I don’t have to tell you that infidelity invariably causes havoc in any marriage or committed relationship. Usually the spouse who has been kept in the dark feels extreme emotional pain and disillusionment, it is hard to imagine that the relationship would ever be the same after the secret is discovered, should it survive.
I see many couples in my psychology practice where there has been some kind of infidelity perpetrated by one of the partners. Infidelity in a relationships takes various forms, from sexual affairs to illicit spending.
In this post I would, however, like to focus on sexual infidelity.
Of course sexual infidelity differs in nature and degree – from close relationships with someone outside of the relationship, such as intimate “friendships” at work or a secret virtual relationship based on text messaging to a full-on sexual affair. There is seldom a correlation between the “seriousness” of the deed and the effect that it has on the relationship because the resultant breakdown in trust between the partners is due to the perceived betrayal that is involved.
The spouse or partner who discovers the affair will inevitably want answers to the following questions:
- Why did this happen?
- What was missing in our relationship that caused you to look outside for what you needed?
- What was lacking in me as a person ? Why wasn’t I enough for you?
- If you really love(d) me, how could you do something that you know would hurt me, and our relationship, so much?
These questions are often asked in my presence, during a couple counselling session. Time and time again I have found that the partner who has “cheated” has a difficult time articulating answers to these questions and invariably the answers that are forthcoming fail to placate or satisfy the other spouse. Usually any answer that is provided is met with skepticism, disbelief or outright anger. Often it appears as if the “guilty” partner can’t understand the cause(s) of their own behaviour in this regard, and often seems to be composing an explanation as they go along!
Partners often say to me, and to their spouse, that they are happy in their relationship and that they love their spouse very much.
The underlying dynamics associated with infidelity are invariably extremely complex and difficult to understand. However, safe to say that whatever the causes and nature of any infidelity that arises in any relationship, a couple needs to work through the process of trying to understand why the infidelity occurred and to come to terms with the fact that it did occur before they can hope to rebuild their relationship.
This usually requires a strong commitment to “hang in there” for as long as it takes, patience and open communication. There are no short cuts!