Contaminating the Fantasy (Part 2 – The AP)

Posted on April 25, 2015


“You do realize, that if you actually dated her, saw her on a regular basis, lived with her, that she would find some fault with you, right? That she would find some things about you that drove her crazy.  That she’d make demands of you that you wouldn’t like.  That she’d get angry at you?”  Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl)

“But according to him I’m beautiful, incredible, he can’t get me out of his head. According to him I’m funny, irresistible, everything he ever wanted.” Orianthi (According To You)

Not, Associated Press.  AP is therapist shorthand for the affair partner.  Most of the time in therapy, we don’t call the affair partner by name.  It is just too painful for the spouse.  He or she (who must not be named) is “the affair partner.”  This is one of those, “Hello, McFly!” conversations.

When you have a game strategy that consistently works, you stick with it.  One of the enemy’s favorite lies is, “You would be much happier with a better spouse, and you deserve a better spouse.”  This lie works far too often and does tremendous damage to lives.  Affairs rip like a shockwave through families (and even churches).

It is a fairly common and predictable process.  You and your partner have been fighting for years over money or sex or children or housework or extended family or whether the toilet paper should go over the top or down the wall[1].”  Whatever you are doing is never good enough.  Home starts to feel lonely and/or unsafe.

Meanwhile at work there is this attractive coworker who really thinks you are all that and a bag of chips.  For the potentially wandering man, she is impressed with your competence.  She even laughs at your jokes while your wife has not laughed at one since you were dating[2].  For the woman, he actually listens to you.  He validates your point of view.

So you start thinking about this other person, and spending more time together.  The more you are together, the more it seems like you really married the wrong person.  What were you thinking?  Here is this wonderful person who shares all of your same interests, with whom you never fight, who thinks you are great.  You are driving home listening to an easy listening 70’s station and England Dan and John Ford Coley are singing “It’s sad to belong to someone else, when the right one comes along.”  And you think how right that is.

From there boundaries start to slip, and then they go into full collapse.  For now, it is still your secret, but the more you think about it, the more you think if you had to choose, you would choose the affair partner.  Your spouse who doesn’t seem to like you that much anyway would be happier.  Your children would be much better off with divorced parents then parents who fight all of the time, right?

This is a seriously faulty thought process.  Let me tell you why that is not just one man’s opinion, but is factually true.

First, the advantage always goes to the affair partner.  Of course, the AP seems wonderful and you get along great.  You don’t have to argue about how to spend (or save) your limited financial resources.  The AP doesn’t have to deal with your annoying little idiosyncrasies[3] so there is no conflict over them.  You also don’t know about his or hers (The AP really does have them).  When everyone is tired from working all day, the AP does not have to argue with you about who is going to help the kids with their homework.

Second, 69%[4] of the things couples argue about are not solvable problems.  These unsolvable problems come from basic differences in temperament, worldview, values, etc.  One of you is always on time; one of you is always running late.  One of you is a saver; the other a spender.  One of you values time alone at home as a couple or a family, and the other likes to socialize.  On the list goes.  When you marry someone you marry into a set of unsolvable problems.  What separates the masters of relationship from the disasters is the ability to dialogue and compromise around the unsolvable problems.  If you change spouses, you simply trade in one set of unsolvable problems for another.

Third, if it were simply a matter of you would be much happier with the AP, the statistics regarding marriage with the AP would not be so dismal.  Of men who have affairs, only 3% marry the affair partner.  Of those who do, 75% will subsequently get a divorce from the AP.  Basically, less than 1% of affairs are going to lead to a successful second marriage.  That seems like a foolish bet to gamble the well-being of so many lives on that slim a chance of finding a partner with whom you will be happier.  Still buying lottery tickets, are you?[5]

Your new relationship is not going to be conflict free.  If you haven’t learned to stay connected and resolve conflict in your current relationship, you won’t magically develop the skills in the next one.

While we are discussing statistics, how about this one?  On average, there is a six year time lapse between the time one partner says, “we should get some marriage counseling” and the time that the couple comes to therapy.  By the time the six years have passed, the couple is really in crisis with a lot more damage done to their attachment.

Most people don’t go to therapy because it is such a good time.  I suppose you could say that of going to the dentist too.  In the long run, the benefit is there.  As I have also often observed, my services are bunches cheaper than divorce.  Much less painful, too (for you and for your children).

[1] Over the top is, of course, the correct way to place the toilet paper roll.

[2] Of course, you are still using all of the same material.

[3] I know you have them, because everybody does.  I know that your spouse is strange in ways you never could have imagined before you moved in together because everybody is.

[4] I did not make this number up, it comes from the Gottman research.

[5] A friend of mine once observed that the chances of winning the lottery were so low that the odds were about the same whether you bought a ticket or not.

Posted in: Affairs, Marriage