Blog 39. Sigmund Freud: Do You Really Know Why Some People Have Affairs?
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In my previous Blog, I introduced Sigmund Freud’s Oedipus Complex and I wrote about its use in understanding how we develop emotionally between the ages of 3-5.
This Blog however, is about how the Oedipus Stage can effect whether we are able to remain faithful to our partners or whether we are inclined to have affairs.
I have split this Blog into 3 parts:
- Freud’s Oral Stage And Its Influence on Affairs.
- Freud’s Oedipus Complex And Its Influence On Affairs.
- Why Do Some Couples Need A Third Party In Their Relationship?
In order to fully address the topic in this Blog, we also have to look at Freud’s first stage, the Oral Stage.
A) Freud’s Oral Stage And Its Influence on Affairs.
Simply put, the Oral Stage addresses how a baby or child bonds with its mother. This is the stage that has crucial implications for any abandonment or trust issues because early abandonment can create deep emotional scars that can be carried right through childhood and into adulthood.
This of course does not suggest that abandonment at any stage of a child’s life won’t have emotional implications. The scars just run deeper if the abandonment occurs very early on.
Being unable to form meaningful long-term relationships usually stems from childhood. Parents and their relationship/s is a child’s blueprint. In other words, we learn about relationships from our parents either consciously or unconsciously. Kids pick up everything.
Furthermore, if a child felt emotionally abandoned by a parent then forming long-term relationships may prove difficult, as they would have trust issues.
The best example of this was from one of my colleagues who had a client with 13 mistresses! The client had been abandoned very early on in childhood. Although he feared intimacy, he also craved it desperately. So he set up tons of mistresses so that if one abandoned him, he had the other 12 to go to.
His internalised fear of abandonment and anger towards his own abandoning parent meant that he acted this out with his mistresses who he never really fully trusted.
His need for love and attention was huge yet he couldn’t commit to a full-time relationship or to any of the 13 mistresses.
Most of his actions were done unconsciously. He had become the abandoning parent that he so hated. And for years he had felt that there must be something wrong with him, for his mother to abandon him. Surely he must’ve done something wrong. So he never felt worthy of ever having a ‘proper’ relationship.
What the mistresses all got was an emotionally unavailable man. This angered them and reminded them of their own abandonment and trust issues. Remember birds of a feather flock together. As I keep saying, ‘We attract what is safe and what we know’.
Yet the client somehow got off on this. Being unavailable was a great way of acting out his anger and getting unconscious revenge. Yet scratch the surface and he wasn’t very happy either.
This example can be acted out in various ways: We don’t always behave like mature adults in relationships. Feeling abandoned by a partner, some may choose to punish their partners, by having an affair rather than dealing with the issues at hand.
One could therefore suggest that for some, having an affair is a ‘childish or regressive’ method of getting back at a partner for not giving you what you want or hoped for. It’s the sort of tantrum behaviour one would expect to see in the playground.
But is it a partner we wish to punish – or is it an unconscious method of acting out unresolved childhood issues?
Why are some people attracted to married and unavailable people rather than available single people?
Usually the reasons lie in the fact that we repeat patterns of our childhood and we attract and create what we know. We attract people and situations that underline either what we are used to, or what we feel we are worthy of receiving.
Sometimes this is not always obvious and it can take some time and tons of questions, before we realise why we are attracted to certain people rather than others, and why we behave as we do and so on. You can read more about this in Blogs 1,2,3,4 and 13.
There is also another angle to this and this takes me to the Sigmund Freud’s Oedipus Complex:
B) Freud’s Oedipus Complex And How It Can Effect Relationships.
If a child hasn’t sufficiently understood or emotionally worked through the Oedipus Stage (as well as their own power and control, flirting, rejection, boundary issues and so on) then as an adult, they may easily overstep relationship boundaries and consequently, they may find having an affair appealing.
This can occur because unresolved childhood issues often rear their ugly heads later on in life.
During the Oedipus Stage a child often experiences an inner desire to ‘kill off daddy in order to gain mummy’. Usually, this is only a phase that children go through in order to help them develop emotionally.
If however they get stuck or if this phase is arrested, then affairs may seem appealing, as they grow older – because this allows them a further chance to act out any unresolved childhood issues.
But – people forget that having a relationship isn’t a form of therapy.
On the surface, having an affair might seem like harmless ‘fun and games’, yet for many it can turn into a very painful experience.
Often a bit of casual flirting can turn into a serious full-blown affair.
But what has the Oedipus Complex got to do with having affairs?
Usually it’s when for example, a woman (and this can quite easily refer to a man), still trying to learn about her own sexual power, might therefore regress emotionally in adulthood. Still trying to ‘kill off mummy in order to gain daddy’, she might try to prove to other women especially those in relationships that, ‘Hey, I can get your man’.
In other words, what she’s really doing is projecting her unresolved issues onto another couple’s relationship. In so doing, she therefore projects her desire to ‘kill off mummy’ onto the female partner or indeed the wife. It’s like she’s symbolically saying, ‘Hey mummy I can kill you off, and then your husband or ‘daddy’ will be mine!
This may sound like a load of hogwash but believe me – it’s only when you sit in the therapist’s chair that you can truly begin to see how people really do act out Freud’s theories and brilliant insights. Or indeed, if you were to become more observant at parties, you would begin to recognise the predators who are easily found hovering near someone’s husband or wife.
