Infidelity is more common than most people realize. It is also a topic that many people do not want to discuss. In fact, it is estimated that 60% of men and 40% of women today will have an extramarital affair during their marriage. I decided to learn as much as I could about it so I could help my clients prevent it, or recover from it when it has already happened. In this post, I will explore the forces that lead to infidelity and what must happen for couples to heal.
Forms of Infidelity
Infidelity takes many forms. Some people have sequential affairs—a series of one-night stands or short affairs. These affairs involve very little emotional investment and may be rationalized as harmless. There is always the danger of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. When such behavior continues for several years and finally is discovered, it is difficult to heal the years of deceit.
Other affairs are discrete events. These also involve minimal emotional investment.
Sometimes affairs last longer and become more serious. These affairs may be quite romantic and sexual. Sometimes they grow into more serious relationships and may last for years.
There is also an emotional affair. This happens when individuals are connecting with others on an emotional level even though there may not have been any type of sexual contact between the two individuals. These relationships are usually kept quite and can eventually lead to sexual contact.
Why Affairs Happen
Infidelity happens for many reasons. Here are a few of the common explanations:
- Sometimes people become bored with their partners and seek sexual or emotional excitement with someone new. The new person seems to supply the excitement that has been missing.
- Stressful times in the family life cycle lead some to seek escape in an affair. This includes things like taking care of aging parents, raising teenagers, and becoming new parents.
- People sometimes look for outside relationships because their expectations of marriage have not been satisfied.
- Some people seek outside relationships when their partners are emotionally unavailable.
- Other people begin affairs because they seek more affection than their partner can provide.
There are also many social reasons why affairs happen: factors that exist in our society that lead many of us to expect a fantasy version of marriage that could never really exist. When marriage doesn’t live up to this expectation, some of us keep looking for it outside of marriage.
Common Reactions to Infidelity
People who are involved in relationships in which their partner has been unfaithful say they have a wide range of reactions. These are a few of the common ones:
- A physical reaction, such as feeling like you have been punched in the stomach.
- Denying that anything is wrong.
- Blaming yourself (I didn’t pay enough attention to her; I wasn’t attractive enough for him; etc.).
- Blaming the relationship (We were too young; We were wrong for each other; We had different values, etc.).
- Blaming the lover (It’s all his fault; If it weren’t for him); transferring anger from one’s spouse to one’s lover.
Consequences of Infidelity
In addition to the emotional impact of infidelity, there may also be other consequences: sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, problems at work, and loss of relationships.
Even though infidelity has a devastating impact on marriages, many do survive. Let’s look at what it takes for a relationship to recover.
If You Were Unfaithful
If you had the affair and want to save your marriage:
- Stop the affair and tell the truth about it.
- Make the choice to practice fidelity.
- Understand your partner’s need to ask questions and understand what happened.
- Spend plenty of time with your family.
- Find a therapist and explore what has happened in your marriage.
- Expect to reassure your partner of your commitment to the marriage.
- Listen carefully to your partner and accept his or her feelings and thoughts.
- Admit that you were wrong.
- Make amends. Identify what it would take for you to deserve forgiveness. Then, do it.
If Your Partner Was Unfaithful
If your partner had the affair and you want to save your marriage:
- Acknowledge your anger and express it productively.
- Be aware of distorted thoughts that may fuel your anger.
- Watch out for negative beliefs that may make it harder for you to heal your relationship.
- Find a way to explore and express your feelings, such as writing in a journal or working with a professional therapist.
- Explore the advantages and disadvantages of saving your marriage.
- Establish a safe environment where you can learn about what happened.
- When you are ready, create a ritual for letting go of the anger and forgiving.
Finally, what are some things you can do to protect your marriage and keep it from becoming an infidelity statistic?
- Pay attention to your partner. Be aware of his or her needs and do your best to meet them.
- Think about how you behaved when you were trying to win your partner over. Do the same things now.
- Make intimacy fun.
- Look for opportunities to talk and listen.
- Be thoughtful and romantic. Send cards, flowers, gifts.
- Avoid high-risk situations. Discuss these with your partner and ask him or her to do the same.
- Be polite to your partner.
- Say nice things about your partner, in public and in private.
- Spend regular private time together.
- Greet your partner when he or she comes home.
- Show that you are glad to see your partner. Be energized and pleasant.
- Recommit to your values. Make the decision to live in keeping with what you believe is right.
- Accept that you are responsible for your own well-being.
- Be proactive about nurturing your marriage. This relationship is your most important investment; give it the time and attention it deserves.
- Look for ways to express appreciation and respect.