Surprising new research shows why some husbands have affairs and why wives are more prone to anxiety and insomnia. Plus, here are three tips for recovering from an affair, from family therapist Vikki Stark’s book Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife’s Gide to Recovery and Renewal.
Before the therapist’s tips for healing, I share new research about why some men cheat on their wives. I didn’t know about this research when I originally wrote How to Heal After an Affair several years ago. Back then I was more focused on leaving a husband who is having an affair. I hadn’t given the idea of saving a marriage much thought because I thought that cheating meant the immediate end of a relationship. Now, however, I believe that marriages can be rebuilt and renewed — even after the painful discovery that a spouse is having an affair. Especially in light of this new research on why men have affairs.
Every relationship is different. Every woman has a different idea about whether or not it’s possible to heal after finding out her husband is having an affair. If you’ve never experienced the pain and shock of infidelity in marriage, you don’t really know for sure how you’d react if we found out your husband is having an affair. If you find out your spouse is cheating, you may surprise yourself by staying in the marriage and praying for a miracle. Alas, I have no miracles up my sleeve…but I do have three tips from a family therapist for recovering after having an affair. I also have a few thoughts on Blossoming after your life has been shattered…
Before I share the three tips for affair recovery from family therapist Vikki Stark, I want to tell you about the new research I found about having affairs.
Why is your husband having an affair?
Christin Munsch is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut. She found that husbands are more likely to cheat when their wives earn more money than they do.
Further, women who earn more money than their husbands are more likely to feel anxious and suffer from sleepless nights. They also do more housework and are more likely to downplay their achievements, to protect their husbands’ masculinity.
Husbands are more prone to cheating when their wives earn more money
Munsch’s research study found that both husbands and wives are more likely to cheat on their spouses if they’re economically dependent on them.
“You would think that people would not want to ‘bite the hand that feeds them’ so to speak, but that is not what my research shows,” said Munsch. “Instead, the findings indicate people like feeling relatively equal in their relationships. People don’t like to feel dependent on another person.”
Economic dependence isn’t one of the usual reasons men cheat on their wives – this is a new finding. The conclusion is that economic dependency increases the likelihood of engaging in infidelity for both men and women. Men in particular are more prone to having an affair if they aren’t the primary breadwinner in the family. If women are the primary breadwinners, they aren’t as likely as men to cheat.
Having an affair might protect his ego
“Extramarital sex allows men undergoing a masculinity threat – such as not being the primary breadwinner, as is culturally expected – to engage in behavior culturally associated with masculinity,” said study author Munsch in Her Support, His Support: Money, Masculinity, and Marital Infidelity. “For men, especially young men, the dominant definition of masculinity is scripted in terms of sexual virility and conquest, particularly with respect to multiple sex partners. Thus, engaging in infidelity may be a way of reestablishing threatened masculinity. Simultaneously, infidelity allows threatened men to distance themselves from, and perhaps punish, their higher earning spouses.”
In other words, young men in particular are more susceptible to having an affair if their wives earn more money, because they feel embarrassed and perhaps even ashamed. Our culture states that husbands “should” earn more money than women, and that men “should” be bringing home the bacon. If wives are making more money, husbands feel emasculated.
Having an affair makes them feel more powerful. Having multiple affairs means they are strong, attractive, and virile. Not only does having affairs makes these husbands feel more macho, it may also punish their wives for earning more money.
Wives who earn more money tend to be anxious and insecure
“Women who out earn their husbands challenge the status quo,” said Munsch. Further, wives who earn more money than their husbands suffer in various ways. They are more anxious, they don’t sleep well, and they minimize their achievements to protect their husband’s ego.
According to this sociologist, previous research finds that women who are primary breadwinners are acutely aware of the ways in which they deviate from cultural expectations. Research shows that these women suffer from increased anxiety and insomnia. They often minimize their achievements, defer to their husbands, and increase their housework. “This emotional and physical work is designed to decrease interpersonal conflict and shore up their husbands’ masculinity,” she said. “It is also aimed at keeping potentially strained relationships intact.”
What a pickle high-earning women are in! Not only are they more likely to be anxious, suffer from insomnia, downplay their successes, and be subservient to their husbands….they also do more housework and are more likely to deal with the heartache that their husbands’ having an affair brings.
