At this stage, the women said that they felt as though something was missing in their lives. They had all the things that they wanted—a home, a family, a great husband—but felt they should be happier. Over time, many of the women noticed a distinct loss of sexual desire; they reported that they were no longer interested in sex. They spent a great deal of energy trying to avoid physical contact with their husbands for fear it might lead to a sexual encounter. They frequently complained of physical ailments to avoid having sex and often tried to avoid going to bed at the same time as their husbands. They viewed sex as a job, not unlike doing the dishes or going to the grocery store. Some of the women claimed that when their husbands touched them, they felt violated; they said their bodies would freeze up and they would feel tightness in their chest and/or a sick feeling in their stomach. The majority of the women in Stage 1 felt there was something wrong with them, that they were in some way defective. They were also fearful that their disinterest in sex would cause their husbands to cheat, or worse yet, leave them.
Women at Stage 2 experienced reawakened desire stimulated by encounters outside the marital relationship. Whether the new relationships involved sex or remained platonic, they were emotionally significant to these women.
Many of the women had felt no sexual desire for a long time. Many experienced tremendous guilt and regret, regardless of whether their new relationships were sexual, merely emotional, or both. Most experienced what could be termed an identity crisis—even those who tried to put the experience behind them. Constant reminders were everywhere. They felt guilt when the topic of infidelity arose, whether in the media, in conversations with family and friends, or at home with their husbands. They could no longer express their prior disdain for infidelity without feeling like hypocrites. They felt as though they had lost a part of themselves. Reflecting society’s belief that women are either “good” or “bad,” these women questioned their “good girl” status and felt that they might not be deserving of their husbands. Many tried to overcome feelings of guilt by becoming more attentive toward and appreciative of their husbands. However, over time the predominant reaction of a number of the women moved from appreciation to justification. In order to justify their continued desire for other men, they began to attribute those desires to needs that were not being met in the marriage, or to their husband’s past behavior. Many became negative and sarcastic when speaking of their husbands and their marriages. In many cases, an extramarital affair soon followed.
Stage 3Women at Stage 3 were involved in affairs, ending affairs, or contemplating divorce. The women who were having affairs said that their feelings were unlike anything they’d experienced before. They felt “alive” again and many believed that they had found their soul mates. These women were experiencing feelings associated with a chemically altered state, or what we typically refer to as being in love.
These women also talked of being in tremendous pain, the pain of choosing between their husbands and their new love interests. They believed that what they were doing was wrong and unfair to their husbands, but were unable to end their affairs. Many tried several times. Prior to meeting with their lovers, they would vow that this would be the last time, but were unable to stick with their decisions.
Unable to end their extramarital relationships, the women concluded that their lovers were soul mates. Unaware that they had become addicted to the high caused by chemicals released during the initial stages of a relationship, they were unable to choose. Many lived in a state of limbo for years. “Should I stay married or should I get a divorce?” was the question continuously on their minds. Some of the women attempted to initiate separations. In most cases, their husbands launched futile attempts to make their wives happy by being more attentive, spending more time at home and helping out around the house. Regardless of these women’s past and present complaints, the last thing they wanted was to spend more time with their husbands. Many women successfully gained separations. The reason many gave for separating was a “search for self.” They convinced their husbands that they might be able to save the marriage if they could just have time to themselves. They continued to tell their husbands that time apart was the only hope of improving the current situation. Several of these women said they wanted to free themselves of the restrictions of marriage and spend more time with their lovers. Most thought that eventually their confusion would disappear and they would know with certainty that they either wanted to stay married or get divorced in order to be with their lovers. By separating, these women were able to enjoy the high experienced with their new partners without letting go of the security of their marriages. The husbands were still unaware that their wives were having affairs. Their lack of suspicion was due in part to their wife’s disinterest in sex and their belief that she was a “good girl.”
Several women at this stage were ending an extramarital affair. In most cases, it was not their decision. The majority were involved with single men who either lost interest because the relationship could not progress or were attracted to other women who were, in most cases, single. The women whose affairs were ending experienced extreme grief, became deeply depressed and expressed tremendous anger toward their husbands. Unaware that they were experiencing chemical withdrawal due to sudden changes in brain chemistry, many felt that they had missed their chance at happiness due to their own indecisiveness.
However, these women did not return to their husbands, at least not emotionally. Believing they had become more aware of what they wanted and needed from a mate, many placed the utmost importance on finding a relationship that gave them the feeling they experienced in their affairs. To these women a new relationship with a new partner represented a clean slate, a chance to regain their “good girl” status. Some searched for new partners during their separations. Others returned to their marriages, but still continued to search. Some women resumed sporadic sexual relations with their husbands in an effort to safeguard the marriage until they made a decision. Although most were not sexually attracted to their husbands, desire was temporarily rekindled when they suspected their husbands were unfaithful, were contemplating infidelity, or when their husbands showed signs of moving on.
The women in stage four included those who chose to stay married and continue their affairs and those who chose to divorce. Some of the women who continued their affairs stated that marital sex was improved by maintaining the extramarital relationship. Some thought the lover was a soul mate, but for one reason or another did not leave their husband and did not feel torn between the two. Others realized that their feelings were intensified by not sharing day-to-day living arrangements with their lover. Almost all of the women in this latter category were having affairs with married men. They believed their affairs could continue indefinitely without disrupting either partner’s primary relationship.
The women who chose divorce and were in the beginning stages of a new relationship typically expressed relief at having finally made a decision and reported feeling normal again. Many of the divorced women who had remarried and were several years into their new marriages seemed somewhat reluctant to talk about the specifics of their past experiences. However, they did mention feelings of guilt and regret for having hurt their children and ex-spouses only to find themselves experiencing similar feelings in the new relationship.