ROWAN PELLING: Once a cheat, always a cheat?

Once a cheat, always a cheat

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UPDATED:

15:12 GMT, 30 July 2012

I had a love affair three years ago, but ended it before my husband found out. However, I can’t forget the passionate sex and how alive I felt; I am almost more obsessed with the affair now than when I was having it. One female friend says it’s impossible to have just one love affair, and I know I look at men half-wondering if they will be my next lover. But I hate the thought I might betray my lovely husband again. Am I doomed to repeat my mistake

It is true that many people who have one affair go on to become repeat offenders. One survey found that 70 per cent of men who cheat will do so again.

Many people who have one affair go on to become repeat offenders

Many people who have one affair go on to become repeat offenders

Some strayers feel they ‘might as well be hung for a sheep, as a lamb’; that now their wedding vows are smashed there’s little point in being faithful. Others relish the complication and deceit of leading double lives.

But a large number, like you, find their first affair so exhilarating that they crave repeat thrills. In this way, illicit passion can prove just as addictive as any narcotic and equally destabilising, because of the vice-like grip sexual obsession takes on the mind.

You need to recognise that you are mythologising the love affair you had. The sex you had was electrifying, because it was verboten and you never had a chance to settle into the routine of a long-lived relationship.

Marital life with all its domestic cares can easily seem a little beige, so you fetishise this vibrant green oasis in your memory — and return to it, time and again.

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It seems you no longer believe you can
find sexual excitement within your marriage. The danger, of course, is
that the more you believe that passion lies elsewhere, the truer this
will become — until you really do appear ‘doomed’ to repeat your error.

I use the word ‘error’ advisedly. Some
people’s unions do run their course: this is a sad fact. But nothing
about your letter suggests you don’t love your husband, nor he you. You
ended your affair swiftly, as you knew the damage it was causing.

Your current restlessness is curbed by your horror of betraying your husband again.

The truth is only you can rein in
your desires. A little support, such as professional counselling, could
help; because you really can demystify an obsession by talking about it
to a sage professional.

However, I would also advise you to speak with your husband and tell him your relationship has lost some voltage. There’s no need to confess you have had an affair — unless he poses a direct question — since this will only cause unnecessary grief.

I suspect the main reason you cherished your affair is because your lover was completely focussed on you.

Presumably your husband once validated you in this way, too, but has become less attentive in recent years. The same is probably true of you; your spouse may well have unmet needs.

You’ll only learn the truth if you both allocate proper time and space to focus on one another and listen. This is the first step back to treasuring what you have — rather than chasing phantoms of an ecstasy you never truly owned.