The predator being the one who didn’t quite understand that we never actually ‘kill off daddy’. Because – ‘daddy belongs to mummy’.
If this is not made clear to the child, they may grow up still working though the Oedipus stage. This could mean that instead of flirting healthily, flirting could be used to play emotional power and control games.
By the way, I have also witnessed men doing exactly the same to other men – ‘killing off daddy in order to gain mummy’ or someone’s wife. The term ‘cuckold’ is usually used in this case.
But, what if mummy were to be symbolically killed off? What if the unavailable married man were to leave his wife? Or what would happen when he finally does become emotionally available?
As mentioned in section A of this Blog, often people who have affairs usually have trust and intimacy issues. Mostly these issues are buried deep within their unconscious. And so if, say the husband does become available, one of three things normally happens.
- Either the mistress runs off fearing intimacy because without realising it – having an unavailable man actually suited her.
- Or if she’s lucky enough to marry her suitor, he may repeat the same patterns. He may have more affairs with other woman and so on.
- Thirdly, and what very seldom happens, is that the couple continue to live happily ever after.
Also, I have witnessed so many cases where the mistress confesses that all she was ever trying to do – was to show the wife that she could get her husband and that she didn’t mean any harm.
Except that unresolved childhood fantasies might initially seem like an exciting game, but in reality affairs can damage many lives especially if there are children involved.
C) Why Do Some Couples Need A Third Party In Their Relationship?
As stated already, if two people share abandonment and trust issues of whatever kind, they may find intimacy and sustaining a relationship very difficult. They would fear anyone getting too close – in case they ever got abandoned again.
Some couples manage to find a resolution that best suits keeping their intimacy issues at bay and under control.
In normal circumstances we all keep one another ‘at bay’. For example, we all lead busy lives that can include commitments and activities involving the family, children, careers, work with frequent travel, playing golf regularly and so on.
Some couples however, require more than just a few activities to keep intimacy at bay. The couple may need a mistress.
During couple therapy, the therapist’s role is to play the ‘detective looking for clues’, as to why and what attracted a couple to one another in the first place. I have Blogged about this in Section 2.
If one member or partner of a couple is having an affair (and this is usually never mentioned by relationship therapists), it is then wise to concentrate on both members of the couple, so as to extract
- What they share emotionally, or
- What they hope to heal within the relationship and
- Why the couple requires a mistress.
Usually the passive partner is as much to ‘blame’ as the partner having the affair – albeit unconsciously. The passive partner may initially kick and scream at this idea. But over time, as the reality begins to sink in, and as each partner begins to understand what they bring emotionally to the relationship, so a deeper understanding can be reached.
Usually the understanding is that the both members of the couple share a fear of intimacy. The degrees of this may however differ, but the issues remain the same.
Also, parents and their relationship is a child’s blueprints and if a parent had affairs this would lay the foundation for a child to possibly go on to do the same as an adult.
And if both partners have not sufficiently worked through all their childhood issues, their power and control games, their sexuality or if they still need to ‘kill off mummy or daddy’, then this could add to the reasons for the couple needing to ‘take in’ a mistress.
Sometimes the unconscious fantasy that the couple might also share, is that maybe through the mistress a reparation of the past and a healing might be achieved.
But, and as I wrote earlier, relationships are not a form of therapy and mostly people can get very hurt if they do not fully understand the complexity of what having an affair really means for both parties, either consciously or unconsciously.
The mistress or third party would in turn also share similar issues with the couple. Why? Because as I have stated in many blogs, birds of a feather flock together and we attract people who are similar to us and who share similar emotional issues.
In this case, the mistress would share the trust and intimacy issues with the couple. The reality is if course, that this can be very painful because normally it’s the ‘mistress’ who gets left and abandoned – because usually the couple remain together, especially if there are children involved.
Also, as a result of the unconscious contract or unconscious understanding, that is, that the couple may ‘need’ to have a mistress in order to heal the past. But if one mistress leaves, another can fill the role because actually divorcing and separating – isn’t usually part of the ‘contract’.
So then, learnt childhood patterns of behaviour become habits and patterns often get repeated and acted out in adult relationships, either consciously or unconsciously. This can be prove very painful especially if, we recreate situations that remind us of our past and that we are not worthy.
I urge you therefore to become aware of your own patterns and habits so that you can make better relationships choices to suit your goals.
So what’s stopping you.
© 2016 Information Copyright Deidré Wallace
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Another excellent post Deidre! I see clients every week that are in love triangles. It is amazing how deeply people will try to hold on even though the relationships bring such pain, and invariably if they are ready to see the relationship as it really is, there are many of the points present. As I work in the field of soul development I often see what I call unresolved past life issues charging the feeling as well and often when these issues are understood my client will find the attraction lessens.
Thank you Melody Green.
Indeed, and I am not surprised that you also see these love triangles being acted out, with your clients.
Best still, and with regards what you wrote, ‘once these issues are understood my client will find the attraction lessens’. Exactly – and this occurs with all patterns or habits. Once the behaviour is understood it begins to release.
By the way, I didn’t use the concept of triangles as I don’t want to confuse the readers with Karpman’s Triangle in Blog 9.
Thank you for taking the time to comment. Much appreciated.