Patrick’s affair was not so much about an attraction to the other woman, but more about acting out his pain at being rejected and seeking to meet his own needs. He used her and she used him, taking advantage of his confusion, vulnerability and gullibility. After two months, he was keen to drop her and disentangle himself from the mess he’d blundered into.
Patrick and Jane, with two teenage children, had been friends with Dean and Michelle for about 10 years. They had three young children. She was a flight attendant, away a lot and he was left to look after the kids. She was the main provider while he renovated the house. He was restless and wanted to move overseas but she refused to uproot the young family. Dean went overseas despite her opposition to try to find work and had an affair. When he returned and she found out, Michelle demanded a 12-month separation while sharing the same house and they divorced (following the pattern of her own parents). The ink was barely dry on their divorce papers when she began to lay the groundwork with their friend Patrick.
Michelle knew that Patrick and Jane’s marriage was shaky. She had made reconnaissance visits to their home on the pretence of friendship, chatting like close gal pals with Jane around the pool over summer and staying on for lunch; all the time gauging the tension between the couple and appraising Patrick. In retrospect, it was such calculated treachery.
Later that year, Michelle asked if Patrick would be so kind as to give her business advice and they began having secret meetings. He was flattered by the female attention because Jane had been unhappy and complaining for a long time.
Jane wanted to move to the States to further her career but he was freaked out by the risk of such a major upheaval. His business was consolidating and their daughter was mid-way through high school. He thought such a move was unrealistic and reckless but he couldn’t convince her. Patrick couldn’t stand up to his wife in an argument. He felt completely brow beaten and would just give up and shut down (the way he did with his mother as a teenager).
Jane went to the US for a month and while she was away Michelle arranged several meetings with Patrick and flirted and flattered his ego, making it obvious she was attracted to him and available ‘if and when’ his marriage broke up. Jane had no idea that her former friend was ready to pounce the minute she left.
Jane went away again for three months and within two weeks of her leaving, Michelle made her move and invited Patrick to dinner at her house. Like many men, he was completely naïve about how set up he was by the Other Woman and fell straight into her trap.
Michelle was desperate to trap a new partner quickly, being in her 40s with three kids to look after. She believed Patrick was a nice guy and a devoted family man, a really good catch. Ironically, floundering from the divorce, her ex-husband Dean had even encouraged her to pursue Patrick. In some distorted way, he hoped she would enlist Patrick, as a reliable obliging man to help him out as a second dad!
She was ruthlessly strategic. She figured that if she had sex with Patrick she would obligate him into a relationship and also hurt Jane so much to destroy any chance of their reconciling. Embittered by her ex-husband’s unfaithfulness, Michelle did not believe in forgiveness after an affair in her own marriage and so assumed that having an affair with Patrick would be the nail in the coffin of his marriage, clearing the way for a relationship. It was a vicious contest and she was playing to win.
But what was going on for Patrick? Why was he such an easy target?
When Jane left him, it triggered a deep wound of abandonment and rejection that reached back into his childhood. For Patrick, rejection started early. He grew up hearing stories that he was unwanted and how his parents intended to give him to the neighbours when he was born but he was so cute they kept him! Despite being an extremely loveable child, he experienced being pushed away by a cold, distant father who was seldom home and an emotionally unstable mother. At 15, his father made his absence official by divorcing his mother and leaving him, the youngest child, at home alone with a hysterical mum who treated him like a surrogate husband, leaning on him for support.
Patrick recalls feeling ‘helpless and hopeless’ and overwhelmed in dealing with the pressures of his volatile mother and furious that he had been robbed of his teenage years. Using a typical adolescent coping strategy and with no adult support, rather than express his pain, he acted out, escaping the turmoil at home with sly drinking sessions with mates and having sex with the first girl who gave him the come-on.
When his wife left all those years later it opened his wound of childhood rejection and triggered repressed rage at his father for leaving and for all those years of being mistreated by his mum. He chose to act out his anger, as he did as a teenager, rather than feel the underlying grief.
Mixed with his anger was a new sense of self-righteous defiance; a throwback to his adolescent rebellion. He wanted to prove that his wife would no longer control him; that he’d do exactly what he wanted. After all she had done exactly want she wanted by taking off overseas!
He was gripped by an urge to retaliate and hit back for all the hurt he felt, not just in her leaving but for every wrong she had ever done in the last 20 years. Jane had set an example of infidelity early in their marriage and he had never healed from that humiliation and he feared that she would cheat on him while overseas so he might as well get in first. This was pay-back time.
