It is not normal to think our partner intends to harm us. A clandestine other relationship (or an extra-marital affair) with or without sex is intentional and harmful. Secret chat room sex, internet porn, clandestine visits to ‘massage parlours’, sexting, playfairs – can all be harmful, humiliating and traumatic when they occur without the full knowledge and consent of the partner in a primary relationship. Full knowledge and consent!
The most affected person is usually the last to know. Humiliated rage is likely to follow discovery. And then seemingly endless questions fired by heart broken distrust – grasping for an evidentiary foothold in a world turned upside down. Who have I been living with all this time? It is so out of character.
Dissociation, depersonalization or traumatic grief may be factors in an inexplicable personality change before, during or after the affair.
Extra-marital intercourse occurs in both happy and miserable marriages. The statistics are wobbly, but at least 60% of marriages will go down this road at some time. If you add emotional affairs that prediction is significantly greater.
The sexual or emotional high can be intoxicating. Ordinary people can do almost anything to maintain the rhythm of infidelity. Like drunken sailors crashing a life on the rocks and telling themselves everything’s fine. Hooked.
Infidelity is likely a rebellion, and an attempt to find another version of ourselves.
It may transfer a relationship problem to a concealed location where it appears to be cured.
An illicit affair outsources intellectual, emotional and/or physical intimacy. That movement is hidden by a sleight of hand or by misdirection.
The excluded partner’s choice of cure for what ails the relationship is stolen by the strayer.
When discovered this adds more layers to the personal and relationship problems back home.
I have yet to come across a long term committed relationship shattered by clandestine affairs that didn’t have problems to start with. What relationship doesn’t have them! But it seems to take forever to get back to working as a team on the original and solvable problems. The damage of infidelity is so immediate with profound re-shaping of trust both in retrospect and in prospect.
Whether the couple can stay together depends on reconstructing the identity union (the feeling of being a unique team). This cannot take place if there is denial of responsibility, ongoing infidelity, physical violence or ongoing verbal and emotional abuse.
Miscommunication and misunderstandings about sexual exclusivity are common. My advice is get help early in the relationship – preferably pre-marital and then early in the discovery of cheating.
If financial infidelity has also occurred then get help even earlier, if that is possible. ‘Men tend to hide income, while women tend to hide excess spending.’
Remember the real estate dictum – location location location? Same with infidelity – the situation is powerful. The place has a power and mystery of its own. How, where and when the actions are situated affects the outcome. Our capacity for self-deception is almost limitless. The unfaithful lie to both lover, partner and to themselves in equal measure.
Our brain camouflages its inner process – we regularly say one thing and do another, believing we actually did what we said we did. Thinking makes it so. The idea that you can ‘affair proof’ a committed monogamous relationship flies in the face of reality. Proponents of this view also proffer inflated divorce statistics (30% instead of the actual 2.8 adults per thousand population per year). No secret is safe, absolutely. However, the majority of illicit one-night stands, flings and clandestine affairs likely go undetected by the partner or spouse. It is gambling with the heart and happiness of loved ones.
Deceit robs the other of choice about a situation that affects them materially and spiritually, even if they are yet to acknowledge to themselves the truth of what they sense is hidden. What you don’t know does hurt you in this realm.
Some affairs continue even after the betrayed has used web cams; mobile spy app;, phone tap;, hacked email accounts; employed a PI, and then confronted the cheater – who initially denies and later repents but continues in secret to be re-discovered months or years later. The marriage repeats its cycle again and again.
BOTH partners can deny blatant proof of infidelity – the betrayed unwilling or afraid to end the marriage and the strayer wanting everything to continue unchanged (or else!). “It will never happen again, I promise.”
Some people in long term relationships expect to negotiate sex with few or no words. Direct references to sexual behaviours can be considered crude or improper. This is a problem.
