What is Infidelity?
Having counseled numerous couples, you can imagine the number of times I have heard the sad reports of infidelity and the destruction it caused in marriages. According to researchers, 30-60% of all married individuals in the U.S will engage in infidelity at some point in their relationship. That is a pretty big percentage! Many of the couples I have worked with have reported saying that if their spouse ever cheated they would leave in a heartbeat, yet when it actually happened that statement seemed harder than they thought. Infidelity is a very complicated situation and there are many facets that need to be considered when trying to process through the aftermath.
But first we must define and fully understand what infidelity is. By definition infidelity is the action or state of being unfaithful to a spouse or other sexual partner. However, the term “unfaithful” can be subjectively determined, therefore, making it very difficult to have a “one size fits all” description for infidelity. Due to the nature of our current technological world, the opportunities and ways of being unfaithful are numerous; though on the flip side, it then can make it very difficult to keep it hidden for too long because of these technological advances.
When people think about infidelity or cheating, they typically think about a sexual betrayal but more and more people are realizing there are many other ways one can be unfaithful or cheat on their spouse. Physical unfaithfulness is the most obvious and apparent forms of infidelity. There is some form of sexual encounter with another person, this can happen via extramarital affair or a paid service. Even flirting with someone other than your spouse can be considered a betrayal. Physical proximity and touch with another can cross a boundary that is considered inappropriate to some people. The other major form of infidelity is emotional unfaithfulness and can be argued to be even more painful and hurtful to the one being cheated on than a physical betrayal. When they both occur it is a double whammy betrayal and the hurt is that much more intensified.
An emotional affair is one where someone seeks the affection and attention from someone other than their spouse. People might not even realize at first that they are engaging in such an affair because it can begin so innocently. It may happen by engaging in a friendship that turns out to be a place you now find validation and the need for attention satisfied. So rather than your spouse fulfilling that need, you have found it with someone else and initially not even realize it. However, at some point you will discover a line has been crossed and often if left unchecked this emotional affair will become physical. This is where the life long debate of being able to engage in a platonic relationship with the opposite sex is even possible. Nevertheless, when two people are involved in a committed relationship (i.e. marriage) and they stray physically or emotionally, seeking to meet needs with someone other than their spouse, infidelity has occurred.
Esther Perel identifies three elements that lie at the heart of all infidelity. These three elements are secrecy, sexual chemistry (sexual activity is not necessary but very well could be present) and emotion. The structure of infidelity is secrecy. There should be no secrets between you and your spouse (unless you’re planning a surprise party for him/her) because this creates a disconnect in your relationship and the break down of trust begins. If you yourself are keeping secrets then you know that your spouse shouldn’t completely trust you because you are withholding information from them. Thus, this then can create some doubt about whether or not your spouse is also keeping secrets from you and the undeniable trust you hope to have in your marriage is now questionable. Honesty is really the best policy. Loyalty is another area of betrayal. We should always have our spouses back and know that they have ours. Regardless if you agree about something, you should stand by their side and never talk behind their back. Once you begin to talk about your spouse to someone else (specifically the opposite sex) you begin to step on that slippery slop of an emotional affair. To find out your spouse has confided in someone else about emotional issues and details of your marriage, that most certainly can feel like a hurtful betrayal. Infidelity hurts and it can throw you for an emotional tail spin for sure BUT it does not have to be a deal breaker. There is hope after a betrayal. Next blog coming will be on the “why” of infidelity and the emotions, hurts and pain of the betrayal and what to do with it. Like always, feel free to contact me for any questions or feedback you have. If you are suffering from the pain of infidelity or you yourself are struggling to stop falling into unfaithful behavior I would be more than happy to help you find the support and help you need!