The desire for revenge is such a potent force in men. Jane was extremely jealous and possessive and he knew for him to have a sexual relationship with another woman was her worst fear and would hurt her the most. For such a ‘nice guy’, there was a cruel streak in him he didn’t even know he possessed.
Jane, in a self-destructive mode, had helped to set up her husband before leaving; taunting him about other women, she had even joked to Dean that Patrick and Michelle would make a good pair (in the dysfunctional way they refused to face their faults and issues). She had not objected to their so-called ‘business meetings’ and the warring couple had not discussed an agreement to stay faithful while they were apart.
Patrick was vulnerable on his own. Although successful professionally, he had been dependent on his wife on the domestic front for grocery shopping and cooking meals, running the home and giving him direction socially. Having formed an unhealthy co-dependence with his mother as a teenager, he transferred the dependence to Jane once they married. He was lost without Jane. When Michelle made her move, rather than savour some independence, he was keen to latch onto another woman who could take the lead.
He had also enjoyed an active, satisfying sex life with Jane and Michelle offered to be an instant substitute. He didn’t considered celibacy and self-control as an option and the idea of having sex with someone different was enticing. Sex with Michelle was a novelty, laced with the heightened pleasure of being illicit. Having been rejected as a man, he was out to reclaim his manhood and prove his sexual prowess.
Patrick was a man who craved admiration. Under his confident façade, he suffered poor self-esteem. His self-image had been damaged growing up with a critical, sarcastic father who put him down and a self-centred mother who withheld any praise and encouragement. Michelle’s flattery and infatuation fed his insatiable need for female adoration. And the fact that she ‘wanted’ him provided comfort to his wounded ego and the sting of his wife’s rejection. Sadly for Michelle, he wasn’t particularly attracted to her for herself. It was not a case of falling in love. He used her as an object to meet his own egocentric needs.
He deliberately set about charming Michelle, dusting off and pulling out all his old tricks from his kit bag; wooing her with his guitar playing and singing tender love songs (the way he had wooed his wife years before). He trotted out his endearing humour, listening with understanding as she poured out her heart and gently held her hand while gazing at the stars. It was contrived seduction to prove he was still attractive in his late 40s. But he didn’t consider what he’d do once he succeeded in winning her over. He naively thought he could keep the visits going until he tired of her and easily extricate himself.
Michelle played to his weaknesses and applied the pressure, coaching him on how abused he’d been by Jane and how he should free himself from Jane’s insidious control. Ironically she had taken control of Patrick, an easily manipulated man with poor boundaries, floundering in a state of confusion. She made hollow promises that she didn’t need any commitment and was up for no-strings-attached sex. She assured him she didn’t expect him to have any involvement with her three kids. It was an offer too good to refuse.
When Jane found out about the affair and was heartbroken and begged him to stop seeing her, he continued to act out in defiance and callous cruelty. He lacked concern and empathy for his wife’s pain and the pain and chaos he was causing to both families. Denying his responsibility to anyone, he brandished his newfound freedom (like a demented William Wallis on the battlefields of Scotland) and demanded his right to do whatever he liked because he was now ‘separated’.)
When put to the test, Patrick revealed his weak character. A product of the permissive 70s, he had never considered his morals and ethics when it came to sex and relationships. He had just gone along pragmatically with whatever views were presented to him. Throughout his life he had been easily influenced and led by others; an agreeable, non-assertive guy who didn’t take an independent stand on any issue.
He didn’t consider the consequences of the affair and the damage and heartbreak it would cause to everyone affected. He lacked empathy for those he hurt. He couldn’t see that he was being manipulated by Michelle and couldn’t see her hidden agenda of entrapment. He acted blindly from repressed pain, an impulse to retaliate and his emotional needs.
Divorce was familiar to Patrick. It seemed inevitable he would carry on the family tradition. His grandparents were pioneers of divorce, his parents divorced, his brother and sister had divorced. His sense of helplessness was programmed early and he lacked skills in asserting his power over the forces of family destruction.
But ultimately Patrick came to his senses and extricated himself from Michelle’s carefully laid man trap. He reconciled with Jane and the sordid affair was a catalyst for his long-overdue self-examination. He was forced to look at his character flaws and unresolved issues from his childhood and adolescence. He was challenged to explore the problems in his marriage, heal the wounds and rebuild his marriage on a healthy foundation.