Infidelity - Betrayal, Hurt, Discovery, Growth
Time to talk about the big one: Infidelity. A hard topic to discuss for sure and yet it’s a topic we are constantly exposed to. Flip on the news to see reports of “Ashley Madison,” read the paper to find a celebrity scandal, or even go drinking with friends to find out that John slept with his wife’s best friend. It seems that no matter who we are, where we are from, or what we do, we can’t escape the concept of infidelity. But what is infidelity and what does it mean for a relationship? These are the two main questions I hope to provide you with an answer to by the end of this article. First things first though…
How Do You Define Infidelity?
To some, infidelity means the physical act of having sex with someone that is not your partner. Others, would say that the it’s the emotional act of falling in love with someone else. There are also those who would believe that their partner has been unfaithful if they were found watching pornography. My point, is that our meaning and understanding of infidelity is variable and this variability can be applied to many other concepts that surround intimate relationships. For example, look at the concepts of love and marriage:
A Romeo and Juliet state of mind where life is not worth living without your soul mate by your side. Not your definition? How about Netflix and Chilling with your Bae? Not that either? Is it emotional? What about physical? Both? Just like infidelity, love is difficult to define because love’s meaning changes depending on the person you ask. This means that love is a product of our imagination and is therefore shaped by the personality, experiences and ambitions of the person who’s defining it!
Used to mean one man and one woman in a loving, monogamous relationship, till death do us part. Thank goodness that’s changed! Slowly but surely we are working towards basic human rights. We now live in a country where a human being can marry another human being regardless of their gender, biology and identity. Monogamy, now, is not the only way to love (a few episodes of Sister Wives has shown me that). And finally, with divorce rates being around 50% in the United States, we know that for some the aforementioned sacred vows have lost some of their oomph. As Ester Perel says, “it used to be shameful to get a divorce but now in this new day and age the new shame is to stay in a marriage when you could leave and find a better one.”
So What is Infidelity?
Infidelity is an amalgamation of various thoughts, feelings, and perceptions focused into action. In whatever capacity, it is a serious threat to any relationship but in the end it is just a symptom of the bigger ailment.
At the heart of infidelity, we often find that there is a longing and yearning for an emotional connection, for novelty, for freedom, for autonomy, for sexual intensity – a wish to recapture a lost part of one’s self. - Ester Perel (2015)
That feeling of self-loss is the bigger ailment and it is the first brick that paves the road toward infidelity. You may not realize it but you hear people voice this feeling of loss all the time, in several subtle ways…
“I’m tired of feeling ugly, he used to look at me like I was a supermodel.”
“Remember when we didn’t have to check-in every 5 seconds and tell our wives where we are and what we’re doing?”
“I swear when I try and have a serious conversation with him about something that’s upsetting me, or something that’s important to me, or anything related to me, he just dismisses it or says ‘whatever’ and continues doing whatever he was doing.”
These are warning signs, and we often do not realize that until it’s too late. It’s easy to ignore these signs because they’re often dismissed as everyday complaints or nagging. Additionally, they don’t hold the severity they should because the act of infidelity is so emotionally charged and powerful that it towers over them and forces us to refocus our attention on it.
So What’s Next for Our Relationship? A Quiet Room and an Intimate Conversation.
If you’ve started to notice or hear the warning signs I mentioned above, it’s definitely time to sit down with your partner and ask some questions. How do each of you feel about your relationship right now? What do each of you bring to the relationship? Are there areas in your relationship that you feel could use some improvement? How’s your sex life? Exciting? Bland? What does your partner think? These are just a few of many questions that should be asked during your conversation. Each question asked should be heard and considered. It’s important to remember though that the conversation you and your partner have is just that, a conversation… It’s a check-in of sorts, not a soap box to stand upon or a pillow to scream into. By the end of your conversation you will have enhanced your relationship and your understanding of each other, or at the very least you’ll know what aspects of your relationship could use a tune-up.
If you’re past the point of warning signs and infidelity is already affecting your relationship know this: infidelity is inauspicious and terrible, but it is also illuminating and revealing as well. Should you choose to fight through it, it can serve as a catalyst for reevaluating, strengthening and enhancing the next relationship you create, whether that be with the partner you have now or the partner you have next.
With the help of a good therapist you and your partner can redefine your relationship, restructure how you communicate, and to recreate the healthy, loving, and respectful relationship you once had.
If you are currently coping with a partner who has been unfaithful or you have started to notice warning signs in your relationship don’t wait any longer. Please call today and get the help you need.
Kendall Campbell, MA, LMFT-Associate