Unmet Needs: A Cheater’s Justification
“I felt lonely in the marriage so I cheated to feel connected to someone.”
“You didn’t give me enough time and attention so I had to look elsewhere for it.”
Cheaters create a series of rationalizations to give themselves permission to have an affair. Some of them are ludicrous (“I did it for us baby”) and most rational people see through the attempt to blanket the affair with excuse-smog. But what about the ‘unmet needs’ justification?
This concept of a relationship being about meeting each other’s needs is becoming increasingly pervasive and accepted as a truism. It’s espoused by many therapists and marital counselors as an inalienable rule for successful relationships, that each partner is responsible for meeting the other’s needs.
It’s easy to blur the lines between what we want and what we need when the Magical Needs Pixie is sitting on our shoulder, whispering how we neeeeeed something. In therapy, that Magical Needs Pixie is often the therapist, asking the couple to list their met and unmet relationship needs. Oh happy day for the cheater! It’s an opportunity to list their rationalizations for their affair in the guise of their therapist-approved Unmet Needs List.
Needs vs Wants
His Needs, Her Needs (by Dr Willard Harley) boils down to a list of ‘needs’ by gender (and yes, separating these things into gender allows the unleashing of rampant sexism!).
|An attractive spouse||Honesty and openness|
|Domestic support||Financial commitment|
You don’t have to be an expert to understand that this list (if it has legitimacy at all) has far more legitimacy as a list of wants than a list of needs.
Needs are far more basic than desires/wants. Needs are more about the basic necessities of general life, and health and survival; wants are driven by ideals and aspirations. Meeting our genuine needs keeps us viable and these things don’t detract from our well-being. Some wants are damaging (e.g. anorexics wanting to lose more weight) and others are unrealistic - the pursuit of these ‘wants’ can be injurious to us physiologically and psychologically, and dressing them up as needs is a dangerous trend.
Is it more accurate to say that I WANT an attractive spouse than it is to say I NEED an attractive spouse? Absolutely. (Let’s not get into why men get to NEED an attractive spouse but women get to NEED conversation instead!)
Blame and Unmet Needs
When did it become accepted that one partner has the ability or obligation to meet the ‘needs’ of their partner?
A cheater can come up with a hefty laundry list of ‘unmet needs’ to offer as the cause of their affair. They might even parrot the therapist-approved spiel of ‘I am not blaming you, this is how I felt’. And who can argue against how someone else feels, right?
The subtext to these ‘unmet needs’ is that it is YOU who failed to meet them. They felt lonely because YOU didn’t make them feel warm and fuzzy and connected. They felt sexually abandoned because YOU didn’t give them their required number of blowies per week. They felt neglected because YOU failed to call them 5 times a day from work. They felt disconnected because YOU were preoccupied with bills and finances.
On the surface you might think they have a point. You weren’t perfect, and yes, you maybe could have made more of an effort to show them how much they were loved. Perhaps once you’ve looked at your own failings you can see how your behavior drove them into their affair?
Well … let’s flip it around for a moment.
What if you didn’t make them feel warm and fuzzy because THEY were distant and unreachable, and you needed them to be open and approachable? What if you didn’t give them blowies because THEY made it all about them, and you needed them to reciprocate and make it part of affectionate and mutual love-making? What if you didn’t call them from work because THEY nagged and demanded when you were already stressed out and busy, and you needed them to be supportive and calming? What if you were preoccupied with finances because THEY were irresponsible and spend-happy, and you needed them to be fiscally frugal and shoulder some of the stress of managing the money?
Now, tell me … in light of how your cheater failed to meet YOUR needs, and since unmet needs cause affairs (ahem), why is it that YOU didn’t cheat?
The Needs Pit
The problem with being expected to meet someone’s needs is that it’s a bottomless pit. Maslow proposed that once one ‘need’ is met, we are motivated to find another, in pursuit of self-fulfillment. If you are held responsible for reaching someone else’s desires, you may as well hurl yourself (and often your own self-interest) into the insatiable maw of your partner’s ‘needs’.
What if your partner had ‘needed’ you to lose weight, or bulk up, or get hair plug surgery? What if they ‘needed’ you to change the way you dressed, or have penile implant surgery, or have multiple affairs with 17 year old girls? What if they ‘needed’ you to hear all the salacious details of their affair, or watch video tape of them having sex with their affair partner? What if they ‘needed’ you to be half their age, half their size, earn a gazillion dollars?
Would you rush to meet these ‘needs’ because it’s your job to satisfy whatever self-determined need your cheater has? Instead, you might want to take an objective look at their list of needs and understand that your cheater is listing desired traits in their partner … and that list doesn’t describe you. In that understanding is a foundation for deciding your future. Do you want a life where you’re constantly striving and failing to be someone else’s ideal, or do you accept that there is a basic incompatibility between you, and work from there?
The Perfect Defense
Cheaters can be exceptionally good emotional manipulators. When a faithful partner has been destabilized by an affair, and is likely scrambling to try to regain a sense of control and balance, they are more vulnerable to further manipulation. It’s natural to turn a cheater’s affair onto yourself in your quest to understand The Why of it all.
You may not be able to understand why the cheater had their affair(s) so you turn it into a question of what you did wrong. That is ideal thinking for your cheater to harness for their own ends, making the affair more your fault than theirs, caused by your failings not theirs. This allows them to continue to control the narrative, painting themselves as the hapless long-suffering victim and you the inadequate grouse that made their life so unbearable that they turned to someone else.
A cheater blaming ‘unmet needs’ for their affair is essentially saying,
My affair was not your fault, and it was wrong that I cheated … but I had unmet needs. Now ‘we’ need to take steps to prevent me from needing to cheat again, so I have identified my unmet needs so you know what you have to work on to keep me faithful. (Because if you had done these things to begin with, I wouldn’t have needed to cheat.)”
Making someone else responsible for your emotional well-being relieves you of any personal responsibility in the matter - it makes it the perfect affair defense: You failed to meet my needs.