"We all want to feel like we matter to somebody."
I just finished taping a show where I sat in a room for two hours with seven men of different ages and backgrounds and one thing in common: They had all cheated on their wives.
This was one of the most interesting and candid conversations I've ever had or heard on the subject of why men cheat. As with all my interviews, I tried to rid myself of prejudgment. I like to approach each subject with an open mind so I can listen and learn as much as possible and maybe even come away with an aha.
I had a big one: The yearning to feel heard, needed, and important is so strong in all of us that we seek that validation in whatever form we can get it. For a lot of people—men and women—having an affair is an affirmation that I'm really okay. My guest Brian, who'd been married 18 years and thought he had a moral code that would withstand flirtatious temptations, said this about his mistress: "There wasn't anything special about her. But she listened, was interested, and made me feel special." That's the key, I thought: We all want to feel like we matter to somebody. And the work required not to take our partner for granted is part of the process of growing together.
What my generation was raised to believe—that people get married and stay together because they love each other—is no longer the whole truth. Only when love is a verb and put into action does it thrive. It's a mistake to think that a loving relationship is going to automatically sustain itself. Nothing worth having happens without work.
I don't know any pain worse than the pain of betrayal. It's so devastating—it strips you of everything you thought you knew and causes you to doubt yourself. Not one of these guys I talked to thought about the suffering they would cause if and when they were caught. Stephen's eyes watered when he told us about the night he confessed to his wife. "I never knew I could hurt someone that much," he said.
I could see that he'd had an awakening. I think that, to a large degree, men are trained to fill roles and move through life unconsciously. Our society makes jokes about "sensitive" men. And it's that willingness to poke fun at real feelings that breeds machismo.
What a challenge for mothers raising sons in the 21st century! As the men opened up about their marital transgressions, I was able to see each of them as a young boy hungering to be heard. It's hard to feel compassion when you're the one who's been lied to and deceived. But the conversation reaffirmed what I know for sure: There's always room to grow when you lead with the truth.