Infidelity may be a result a lack of frank negotiation for sex inside the marriage together with erroneous views about love. Levine ‘Demystifying Love’ (2007)
Infidelity raises the bar on the qualities expected in the primary relationship. If the strayer does not lift their game at home as a result, it leaves the betrayed wondering if their partner was ever that into them. Now both know what the strayer expects from a relationship and is capable of delivering in an affair, it is fair to wonder why it is not happening at home. Do I matter in those ways? Did I ever? Were we ever on the same team?
Financial costs: It is not impossible for an extramarital affair to be deemed a de-facto relationship where, for example, there is a ‘merging of lives into one’. This might expose a married strayer to financial claims in the Family Court of Australia. A de-facto relationship may exist even when the partners do not think so, and vice versa. It is the Court that defines when it began and ended, based on the law and the evidence.
The emotional costs are very high. Infidelity and recovery confirm the necessity of a self-differentiated, meaningful life; of valuing oneself and of intimate self-knowledge; of trusting that knowledge to one’s partner – building mental maps of each other’s inner world.
An affair may exhibit how out of touch with themselves and with each other the marital partners have become.
Feeling down, depression or a feeling of emptiness inside are often unrecognised factors in the drive toward infidelity and in its aftermath. It’s an upper in the beginning.
Attachment insecurity and trauma are sometimes an unrecognised factor in the capacity for serial re-offending. The two can coincide in the one person to whom their behaviour is inexplicable. Particularly when they dissociate.
Sex or romance addiction is likely in a serial strayer who knowingly covers their tracks.
Voluntarily and proactively disclosing the ‘unsettling, guilt-producing and controversial’ facts of the affair can return hope and promote healing where criminal penalties do not apply. Initially, discovery and disclosure cause high levels of distress and potential damage if it is not contained.
Once discovered, the strayer may only leak limited details under questioning. This sets up more questions. It is a toxic pattern that may require professional help to correct. An illicit affair may destroy the assumption of goodwill that normally lubricates trust despite the rusted on mistakes and inevitable misunderstandings of everyday life. More on how to build a healthy family.
Safety, peace, security and fidelity are the first concern. End the affair, voluntarily disclose accidental meetings. If it is a work mate, customer or client, then define the limits, redefine or change jobs. Open a window into the affair to re-build trust. Exhibit genuine empathy and contrition for the harm done. Make amends. Together with the above is the willingness of both to be soft and vulnerable with each other; to be humble and contrite with the wounded, the wounder and the righteous – three roles that are within each of us. More on how to build a healthy family.
However, being vulnerable is not safe when either partner continues to wound the other.
It takes at least three to tango – an affair is a triangle. It is a family system best understood systemically. The betrayed person is a part of that system.
Children are conceived in affairs occurring often at times of high fertility. It raises issues of paternity fraud and complex ethics about family blood lines when a child develops a life threatening, inheritable disease or requires compatible donor transplant.
Children accidentally or planfully involved in their parent’s affairs are betrayed and wounded; are taught to lie; to deny emotional pain and some are publicly humiliated in both school and home communities.
Betrayal blindness and trauma are observable facts and co-create painful legacies.
Betrayal bonding is powerful and keeps hurting people ‘attached’ to each other.
The majority of marriages survive an affair if the affair is ended. Some never recover. For many it is a turning point for the better. A few are utterly transformed by their experience and bring the wealth of its opening back into their primary relationship. That requires generosity and forgiveness on both sides.
Betrayal is betrayal is betrayal. For example, swingers, those in ‘open marriages’ and sex workers in committed relationships are devastated by infidelity as well.
Infidelity opens a door into the intergenerational grief of betrayals inflicted by and upon our parents and grandparents. This grief could stop here, but marrying intimacy with duplicity ensures that it will go on.
Coming to terms with all of the above is the end of masks, of the role-playing, false-self dilemmas. It is a beginning of the maturity that welcomes the sacred. Not religiosity but a broad spirituality that includes self, family and bio-community.
If nothing sacred grows then anything remains possible until the next crisis raises the same issues again.
It’s not about legislating morality.
It is about transforming values, personal responsibility or simply, character.