By: Esther Goren, M.A., MFT
Infidelity is about being unfaithful to a partner, either physically or emotionally. It is a breach of trust and betrayal of the relationship; if one partner feels deceived, cheated, and hurt then it is infidelity.
Although infidelity is often a sign that something is not working in the relationship, extramarital affairs can occur even in “good” marriages.
Though it may involve sex, the intention of an affair is not necessarily sex. Most people never plan to have an affair; they only want to be loved, feel desired, and enjoy the comfort and companionship of a new and exciting partner.
There are four different types of infidelity:
Unintentional - This is an unplanned, “accidental” act of sex. Many times the affair starts when one is looking for a friend to supplement whatever he or she is not getting at home. This unmet need often leads to an emotional connection that later also involves sex. This is an affair even before the friendship is sexualized. This kind of affair usually happens after there is a long, friendly, non-sexual relationship with another person. One may feel sad, lonely, or vulnerable, and the other may try to comfort him or her, leading to a more intimate relationship. The newly created emotional closeness may then turn into a sexual act.
Sex and Lust - This usually happens when one has a strong desire for additional sex and is in continual search for sexual activity. It is difficult for him or her to commit to only one partner, and they treat their partners as replaceable. Their relationships are usually weak and superficial. They do not feel much guilt and may believe that there is nothing they can do about it. This behavior can be considered an addiction and may be difficult to change.
Passion and Romance – Occurs when a person wants to be in love and is in continuous search for more passionate and a romantic connection. The resulting affair may be very intense but is usually temporary. Contrary to the sense of stability, comfort, and security that comes with a long-term intimate relationship, there is a sense of excitement, thrill, and uncertainty elicited by the affair.
Midlife infidelity - Happens when one realizes that he or she is aging, yet still wants to feel young and attractive. The individual may also feel that something is lacking in his or her current relationship and may want to experience it with a different partner before it is too late.
Many times the person who cheats may decide to keep it a secret. Even still, the affair puts a strain on the relationship and causes a loss of connection and intimacy. Hence, though it may lead to a major conflict, it is usually advisable to reveal the affair to the partner. Only when one can be truthful enough to reveal his or her dark secret can the couple begin to regain the trust needed to repair their marriage and their relationship.
It is not wise for either partner to decide that infidelity is too much to deal with and assume it is impossible to stay together. In many cases it is possible to overcome an affair and even enjoy a better and closer relationship afterwards.
In revealing the affair, the unfaithful partner must first stop the affair, then talk openly and honestly about it, and finally take full responsibility and sincerely apologize, without blame or justification. The cheating partner must then deal with his or her partner's emotional distress and feelings such as anger, anxiety, distrust, and fear. They need to commit to work on the marriage, get closer, communicate frequently and truthfully, and proactively increase the level of intimacy.
The betrayed partner may feel angry, fearful, and lonely. He or she may be obsessed with certain details, and take some of the blame on him or herself. This individual may also be surprised that he or she did not figure this out earlier. Some may feel a need to punish the partner by criticizing and rejecting him or her. But this will only keep them apart instead of bring them together.
To heal the relationship, each partner must share and express his or her feelings with absolute honesty, and with no hidden feelings or unsaid things. Listening without wanting to correct and without looking for what is wrong is an important part of the process. This way of communication will enhance the sense of emotional connection. In addition, the partners need to create a meaningful companionship where they enjoy doing things together and genuinely consider their partner as their best friend. It is important that they pay attention to all aspects of communication including, how one treats, acts toward, interacts with, or relates to the other.
This can be an opportunity for both partners to re-commit to each other, renew the relationship, and revive the romance and close connection.
"You hurt your spouse, not so much by the infidelity, but by the negative feelings about yourself that you bring home".
Esther Goren, MFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist, providing couples therapy and marriage counseling in SF East Bay Area. Her practice is focused on helping individuals and couples revive their relationships and create loving intimate connections. For more information visit: http://EsteeCounseling.com