You can’t beat emotion. Stop trying.

On this site, my most popular podcasts and articles are by far the ones dealing with Dead Bedrooms. The next most popular topics are about Infidelity.

On the way more popular website Talk About Marriage, the two most popular “focused” topics are “Coping with Infidelity” and “Sex in Marriage“. No other topics even come close.

talk about marriage topics

So… bad sex and cheating spouses. That’s the bread and butter of relationship discussion on the web. How nice.

So… what’s going on? Why so many people searching for and commenting on issues related to infidelity and sex in marriage? Is it REALLY that bad?

First of all, yes… lots of people get caught cheating on their spouses AND a lot of people have shitty sex lives. That’s just a fact.

Second, there are a lot of men on the internet just trying to figure out HOW to fix things when they go horribly wrong. They want to know what steps they can take to go back to banging their wife 2 times a day. They want to know what they can do to get their wife to fall back in love with them after catching her riding the guy from her spinning class.

They also want to know WHY and HOW the relationship machine broke so “suddenly”. Surely there’s gotta be a relationship owner’s manual PDF they can download for free somewhere.

For the male victims of infidelity, more often than not the answer they get from their community is some variation of “Dude. Stop. Just leave the whore already.” He doesn’t listen. “Just leave” is an irrational, knee-jerk reaction that has long-lasting and negative repercussions to the family unit. Besides, all these people on the internet don’t know his wife. She’s really not the evil creature his story might make her out to be. She has just lost her way and there is STILL a chance to right this sinking ship. She just needs to be reminded of all the good things they have going on and she will snap out of this “fog” she is in and come to her senses.

This is the equivalent of a guy under the hood of his car, checking the oil and brake fluid while the car is engulfed in flames. “Hold on a sec… Let me just check the wiper fluid real quick. It looks a little low, too.” 

Men are fixers. We apply our RATIONAL, annoying Spock-like minds to these dramatic, emotion-filled situations and do all kinds of calculations and what-if scenarios to find the magic solution.

We are using our inherent manly qualities of tinkering and figuring things out and applying them to a situation where it not only doesn’t belong, but could actually end up making the situation even worse.

Sure the washer fluid is full… but you now have third degree burns over your whole body and the car is a pile of ashes.

DRILL THIS INTO YOUR HEAD: You can’t overcome emotion with rationality.

“I don’t understand. Doesn’t she realize what she’s doing to our family? This doesn’t make any sense.”

“She doesn’t have any money. How is she going to take care of herself if she’s on her own?!”

“The guy is a LOSER! How can she blow up our family with a guy like THAT!?”

“If she would just TRY to have sex with me every day, she would remember how much fun sex is and everyone would be happy!”

“I don’t get it. We just renewed our vows. The whole time we were so loving and devoted to each other… and she was having multiple affairs. It makes no sense.”

In cases of infidelity and sex, you’re not dealing with somebody who took out a spreadsheet and listed all of the pros and cons in their decision making.

You’re dealing with emotion. FEELINGS. Human NATURE.

In the world of emotion, 2+2 can, in fact, equal 5… as long as it feels right.

Emotion wins.  Every time.

Advertisers have known this for decades.

Do you want to sell a product?  Show the consumer how bad things can be without it. Show them how everyone else has it and just look how HAPPY and good looking they are now that they have this product in their lives. Create a culture around your product. Create an image and set of rituals around your product. Tap into their innate human programming while at the same time pushing those buttons that release a potent shot of dopamine. Once they feel like they are part of a community AND better than the other guy AND they feel a euphoric high using the product… then it’s over. They’ll pay a premium for the EXPERIENCE of your product. Doesn’t matter that it was made in China by slave labor and will break in one year.

The nerds say “Why buy the iMac when a PC for half the cost will easily outperform it?” They’re the same type of guy that says “Why would she cheat on me with that loser that works at Taco Bell?”

He doesn’t get it. It has nothing to do with common sense and rational thought. It’s emotion. It’s innate programming. It’s human nature.

You can’t beat it with your rationality, dude.  Don’t even try. You’ll just go crazy in the process.

“She’s nuts. All women are nuts.”

