Infidelity and Your Marriage
Orlando Couples Therapist Shares Helpful Information
If you are in a committed relationship, you know the meaning of the word “fidelity.” You have seen the role it plays in our culture. Most likely, you have attended a wedding ceremony where the marriage vows included the phrase “Forsaking all others, be faithful only to her/him.” A more traditional version of the wedding vows says “I pledge my troth to thee.” The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary dates this phrase to the 12th century, and defines it as “loyal or pledged faithfulness.”
The concept of marriage has taken on different purposes through the years, and even today means different things in different cultures. As an economic and political institution, marriage was a way to consolidate military power, forge a political alliance or gain protection for a clan. Within a marriage, it was seen as important to restrict a woman’s freedom to procreate with multiple partners. The husband wanted to be sure that her children were his, so that his land, title, wealth and family-line were protected.
In this culture, the concept of marriage has changed from being an economic institution to the joining to two hearts in love. Serial monogamy, or being with one person at a time, has become the new normal. We expect that while single people might date more than one person at the same time, they will eventually decide to date one person exclusively. This will in turn lead to a commitment, often leading to living together and/or marriage.
As the purpose of marriage has changed, the purpose of fidelity has also changed. Now, we expect that we will occupy the central place in our partner’s life. In turn, our partner/spouse will be our lover, our best friend, our confidant, our playmate, our biggest supporter, our roommate, our co-parent and our protection from loneliness. We choose our partners based on how we feel when we are with them, if they “complete” us. Our sense of belonging, identity and status are tied to our partner.
Couples often seek marriage counseling when one of them discovers that their partner has cheated on them. Estimates vary widely on the percentage of relationships affected by infidelity. However, in all the relationships, the bond of trust has been broken and the marriage is in crisis.
There are many definitions of infidelity. Some focus on whether or not there is sexual involvement, and to what degree. Other definitions include the emotional component – that we reach towards someone other than our spouse to share our thoughts and hopes. Esther Perel, a specialist in the field of infidelity, describes, three essential elements of infidelity:
- The relationship is secretive. The cheating couple hide their relationship from others. “He is just a friend.” They meet at times and in places where they are unlikely to be spotted, they lie to cover up their contact. This includes deleting texts and telephone logs.
- There is an emotional connection. An affair usually has an element of caring about the other person. You expect to feel supported, cherished, encouraged by your lover. You want to do something special for them. You look forward to talking to them and seeing them again.
- There is physical excitement. Anticipating kissing them or having sex with them is as much of a turn-on as the actual act itself. The newness of the relationship, the ability to experiment sexually and the forbidden aspect of the relationship all work together to make the physical aspect exciting and rejuvenating.
At a very minimum, infidelity diverts your attention from the marital relationship. It robs the relationship of energy to make it grow. The cheating partner’s interest, time and attention is split between the long-term and new partner, with the new partner getting the larger share. The marriage receives less enthusiasm, care, and patience. The married couple experience more distance from each other. Emotional intimacy, which is nurtured by sharing time, thoughts and dreams together, withers away. Most significantly, honesty is strangled. The cheating spouse has to constantly lie about their whereabouts and expenses to maintain the affair, lie about the phone call they must made, read their texts in secret and trying hard not to leave any digital footprints.
If you are on the verge of beginning an affair, or if you have just discovered that your partner is cheating on you, counseling can be very helpful. In both situations, having a supportive place to explore your thoughts and feelings can remove a big weight from your shoulders. You can learn ways to look at the situation more clearly, and develop a plan of action that is right for you. It is important to behave in ways that fit your values and your idea of who you are. If you are in a situation where either of those is being questioned, individual or couples counseling can be very effective to help you move forward.
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