. Convoluted? Perhaps. But it's the way a man's mind often works.

Now, to a different, but related topic. Your husband's comments and actions indicate that he may, in fact, be feeling a little insecure about himself and his situation. Your entering nursing school may fuel within him some inner feelings of inadequacy. He may be feeling that rather than being a boon to your joint financial success, your newfound career will make you need him less. And it will put you into contact with upwardly-mobile, intelligent, attractive men who share a common interest with you. Your innocent joke may have inadvertently tossed gasoline on that fire, and his comment was his attempt to salve his singed ego by deflating yours. Also, nursing school is a big-time commitment. On some level he knows that for an extended period of time in the near future, you are going to be spending less time with him, making him less of a priority. It's only natural that would be the case, and intellectually he knows that. But emotionally, this may further add to his feelings of insecurity and abandonment. To offset this, I suggest that you reassure your husband that you're not interested in "talking shop" after a hard day's work in the medical trenches, so socializing with doctors is the last thing you'll be interested in doing. And while it's true that nursing school is going to require a time commitment on your part, your husband and your marriage are your priorities.

© 2008 David M. Matthews. All Rights Reserved.

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