It’s extremely easy to throw your hands up and just proclaim all women to be varying degrees of crazy. It’s the knee-jerk way out of actually trying to think, empathize and understand people who can have a vastly different perspective on life. The problem is that once you DO get a better understanding of women and their psychology in particular, you inevitably come back with some variation of “Wow, it’s like she can’t help it.” This can be even more disturbing and shocking to a lot of men.

I know, “She can’t help it” seems to imply that she is a child that has no control over what she does in life. No, that’s not it at all.

Women are human and all humans have a “just can’t help it” line of autonomous behavior.

The “CLICK-WHIRR” Effect

In his book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”, social psychologist Robert Cialdini breaks down the mechanisms that cause people to DO certain things for certain people. He dives quickly into the dangerous world of our autonomic animalistic behavior. I say “dangerous” because people REALLY don’t like being told that they don’t have complete free will in their day-to-day behavior. We REALLY REALLY don’t like being told that men and women have different instinctual drives that govern our behavior.

In today’s society we often misconstrue “different” as implying “inferior”. That hurts feelings and causes anxiety. People are more than willing to gladly ignore science if it means not hurting feelings. See the uproar from the latest Google “manifesto” as a perfect example.

We humans feel that we digest every important nugget of information we’re presented with and at least TRY to create the most rational and altruistic response at all times.

Nope.

“You can do what you decide to do — but you cannot decide what you will decide to do.” – Sam Harris

Cialdini illustrates our autonomic programming with something he calls the “Click-Whirr” Effect.

Basically, think of a machine that clicks on and then the mechanism or tape starts spinning… that’s the whirr.  Every living creature has some type of programming in them that is setup to monitor for a specific stimuli (the click) and react accordingly (the whirr).

In a particular species of turkey, for example, they have an internal program that says “When I hear the very specific sound/pitch of a baby turkey that has just hatched, I will sit on it to keep it warm.” Scientists were able to bring a box into a cage… a box with no discernable turkey-like features… and get a female turkey to sit on it just by playing the newly hatched turkey noise.

The baby chick noise was the click. Mama sitting on the box was the whirr.

The turkey didn’t THINK “I hear a noise. Their must be a baby turkey inside this box, I must protect it.” It just REACTED. Instantly. No thought. No rationalizing. Thousands of years of progamming at work.

Cialdini takes the principle of the click-whirr and applies it to humans in the form of persuasion. Getting people to do what you want means knowing what specific buttons to click to get just the right reaction out of them. You can mimic certain innate behavioral triggers and watch again and again just how little free will people actually have.

The Click-Whirr Effect in Real Life

Take, for example, the infamous dead bedroom.

The dead bedroom is a response. You were having sex… something happened… now you’re not. Simple as that.

Responses like these, for the most part, are NOT thought out or intentional. There’s no genuine malice at play here. This is DEEPLY embedded if/then programming statements that have been around for generations. This is the kind of stuff that keeps the species moving along. This is biology. Biology doesn’t care that you are gold medal dad of the year for the past 10 years. Biology doesn’t care that you bring home a steady paycheck and paid for a new furnace last month.

All biology knows is that you did X and you now get Y in return.

Instead of using the harsh terms like “nature” or “programming”, we can also refer to this as “emotion”. They’re all inerchangeable. Calling it emotion softens the blow a bit and gives it a weakened image of “silly little girl” or “weak-willed man”, when in-fact it can be broken down into digestable and predictable chunks of stimuli-response. There’s nothing infantile or crazy about it.

After much life experience and research, I have reached the conclusion that men just need to push the following clicks/buttons, in no particular order, to elicit the classic “dead bedroom/infidelity” whirr responses we all read about again and again:

  1. Don’t look good. Give no shits about your appearance.
  2. Don’t stand up to her. Let her do, say and act however she pleases… even when she’s being an asshole.
  3. Don’t be fun and exciting. Allow life’s obstacles to give you an excuse to be dull and predictable.
  4. Stop being interested in other women. Don’t talk about them and don’t look at them. Pretend they don’t exist.

Show me a guy who says that he’s not getting his intimate needs met in marriage I will show you a guy that will say “Yeah, you’re right”  to three out of the four items above.

When you don’t look good, your wife’s hindbrain says “Not good genetic material for mating purposes… Not attractive to other females…must not procreate with this male.” The whirr: “Not tonight honey. I have a headache.”

