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On the last track, we discussed the psychological impact of an affair on the hurt partner. We specifically discussed the five emotional losses experienced by the hurt partner following the affair. These five emotional losses are, the loss of the sense of specialness, the loss of self-respect, the loss of the feeling of control, the loss of a sense of order, and the loss of a sense of purpose.
On this track, we will discuss 4 differences between how male and female hurt partners respond to an affair. These four gender differences involve, the desire to preserve the relationship, depression versus anger, feelings of inadequacy, and obsession versus distraction.
As you have observed, men and women tend to assign different meanings to a partner’s affair, which in turn color their emotional responses to it. I have found that most clients react at least partially in gender typical ways.
Gender Difference # 1 - Women Preserve, Men Run
Women, on the other hand, are more likely to hide their feelings and try to make the relationship work no-matter-what. I find that there are two cultural reasons for this tendency. The first is that, as you know, divorced women tend to suffer more economically than divorced men. This is due in part to the fact that divorced women tend to assume more responsibility for daily childcare. It is also due to the fact that women tend to hold lower-paying job than their male peers.
The second cultural reason, as you are aware, women tend to try to make a marriage work after an affair since American society delivers the message to women that it is the measure of their self worth to maintain ties to others. One study illustrated this by interviewing girls on how they felt about being mistreated by boys. Girls under eight freely expressed their anger. Girls over the age of twelve asked the same question generally responded “I don’t know”.
Clearly, this study revealed that as women get older, they stop trusting their intuitions when they have been wronged. Would the preceding information benefit a female client of yours? Perhaps you might consider playing this track in a session.
Gender Difference # 2 - Women get Depressed, Men get Angry
Barry, who had been married to his wife Rhonda for three years, became angry when Rhonda left him for her lover. Barry stated, “I know Rhonda’s not completely at fault here. It’s that bastard she’s with! He coerced her into moving out on me!! I’m a real laid back guy, but every time I see his face I just want to punch his teeth down his throat! I have fantasies where I go over to his place and run him over with my car!!”
Barry directed his criticism outward. By blaming Rhonda’s lover, rather than Rhonda herself, Barry avoided confronting the possibility that Rhonda was dissatisfied with him. I feel that Barry’s anger allowed him to feel powerful and in control. In my practice, I have observed that for many men, anger wards off unsettling feelings of shame and self-doubt.
Gender Difference # 3 - Women Inadequate as Companion, Men as Lover
Researcher Richard Buss points out that in general, women are more disturbed by their husband’s emotional involvement with another woman, while men are more disturbed by their wives’ sexual involvement. Buss attached electrodes to the heads of men and women. Men tended to sweat and have an accelerated heart rate when they imagined their wives having sex with another man, but were less affected by imagining their wife platonically attached to another man.
Women exhibited the opposite reaction. Ellen feared that because she was not a good enough person, Paul had had to seek emotional companionship in another. However, Alex stated, “I guess I just have been a big disappointment lately in bed. Why else would Bonnie go for such a young guy? He must be better in bed than me. God, what kind of a man am I!”
Clearly, Alex’s assumption that he was sexually inadequate led to feelings of anger. However, Alex’s feelings of sexual inadequacy also caused him to overlook other, nonsexual factors such as communication and intimacy. Does your Alex need to be encouraged to ask his spouse which emotional needs are not being met in the marriage?
Gender Difference # 4 - Women Obsess, Men Distract
Generally, female hurt partners spend more time dwelling on the deception of the affair. In the process, female hurt partners tend to become embittered by their partners’ lies. Understandably, this results in female hurt partners remaining more mistrustful for a longer time. For example, Ellen’s active reliving of Paul’s infidelity kept her hurt and insecurity alive, and impeded her healing process.
On this track, we have discussed four differences between how male and female hurt partners respond to an affair. These four gender differences involve, the desire to preserve the relationship, depression versus anger, feelings of inadequacy, and obsession versus distraction.
On the next track we will discuss five conflicting aspects of the unfaithful partner’s response to the disclosure of the affair. These five conflicting aspects of the unfaithful partner’s response are relief, impatience, absence of guilt isolation, and self-disgust.
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