Saturday, December 12, 2009

INFIDELITY: What Does Stress Have To Do With It?

You don’t have to go far from the sex organs to understand why a man or woman would be unfaithful to his/her partner. Just look straight up to the perpetrator’s brain.

Today’s short neurobiology lesson will help you understand what I mean: Look at the commonly depicted side view of the brain and you see the thick, undulating surface called the cortex, which among other functions allows us to use logic and make rational choices in our lives. Look below the surface and observe a smaller version of the same structure, which contains the stress and emotional structures. They are responsible for the fight/fight reflex, feelings of pleasure, fear, anger and rage. Billions of interconnections between these brain parts allow logical thinking, stress and emotions to work together for a unified, effective strategy of living.

During highly stressful times, logical thinking tends to decrease dramatically. Remember that promise you made to yourself at Thanksgiving: “I absolutely refuse to binge on Mom’s apple and pumpkin pies. This year I’m going to control my urges.” Well…the pies were staring at you, and Uncle Harry was particularly annoying, so bingo!…Logic went down the drain like Aunt Mary’s lousy green bean casserole. Logic was the victim of stress, strong emotions and those pesky pleasures centers in the more impulsive parts of your brain.

Now for the salacious part of this story: A guy or gal that has never learned to manage stress effectively – one who spends too much time in the stress zone and little time in the relaxed zone - is prone to a myriad of strong feelings and bad habits. Emotional eating is one example. Drug, gambling and spending addiction are others. Sexual addiction and infidelity can be added to that list as well.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not the entire story behind infidelity. Your learning history is critical; that is, what you internalized from mom and dad’s levels of commitment and fidelity. And some people have psychiatric conditions that make them more infidelity-prone than others. Each can be risk factors for chronic unfaithfulness - and when you add stress to that formula - you have a loaded gun pointed at your marriage.

This is a case for seeking professional help. As you know, I’m a huge advocate of - to put it in the vernacular - getting your head shrunk. Don’t hesitate. All of us can use an expert’s advice in these trying times.

So this is what I hear people say about megastars being unfaithful: “It doesn’t make any sense. He has everything going for him. Why would he get himself in such a stupid jam? Doesn’t he realize the consequences of his behavior? The money, the marriage, the children. I just don’t understand. ”

Perhaps this brief and admittedly overly simplified treatise can help. You have to manage stress or it will take its toll on rational thinking and actions. No one is immune, no matter how talented, rich and famous. It’s your brain. You are responsible for keeping it happy and healthy.