Thursday night I was ironing clothes while watching the CNN news, Mark Sanford’s face popped up in the Piers Morgan show. He was the disgraced South Carolina governor whose extramarital affair with his Argentine soul mate derailed his political career. Consequently his wife and political ally, the mother of their four children divorced him. Sanford was on the news because he had made a political comeback by reclaiming the House seat, with his lover and now fiance by his side.

I’ve always wondered why successful and powerful men like Sanford willingly throw it all away for new romantic love. Although people are obsessed with celebrity scandals, when it comes to well-known politicians, society is generally forgiving once a person confesses, repents and wins the forgiveness of the wronged spouse. Such is the case with Bill Clinton and New York governor Elliot Spitzer. On the other hand, two-time presidential candidate John Edwards’ affair with his campaign videographer when wife Elizabeth was struggling with terminal cancer, the lies he told with a straight face and the extensive cover up of the affair and the love child have turned Edwards into a notorious public figure of the past. Edwards has recently reactivated his law license in NC. His ability to win over juries in medical malpractice cases made him a wealthy man before he ran successfully for the U.S. Senate in 1988.

Ordinary men can be just as senseless when infected by the love bug. I’d never forget a conversation I had with my colleague Shawn years ago. Shawn is a family man and a Godly man with a devoted stay-at-home wife and four outstanding children. He was well respected in his church and often took the podium to preach. On this particular day, I ran into him in the hallway and he asked to stop by in his office because he had something to tell me. When I sat down across from him in his cube, Shawn appeared a bit uneasy and nervous. The first thing that came out of his mouth was, “I don’t know how to tell you this … but I’m having an affair …”

I almost fell off my chair as I looked over his head and somehow the pictures of his family and children turned blurry.

He stared out of the office window longingly, “I can see her office right from here. We met each other when running… Something magical happened… All I want is to be with her… Honestly I’ll be totally content if I am in prison right now, as long as she is there.”

The Shawn I used to know was intelligent, sophisticated and logical, not this ditzy boy who claimed to be madly in love with another man’s wife!

Now I understand that three different brain systems are involved in the human reproduction process: sex drive, romantic love and attachment. Sex drive allows one to be intimate with a wide range of partners. Romantic love gets him focused on one very special person. The prickling in the pit of the stomach, the racing of the heart, and the excitement of seduction can be more exciting than sex. Attachment enables the partners to bond with each other and raise their children together.

The problem is that these three powerful brain systems aren’t always in sync. Shawn was clearly in love with this new lady whom he was willing to go to jail for, but at the same time he was still strongly attached to his wife and family. Neither he nor his wife wanted a divorce.

Romantic love is a drive that comes from the motor part of the mind. It’s much more powerful than the sex drive. People kill for love or fall into clinical depression due to the loss of love. But that doesn’t mean that a strong marriage has nothing to do with sex. According to Dr. Phil, if you have a good sexual relationship, it registers about ten percent on the “important scale” – meaning it makes up about ten percent of what’s important in the relationship. But if you do not have a good sexual relationship, that registers about ninety percent on the “important scale.” A good sexual relationship can make you feel more relaxed, accepted and more involved with your partner.

Like Shawn, most people who cheat may not be intentionally seeking new relationships. For whatever reason, they just happen to fall in love again with another person. Timing, the stress level in their lives at the time, boredom or a persistent pursuer can all contribute to the start of a new romance. Where there’s no change, there’s boredom, one of the experiences that we tolerate least well of all. “Boredom is watered-down pain,” wrote the German writer Ernst Junger. Some people need more stimuli than others to overcome boredom.

A thriving and rewarding marriage requires the balance of the three drives. Whenever one party stands on higher moral ground passing judgment on the other, or withhold sex as a way of punishment, or stop learning and growing, your relationship is running on the single cylinder of attachment and it’s vulnerable to stormy weather and external temptations.

I believe two people who choose to come together to form a life-long relationship can be completely transparent and in love with each other for the rest of their lives. Self-understanding, understanding of the human nature, compassion, curiosity, commitment and open communication can keep the fire of their romance deep-burning and unquenchable.