What does this have to do with recovering from an affair and getting help from a family therapist? Lots. If your husband is having an affair because his masculinity is threatened — and if he’s genuinely sorry and sincerely wants to save your marriage — then maybe you want to learn how to save your marriage.
A Family Therapist’s Husband Having an Affair
When you discover your husband is having an affair, you’re shocked and heartbroken – even if you saw the signs your husband is cheating on you.
But, not every wife suspects that her husband is having an affair. Sometimes even family therapists, who are versed in human behaviour and reading nonverbal communication, have no idea that their husbands are cheating.
“My husband had never mentioned that he was unhappy or thinking of leaving me,” writes Vikki Stark in Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife’s Guide to Recovery and Renewal. “Until the moment of his revelation [that he was having an affair and planning to leave Vikki], I was deeply in love and believed him to be, too….I had no idea.”
Stark’s husband lied to her for years. He took trips with his girlfriend, and lied about how he spent his time. She was shocked that he was cheating – but she found a way to heal and rebuild her life. She and her husband didn’t save their marriage; she started a website called RunawayHusbands.com.
3 Tips for Recovering After an Affair
In her book Runaway Husbands, Stark doesn’t just describe why her husband was having an affair. She helps “abandoned wives” cope with the stress and shock of not knowing their husbands were cheating. This book is a solid, helpful resource for women who had no idea their marriages were in trouble.
Here are three tips for leaving your husband when he’s having an affair, from her book Runaway Husbands. They barely skim the surface of all Stark offers, but they’re a good place to start…
1. Give yourself time to deal with the shock and trauma
It’s not “just” a shock to find out that your husband is having an affair — it’s a serious trauma that affects your mind, body, and soul. You may struggle with anxiety, stress, depression, despair, and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
“In trauma, the mind’s normal thinking process is flooded and temporarily damaged,” writes Stark. “To insure our survival, humans have a primitive need for our lives to have a reliable form and consistent meanings. Without it, we cannot adequately prepare for the future.”
Trauma takes time to recover from. You have suffered a huge blow, and your life will never be the same. Take time to process your grief. Maybe you want to start learning how to forgive your husband for having an affair — or maybe you just need to withdraw and take time to heal.
2. Create a positive mantra
This is a positive, healthy way to recover after finding out your husband is having an affair: choose three words that describe the state of mind you WANT to be in. Repeat them to yourself when you feel sad, stressed, confused, or depressed.
“Your mantra will act as shorthand to remind you of how you should be thinking and will replace other, more destructive thoughts,” writes Stark in Runaway Husbands.
This family therapist shared a story about a woman who didn’t know her husband was cheating after 27 years of marriage says. The wife said, “I wrote LET IT GO” on index cards and placed them everywhere I was likely to look…That constant re-affirmation of doing the only thing I really could do was a great help to me.”
In though you feel like your marriage (and perhaps even your life) is over, you need to remind yourself that you have a choice. Your positive mantra can remind you of the choices and power you still have in your life.
3. Accept the reality that your marriage is over – if that’s your reality
Just because your husband is having an affair doesn’t necessarily mean your marriage is over. This is a decision you and he need to make together. But it’s crucial for you to accept whatever your reality is, whether it’s working towards saving your marriage or rebuilding your life alone.
“The wife often gets stuck in the rut of struggling to understand how things could have changed so radically and assessing if there is anything she can do to influence the turn of events,” writes Stark. “That requires deep thinking about what compelled her husband to leave and whether there is any possibility of repair. She may grasp at straws, trying to come up with a desperate deal to delay the inevitable.”
Is divorce inevitable? Accept it. Start taking action to rebuild your life and learn what letting go of someone you love means.
If you didn’t know he was was having an affair, you may need time to deal with the shock. Recovering when you discover your husband is cheating takes time…but if you WILL survive. You will get stronger and healthier, and you will rebuild your life in ways you never dreamed possible!
Question for you
How will you recover from the pain of discovering your husband is having an affair? What can you do to start healing and rebuilding?
I welcome your thoughts below. Tell me how you’re recovering from the affair, and how you plan to rebuild your future. I can’t offer advice, but I can almost guarantee that writing about your experience will help you heal.
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus.