Why Do Depressed People Have Affairs?

By: Katie Lersch: I sometimes hear from people who either believe that they cheated on their spouse because they were depressed or have been told by a cheating spouse that feelings of hopelessness and depression may have contributed to the cheating.

Understandably, not every one comprehends how one thing would lead to another. And some wonder if this is just an excuse for someone else’s bad behavior. A wife might ask: “why is it that depressed people have a greater tendency to cheat? I just found out my husband has been cheating on me. For the past year, he has been greatly struggling with intense sadness. This started when his brother became ill. This seemed to make my husband question the meaning of life. And he seemed dissatisfied with everything all of a sudden. Before this, my husband was generally a pretty content guy. But everything changed when his brother’s health took a turn. When I asked my husband why he cheated on me when I consider myself a pretty good wife, he told me that he had been so depressed and that the cheating was the only way he felt anything whatsoever. I have noticed this happen with a couple of my friends and coworkers also. The men go through a struggle in their life and then they do something really stupid like gamble or cheat on their wives. Why do they do this? I would think that when you were sad, you wouldn’t want to do anything to make your life worse?”

I can give you my best guess, although I’m not a therapist. I hear from a lot of people who deeply regret cheating. And from their descriptions and depictions, it appears that they were attempting to make themselves feel more alive or were attempting to experience more excitement or emotion. In short, they were trying to feel something that registered so that they had a pause in feeling numb or bad.  I’ve never suffered from what I would call severe depression, but I have struggled after traumatic or sad occasions in my life. And I can tell you that when you are going through this, you truly do kind of feel numb. It is as though the volume has been turned to mute all of the time. It is as if the colors in life have been dulled down or have faded to black and white.

Understandably, this is not a fun experience. So you can feel quite desperate to want to do something in attempt to make this feel better. Unfortunately, many people use behaviors that are bad for them and / or make silly decisions in an attempt to feel better.

In my own example, I gained tons of weight after my grandfather died. He was like my father. And the death was unexpected. I am normally a careful eater and I value good health. I work out regularly and hadn’t had a weight problem before. But I ate foods that I was fully aware were bad for me. I’d feel a little better while gorging myself. But afterward, the guilt set in and I’d feel worse and the cycle would feed on itself. I gained quite a bit of weight and stopping that cycle was difficult. Although as I began to process my grandfather’s death, the bad foods lost their pull on me and I eventually lost the weight and went back to normal eating. But at the time, I was fully aware that the over eating was awful for me. I knew that it would make me feel worse and guilty at the same time. And yet, I did it anyway.

Depressed people have different ways of coping and different vices that they turn to. As you said, some will choose gambling. Some will choose infidelity. Some people don’t turn to vices. But many do. Because you feel so badly about your situation and yourself, the behaviors that you choose often reflect this. And honestly, it is hard to think clearly and to make good decisions when you feel so poorly.

I am not in any way trying to make an excuse for someone who cheats. Regardless of whether you are blissfully happy or a little depressed, cheating is a choice. But, there are times in people’s lives when they are more vulnerable to cheating or any risky behaviors, really. And times when people are stressed or sad definitely fits the bill.

I am not trying to excuse your husband, but I do think that it’s plausible that his depression could have contributed to the cheating. That is particularly true if he’s never had an infidelity issue before. And it would be understandable to struggle emotionally after the illness of a sibling.

I am not sure if your husband is open to counseling, but it could probably help him with both his depression and with the issue of cheating. Because he’s likely struggling with feelings of guilt now on top of everything else. And sometimes, when we have so much on our plates, we need a little help to see us through it.

Also, it’s important that you don’t repress your own feelings. Yes, your husband may be the one who is depressed. But finding out your spouse has cheated is a huge stressor. So don’t ignore your own feelings or your own needs. They are every bit as important as any one else’s.

I believe that stress from my husband’s new job at the time contributed to his infidelity. I understood this, but I did not accept it as an excuse.  He made a choice which had consequences.  And although I acknowledged his stress, I too had feelings and struggles that needed to be dealt with also.  You can read more about that at http://surviving-the-affair.com

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