How Sex and Affairs Act Like an Antidepressant
By: David Lechnyr, LCSW
What is it that causes people to become involved in extra-marital affairs? There are multiple reasons that affairs happen. What has rarely been explored is how depression is a strong motivating factor in the initiation and continuing nature of affairs. Understanding a number of factors might be of some help in thinking as one finds themselves trapped in temptation.
Resistance to Reality Changes
The one thing that is always happening in life is the one thing that we resist the most: change! We are constantly faced by the issues of change in life whether it be the changing of one day to the next, to the issues of advancing age, issues on the job, changes in the family, and issues of one’s health and mortality.
At first, life seems to go in 30 year blocks–until one reaches thirty. Then life seem to go in ten year blocks. Prior to age 30 the person thinks that they are immortal and will live forever. However, after age 30, the person starts to realize the reality of life and that their time is starting to be more limited. The dysfunctional rules of life state that we should (1) avoid talking about problems: (2) avoid thinking about problems; (3) avoid having any feelings about the problems we are facing; (4) and avoid doing any thing realistically constructive to change, or face, things! As a result, we keep from our conscious awareness the realities of any problems we are faced within life until we have absolutely no choice but to face them. Before this time, we will try any alternative solution that avoids dealing with problems in healthy and affective ways.
Mid-Life Fears & Realities
The mid-life crisis happens someplace between the ages of 30 to 65. It is a time when the person becomes aware that they are not comfortable with their place in life. It is a time that is known as an existential crisis where the person is struggling with the question of what is the meaning of life for me. This can be a very difficult and discomforting time. It is a time where the person asks the question about whether or not they have been happy with the directions that their lives have taken up to this point. It is also a time of thinking about how much time there is left to make changes and to chart a different course for life. It is also a time when the person is realizing their own mortality and limited time left in life.
Beyond this, it is a time of asking is this all there is! There is a wondering if there is more out there that they are missing. There is a sense that one feels trapped by life and circumstances with a resulting compulsion to run and experience by having new choices even if it means that one messes up their lives in the present. Some people feel trapped by many things in life so they seek to control whatever thing they can in life just to feel that they have some control!
As a result, the person acts out their struggles rather than taking the time to talk and think through what is happening in life. Actions are justified and thinking patterns become clouded with self-centered actions. Reality is lost and replaced with the excitement of teenage years of experiencing high emotions.
A Time of Discontent
It is a time of discontent in life, wondering why one has not achieved more, why life is not more exciting, and a growing awareness that one is getting old. Children have left home, couples have not developed their relationship the best, there is poor communication in the relationship, and it seems like there is no excitement left in the marriage. One’s body is not working the best. Sexual functioning has changed and hormone levels have decreased. One feels the need for a spark to get going again in some way, and there is a belief if one can connect with a younger person that maybe some of that youth will rub off on them.
It is also a time to rebel against parental figures of life–especially if that was not done earlier in the teenage years. Spouses sometime have become more parental and the person feels trapped either in reality or in their own fantasy minds. There is a desire to grab the gold ring before it is too late. However, any acting out is more a comment on the person who is doing it and their state of psychological conflicts than it is about the other person in the relationship. However, it does ignore the reality that many couples have focused too much on work and the children while forgetting to focus on continuing to develop the relationship between the married couple!
Action-oriented solutions are preferred because they make the person feel that they are doing something. Movement, in any direction, even in the wrong direction, is seen as a positive because action is valued in our society. We are not a society that takes the time to sit back and meditate on our situation and the future. When faced by emotions, feelings, frustration, depression, upsets, conflicts, it is better to do something because it releases tension and diverts our struggles away from the real issues. Action is also the preferred method of coping with life available to males in society. It fits our societal need for quick solutions to more complex problems.We all want quick answers when feeling any type of distress or comfort. Doing something feels good in and of itself because the person can justify that they are at least trying to do something to help themselves when feeling down.
Anti-Depressant Effects of Affair
Depression is one of the most frequent issues noted in the midst of a mid-life crisis. Depression causes one to feel sad, weak, tired, confused, lost, blocked, and having a black cloud hanging heavily over one’s head. Affairs, acting out, seeking the forbidden, provides the person with a rush of overwhelming feelings of relief that are so addicting that the person can easily become obsessed with the activity. The action of sex and affairs releases the natural body opiates (narcotics) known as endorphins. One drop of an endorphin is 100 times more potent than a drop of heroin. As a result, the activity becomes addicting, energizing, relieving, with the need to continually reach for one’s fix again and again.
The major receptor sites for endorphins in the body are located in the limbic system of the brain which is the emotional center of the brain. As a result, endorphins are responsible for the stabilization of our moods. Endorphins can be stimulated through physical activity such as walking and running. However, they also can be released through the stimulation of affairs and doing the forbidden.
Affairs, then, become a way of resolving one’s depression for the moment. Like all drug addicts, though, the person lives with the disease of denial where they are not aware of what they are doing to their lives until it is too late. Further, some do not care because the endorphins feel so good and the depression feels so far away. However, all it does is to post-pone the real resolution of the problem faced by the individual.
Affairs as Avoiding Intimacy
Affairs afford the person a way of having a very intense relationship with another person at a distance. What is really happening for many people is that they are fearful of, and have no knowledge of, how to become close and intimate with another human being beyond the superficial level of sexual relating. With affairs the person can pretend that they are close and intimate because of the high levels of excitement and feeling that go with seeking any forbidden fruit. However, what happens is that the person really does not want to do the real work of developing intimacy in the present relationship–they just want to start over again with someone else. Real intimacy takes time, work, and develops over time. It is what happens after the excitement of the new wears off and you see the other person as another human being with needs and feelings that you have to respond to. Sometimes, the other person also does not want to become intimate so they keep their mate at a distance forcing the person to reach out.
Affairs usually take both individuals lack of confidence, commitment, maturity, etc., before an affair happens. At the same time, the offender is the one who is doing the reaching and running from true intimacy within their present marital relationship! The more one acts out, the longer the acting out happens, the more certainty there is that the person is fearful of developing a meaningful close personal intimate relationship within their present setting. The acting out is more of a statement about their own interpersonal/intimacy incompetence than about anything else. Because such a situation is depressing the person feels even more compelled to find a way of solving their own depression by finding and anti-depression through actions rather than through real self-examination. There is always a yes but comment that helps the person justify what they are doing. The person also never has to admit to themselves that they are having problems.
All problems can be blamed on others. I am only doing this because he/she is… or is not… rather than looking inward at why they need to justify and blame. Life then becomes a series of actions rather than any real interactions. Affairs seem like interactions with intense intimacy, but they do not involve real relationship issues of being with another person on a daily basis outside of the affair experience, comfort, and excitement.
Depression as a Creative Force
We have been taught that negative feelings such as depression are something that is to be avoided. In fact, depression needs to be redefined as offering a door toward growth and new creativity that can help one move in new directions in life. Acting out blocks the person from really facing themselves by struggling to learn how to grow in new and creative ways. When depression hits it is a sign that one’s life course is about to take a change in a new direction. Depression allows us to slow up so that we can take the time to examine the state of our lives and start to think about how we want to re-invent ourselves in new ways. Depression forces us to feel and experience our inner beings in new ways. New directions, experiences, and finding ourselves only happens when we slow down and think about what our gut is telling us.
The obvious feelings are not always what should be trusted. The obvious feelings only propel us to do the obvious. Real change requires that we take the time to learn the deeper meaning of our existence on earth. It is a time to accept our mortality in new ways rather than running from our mortality in the old destructive ways that people have done since the beginning of time.