The Love Coach: Sex therapist and expat relationship expert for nearly 10 years, Nathalie Giraud answers readers’ questions
Why are married men unfaithful and what are they looking for in an extra-marital affair? It seems worse on the Riviera. I’ve been married twice, cheated on twice and divorced twice. I’m a middle-aged woman who no longer believes in love.
There are many ways to answer your question DG since it’s such a vast and sensitive subject. However, the issue of a third party in a couple cannot be restricted to men alone; there are as many Western women nowadays that have the time, means, inclination, and freedom to engage into a one-night stand or an ongoing additional relationship whilst married.
Could it be that the sea, the sun, the wealth and power and the enterprising women present on the Riviera have an added attraction for the married men? Well, the choice and opportunities are greater like what you would find in major international cities.
Whether here or there, whichever way you describe it – unfaithfulness, cheating, an affair, a fling – the impact, once discovered, is not only shattering to the ego but is a source of immense pain and anger. You feel betrayed which leads to endless questioning, self-doubt and lack of trust in your partner’s words and behaviour. Indeed, vows and promises you once took for sexual exclusivity when you got married are broken. This time of crisis during a marriage is said to lead to divorce in half of the cases. As for the other half, it has … a positive effect, as the couple not only overcomes marital infidelity, but sometimes finds it even strengthens the relationship.
Once discovered, the first issue to consider is whether it was a very short (one-night stand), short or long-term external relationship. For me, these carry different weights and meanings and can be approached differently.
Then the couple needs to consider IF they BOTH want to work at repairing the relationship and build back the trust, as there is some serious talking to be done. At the risk of shocking a few readers, it takes two to make it, and in all fairness it also takes two to break it for whatever (un)conscious reasons there might be.
I would say it’s a myth to believe that extra-marital sex is more male oriented because of their genes (“spreading his seeds”), hormones, predatory instincts or inability to conjugate love and sex. Of course you do have a few sex addicts, made famous with the likes of Michael Douglas or more recently with DSK, but they aren’t representative of the male population. Very often long term extra-marital sex is the sign of an underlying problem in the marriage, showing that there is something wrong with the relationship and lack of sex isn’t the driving force, so to speak. Here’s the truth: the major pitfall in today’s marriages is communication breakdown. In my practice, it’s the number one complaint time and time again. Each partner has forgotten to share and communicate about what matters to them –goals, desires, money, education, interests, social life – which builds an ever-growing sense of frustration, fuels quarrelling and in turn leads to dissatisfied sex.
Then there are others who engage in affairs (small, big or supersized) because they need to reassure themselves of their power of seduction, to spice up a dull (love) life, to check everything is working properly, to be heard/understood/valued/recognized, to feel alive and vibrant again, to just hope again …
Of course, it could just be that you’ve married the wrong person for the wrong reason, trusting him rather than trusting you and your inner feelings of what feels right and good for you. You wrote in your letter DG that your father cheated on your mother many times before he left the family to remarry and then divorce again. It would be interesting to find out, with the help of a therapist, how much of that past history is intertwined with your two divorces, repeating a scenario that is not totally yours.
“Should I stay or should I go now?” as the Clash would sing. There is no right or wrong, no specific guideline to follow but certainly there are decisions to be carefully thought out, choices to be made, voices to be heard, and actions to be taken to give the relationship a “new go” or a “no go”.
Whichever path you take, try not to build walls around your heart or the possibility to love again. There are good people out there (even on the Côte d”Azur!) you just have to believe that you are worthy. (Riviera Reporter 153)