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What Feeds Extramarital Infatuations?

Yet another person sitting in my office, trying to explain why his marriage was doomed for failure, and his "new love" was right! "Greg" is a good guy. He is successful, nice, well spoken. . . by all...

Yet another person sitting in my office, trying to explain why his
marriage was doomed for failure, and his "new love" was right!

"Greg" is a good guy. He is successful, nice, well spoken. . . by
all external accounts, he's got it all. His wife of 18 years stays
home and raises their two kids. Who would know that Greg is
ready to "chuck it all," as he told me?

You see, part of Greg's job requires him to travel internationally.
He loves the new places he gets to see, and for years, that has
been the extent of his travels. But last year, Greg spent a good
deal of time in Spain.

While there, he met someone. He didn't mean to, but he did.
They were working together and really hit it off. At first, she just
offered to show him the sites of her town. Those afternoon trips
eventually led to evening dinners. Soon, Greg was spending
weekends touring Spain, but with his new "friend." Eventually,
they "crossed the line," to use his euphemism. I would argue
that a line was crossed WAY before then!

Now, Greg has a problem. He is back in the states, but his
"heart is in Spain," to tell it like he does. He finds himself
thinking about this other person constantly. He told me "I hate
to call it love, but that's what it feels like."

I don't call it love. I call it infatuation. And Greg has fallen into a
trap. It is a trap that is insipid and dangerous.

Affairs don't just happen. And contrary to what some claim, it is
not "just about the sex." It is about the emotional and physical
charge that is a part of infatuation.

I honestly don't know if Greg's marriage will survive this, not
because it couldn't but because Greg is lying to himself. . . and
he doesn't even know it!

Our brain plays tricks on us, and Greg's is fooling him. We like to
have everything "make sense," even if from the outside, there is
no sense to it. We like to find evidence that supports what we
are doing. Social psychologists tell us that we, as humans, do
not tolerate "cognitive dissonance" very well.

Cognitive dissonance is when we try to hold two mutually
exclusive ideas in our heads at the same time. For example,
pretty much everyone knows that smoking is bad for you. But
people still smoke. A smoker has to hold two ideas, "smoking is
bad" and "I like to smoke" in their head at the same time. To do
this, smokers have to rationalize, look for "confirmation bias"
(some piece of information that makes it OK, thank you Tobacco
Industry!), or some other way of justification.

Greg is no different. His cognitive dissonance? "I am married,"
and "I like this other person." How will he solve this? Well, like
many others who have been unfaithful, Greg relies on two
justifications at the same time: "idealization" and

First, idealization. Greg is idealizing this other person. Fact is, he
is alone, in a beautiful and romantic location, and has no
emotional baggage with this other person. That is a setup for
problems. If nothing else, reality TV has demonstrated that
strong feelings of attraction can be generated between people,
given the right location and circumstances.

And Greg got sucked right into that one! He has idealized the
other person so much that he has constructed an unrealistic
picture of what life would be like with her. A life of sightseeing,
sex in hotels, and seeing each other only at their best is not
real life. It is not being tired after work, dealing with children,
paying bills, seeing the mess someone leaves in the bathroom,
or any other real encounter.

So, Greg has idealized this other person. He admits that. But it
is harder to see that he as demonized and devalued his wife.
Sure, they have disagreements. Welcome to 100% of married
couples! But Greg has forgotten that. He now sees the
disagreements of proof-positive that they are not meant for
each other. Greg's wife doesn't meet all his needs. Again,
welcome to marriage! But Greg takes the next step and begins
to only see the faults. He fails to see the love his wife does
show. He forgets about all the ways they have woven their lives

Once both sides are activated, idealization and demonization,
recovering a marriage is very difficult. It requires complete and
total cut-off from the other person (infatuation does go away).
It also requires being open to seeing the love and connection
that really are there.

Most of all, it requires commitment to work through the issues.
That is what I am waiting for. Will Greg "step up to the plate"
and honor his commitmentPsychology Articles, or will he continue to fool himself?
Time will tell.

Article Tags: Other Person, Cognitive Dissonance, Same Time

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