“As Anthony Weiner reminded us (again), there’s a gray zone to infidelity and to accepting it.” – Scott Haltzman, M.D.
(The following excerpt taken from Dangerous Liaisons For Anthony Weiner – Victim Of Addiction? by Scott Haltzman, M.D., was originally posted on psychology today.com on July 24, 2013. To view it in its entirety please click on the link below.)
Now, now, over one year after the Anthony Weiner Twittergate scandal broke, The Dirty broke a follow up story that, following the New York representative’s departure from Congress, Weiner had continued maintaining an online relationship with at least one 22 year-old woman under the nom de plume of “Carlos Danger.”
According to the online magazine, his behavior included the usual sexting of naked photos, but also phone conversations purporting feelings of true love.
I have heard from reporters in numerous media outlets that ask the same question: How can we understand Weiner’s behavior? As a psychiatrist who researches infidelity, am I surprised? Should Weiner’s wife stay?
THE ADDICTIVE QUALITY OF AFFAIRS
When an individual initiates the behaviors that lead to an affair— meeting someone new, keeping secrets from the spouse, arranging occult liaisons, and fantasizing and realizing sexual acts—it sets up a series of neurochemical changes that lock someone into an obsessive attachment to the extra-marital person. Brain scan images demonstrate that when an individual experiences infatuation, there is surge of dopamine in areas that are associated with addiction. That brain chemical changes result in a chemical rush in the brain that is powerful, but transient. That intense emotional response, in combination with the the euphoria- inducing rise in the adrenaline-like norepinephrine is often confused with a feeling of being in love, but the feeling fades fast when the object of that attraction is not in your grasp.
The rush/let down of the secretive interactions set up a psychological chain of stimulus-response events that is typical of all addictions. When the alcoholic is sober, he or she begins to feel a surge of anxiety that is only quelled by another drink; when the addicted gambler goes home at the end of the day exhausted, he or she begins to feel the urge to return to the casino the very next day. Once the bottle or deck of cards is back in the hand, the brain breathes a (metaphorical) sigh of relief and everything is good again—only it’s not! The behavior, though compelling and satisfying, is quite destructive to the person. The logical mind knows this, but impulse wins out over rationality.
FLAME ADDICTIONS AND ANTHONY
I haven’t met Anthony Weiner, but I’ve met many people who have engaged in affairs, and many of them describe this intense obsessive attraction to an individual outside the marriage. In my new book, The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity, I describe the phenomenon of “Flame Addiction,” that explains how people can act like moths drawn toward a candle by self-destructively returning to extra-marital affairs. This doesn’t excuse people from their behaviors by labeling it a disease, but rather it explains why people do such seemingly stupid things, and helps defines ways to pull oneself out of the addiction. Like the alcoholic that must shun bars, and the gambler that cannot go to casinos, the person who has a flame addiction must, above anything else, avoid any situations that might lead to rekindling a flame addiction. In Weiner’s case, you think that getting off of twitter would be a good idea?
Perhaps on some level Huma, Weiner’s wife, understands that like addicts of all kinds, Antony’s return to Twitter for affection and sex is typical of individuals who get hooked on an extramarital flame. Like others who suffer from chemical dependency, the flame addict must learn to make changes in his life, focus his attention on positives, and stay away from his “flame” one day at a time. He would be wise to seek serenity in other endeavors (like running from office—if such thing can ever bring serenity). Moreover someone with an intense addiction to an affair will need the right kind of help. And lots of it!