 

When you don’t stand up to her and instead just say “yes, dear” twenty times a day, her brain says “This male is weak. He can’t even stand up to me… how will he stand up to things that are truly dangerous and protect me and the family?” The whirr: “I miss being single…”

 

When you stop being fun and exciting, her brain says “He must be getting older and less virile. Testosterone must be down. He won’t be able to procreate successfully or protect me from danger. “ The whirr: “I’m going out for lunch with Tom, my ex-boyfriend from college.”

 

When you stop looking at other women in a sexual way, her brain says “I have no danger of losing my provider. He doesn’t even do the most basic of horny male stuff. He ain’t going anywhere.” The whirr: “I’m tired. I’m going to put on my sweats and just go to bed. But first I will eat three pieces of cake leftover from yesterday.”

These clicks and whirrs are usually not overt or conscious. More often then not they are subtle and pile up over time. The woman is not taking out a flow chart to decide whether or not she still finds her husband attractive. It “just happens”. The subsequent whirr is absolutely mystifying to the unsuspecting husband.

This is when they hear things like:

“I don’t know why I don’t want sex like I used to. I just don’t.”

“It just happened. We were talking, we had a few drinks, he came over… I’m sorry.”

Push the right combination of clicks and the subsequent whirr will wipe your past out as if it never happened. Your history as a couple and all of the past good deeds are NO match for her emotion. “But but… we have marriage VOWS!” Dude… you’re not listening. The programming has already kicked in. There is no line of code that says “If marriage status = true, stop whirr sequence immediately.” It doesn’t work that way.

This is the “affair fog” you read so much about. The spouse becomes a kind of autonomous cheater robot.

*Beep boop* “I love you but I’m not IN LOVE with you.” *Beep boop beep* “It’s not you. It’s me” *Beep bop beep boop* “I think we need to take a break.”

You’re witnessing the whirr happening right before your eyes. Everything in her life but the affair is wiped out. You can call this “being in love”“obsession”“this is not my wife”…. or you can say that the other man came in at the right time, pushed the right buttons and the “copulate with competing male” whirr started spinning away.

Same result either way: She’s cheating. The whirr has started. You just let the machine run its course… and you walk away. For good.

Boundaries

Healthy people recognize the reality of the whirr. They recognize their capability for malevolence. To combat this, they construct what we call “boundaries” around themselves. They don’t put themselves in positions where clicks are abundant.

  • They don’t do girls night outs with that one questionably sane gal from the office. They say “No thank you!” and take their energy home to their husband.
  • They don’t keep the dirty text they got from the hot 19 year old neighbor girl a secret.  They tell the girl that it’s very inappopriate and immediately show their wife.
  • They don’t have drinks alone after work with the charming guy from the office. They tell him that he should ask his wife out instead.
  • They don’t stay and listen to the hot girl at the office talk about how she would kill to have a guy like him in her life. They say “Thanks”, walk away, and tell the wife about it.
  • They don’t keep messages from their ex a secret. They block the number and immediately inform their husband.

Beware the person who gets angry about having to put up boundaries to their behavior. Beware people who repeatedly claim “I would never cheat” and get angry when the thought of boundaries are brought up. That is clue one that they don’t have any boundaries and they are more apt to let their guard down and open themselves up to the dangerous clicks all around them. They’re in denial of their capacity for wrongdoing and they project their fears and insecurities onto you.

Crossing the line

It doesn’t take much to cross the line. Not much at all. People are more apt to cross it if the circumstances are right. They are more apt to give in to the impulses and clicks and let the machine take over and whirr away if they have the right stressors and emotional baggage in place.

In short, if you come from a broken home, have a history of abuse, were sexual at a very early age, have a history of substance abuse …. you are one finely tuned whirring machine. Your defenses are frequently down and it takes A LOT more consistent boundary enforcement to keep car from going off the road.

One common scenario I see again and again:

  1. Wife has baggage galore. Regardless of her past, she has become a successful and well-rounded person.
  2. Red flags are abundant but ignored. Her actions are questionable but they are always short of crossing the line. The man is led to believe that his nagging gut feelings make him a bad person. He looks at all the positives, instead.
  3. One or a series of bad life moments (stressors) take place. A family member dies. Job loss. Demotion. Illness. New job responsibilities. Something happens and it is enough to break down the few boundaries they may have… and they are off to the races. Strange behavior galore. Cheating. “This is not my wife.” The robot has been activated.