Affairs of the heart

When individuals partner through marriage or in other ways they usually make a deep personal commitment to the relationship. However, as time passes and the pressures of life, work and children – or the lack of them – emerge, priorities and energies may shift. Millions of people who had previously felt fully committed to a relationship find themselves drawn out of it, many of those feel inextricably pulled by powerful but inexplicit dynamics.

If the searching leads to physical intimacy and even when it doesn’t, it can cause waves of confusing emotions and challenging relationship dynamics. Questions and guilt arise about morality and values which, when coupled with religious, cultural or personal judgments, can lead to more confusion and sadness.

This article explores just some of the many systemic dynamics behind affairs and offers fresh paths to insight, understanding and resolution.

The force is strong

Sexual energy is the most powerful force in the human experience. Despite poetic ideas to the contrary, the energy source of all human life is a stronger force than love. Dynamics that lead to affairs are fuelled by this force but very often also have their roots in the patterns of the family systems involved. The forces that drive and arise can be very strong as people get caught up in the systems’ search for balance.

Affairs are often the product of romantic idealisation and can be expressions of a kind of  ‘blind love’. Felt as a deep desire, a fascination or quest it often is just that, but the current object of desire may represent someone or something else completely. Connection through an affair may happen through mutual or generational wounds that can create a blind spot, where all that seems important is the physical connection and that can quickly turn to a sense of having found the ‘ideal lover’ or ‘the one’.

The search for romantic attachment or sexual gratification that leads to physical intimacy with someone outside of a couple relationship can often be a reflection of an unconscious search for completion, acknowledgement, belonging and healing. Judging affairs as ‘morally wrong’ offers a very limited view on what may be going on underneath, what is asking to be seen and resolved. Morals, values and judgments will usually simply hide the view of wider system patterns which can often be the source of rich insight. Insight into the underlying systemic dynamics can lead to deep personal growth and the pattern can finally dissolve and resolve.

“It is possible in a couple relationship for there to be meaningful relationships with other people – also sexual relationships. Human life is much too complex to simply judge that out of hand. If the basic loyalty and dependability for the partner remain, and if the personal growth from the additional experiences is brought back into the partner relationship, then it could have a positive effect.
On the other hand loyalty is hampered by an unresolved tie to the family-of-origin. For example if a woman is still tied to her father, she will seek out a father in addition to her husband – usually a lover.
You can’t make simple judgments about it. The question is: how can it be brought into order?
By releasing the tie to her father and standing next to her mother, perhaps she won’t need a lover and will be able to relate to her husband completely as a wife.
The same is naturally true for a man who is tied to his mother. If he can stand by his father, he perhaps won’t need another woman in addition to his wife. When it’s the other way round, when a woman behaves in her marriage as if she were her husband’s mother, and tries to re-educate him, then he may look for another woman in addition to this wife-mother. The lover becomes the wife and the wife becomes a mother.
The same thing happens if a woman has a husband who acts as her father. She may look for another man in addition to this husband-father. The lover becomes the husband and the husband a father.
There are many possible entanglements and it doesn’t do justice to the fullness and complexity of life simply to label these things as faithful or unfaithful, loyal or disloyal.”

Extract from ‘Acknowledging What Is’
By Bert Hellinger

“When affairs are not illuminated in the context of the wider system, morals and ideas of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ often keep everyone blind, judgmental and entangled.”

John Whittington

“When a woman feels drawn to a romantic attachment or affair but finds it inexplicable or feels as though there’s something wrong with her she may be trying to complete a missing connection with her father, to receive the nurturing and love due to her as a child. If she can see him in his proper place and take her own, the desire for a lover – often older, to represent father – dissipates.”

Judy Wilkins-Smith

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