Have you experienced infidelity in your relationship? You are not alone as infidelity is a common occurrence in relationships. Statistics show that approximately a quarter of relationships experience infidelity. It occurs in all types of relationships: heterosexual, same sex, young adults and older adults too. In fact, a study by Wolfinger showed Americans age 55 and up are more likely to have extramarital affairs than adults younger than 55.
In a 2017 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior it was reported if an individual cheated in a prior relationship, he or she is three times more likely to cheat in a second relationship compared to people who report no infidelity. Also, if an individual has been cheated on in a previous relationship it is two times more likely a second partner will cheat on that individual.
What are the reasons leading to infidelity? There are a variety of reasons why people cheat. Some reasons:
Needs Not Being Met:
It is common in relationships for one reason or another for the partners to cease meeting the other’s needs. Perhaps they get so busy with work, kids, school, or other situations that they fail to come together and connect as a couple. They begin to grow apart and do not pay attention to their partner’s needs. Perhaps they stop connecting and become lonely in the relationship. It then becomes easy to connect with someone outside the relationship.
Lack of Communication:
When couples cease communicating with each other or do not have healthy communication patterns deep thoughts and emotions are not effectively discussed with one another. Lack of positive communication or positive reinforcement in a relationship makes it easy to hear the positives from someone else. Lack of communication may also lead to not getting one’s needs met.
When there is a loss between a couple, a loss of a child, a loss of a family member, loss due to serious situations such as loss of financial means each partner may grieve or handle loss differently. One may withdraw and become depressed while the other may seek support outside the relationship because the partner is unavailable. Sometimes seeking support can lead to infidelity when the griever becomes too close to the support person.
Sometimes a partner may seek intimacy outside of the relationship as a form of revenge for a partner’s infidelity or other form of betrayal. There are some individuals who will not feel OK in the relationship until the score is evened following infidelity.
Sexual Addiction or Love:
When an individual has a sexual or love addiction infidelity may be rampant. Until the cycle of addiction is broken and managed the infidelities will continue. The issues run deeper than the partnership for the inflicted partner. This is rarely solved without outside intervention. In this case both members of the couple will need intensive counseling.
Alcohol or Drug Abuse:
Any form of substance use/abuse may lead to impulsive or poor decision making which can include sexual infidelity.
There are several types of infidelities including Out the Door and physical or emotional. Sometimes infidelities happen without the individual realizing her or she has crossed the line.
Out The Door:
Perhaps an individual has fallen out of love with a partner and doesn't know how to leave so is unfaithful with the idea he or she doesn't care if he/she is caught or is secretly hoping to be caught to have an excuse to leave the relationship.
Emotional affairs may start innocently. Two people begin to text each other innocuously. The texts grow more frequent and more intimate. An individual may begin to feel good from the texts and believe unmet needs in the primary relationship are being met with this other person. People may believe because they are not having sex the relationship is friend to friend. The line is crossed when intimate details are shared with someone other than the partner. This is infidelity, an affair. People tend to think texting or other social media communication is not considered infidelity because there is no sex involved. However, sometimes emotional affairs can be more damaging than sexual affairs because an emotional bond is developed. Sometimes these types of affairs will lead into a sexual affair. 45% of men and 35% of women admit to having had an emotional affair.
Sexual infidelities may be the result of different causes. As stated above, an emotional affair may eventually become sexual. Some individuals may actively seek out sexual affairs through social media, ads, or on dating sites. Some may start a sexual affair with someone at work or with someone from their circle of friends.
Can relationships survive infidelity?
The short answer is YES! If both partners are committed to rebuilding the relationship it can survive and even become stronger. In my practice I follow these steps to help couples heal. If the cause of the infidelity is a sexual or love addiction, both partners will need individual counseling. In this case the treatment looks very different.
1. The affair must be terminated. If it is allowed to continue while the couple attempts to repair their relationship it is guaranteed to be unsuccessful. When an affair continues there are three people in the relationship and unless it is a polyamorous relationship (more than two people in a relationship with all agreeing to the dynamic) this is a set up for failure.
2. Once the affair is ended the offending partner must take full responsibility for the infidelity. If this is not happening, and the individual is blaming his or her partner this is considered Gaslighting. Honesty and taking responsibility are key ingredients for the repair process, without this healing will be impossible.
3. The hurting partner may want details of the infidelities. Before these are disclosed, the hurting partner is encouraged to think about the information he or she wants to hear. Once it is told it can never be unheard and may cause more problems for this individual. The hurting partner is encouraged to think about this before insisting on details.
4. Unless there is a sexual addiction there are most likely problems in the relationship that predate the infidelities. These must be identified but without placing any blame on the hurting partner. No matter how bad the relationship issues were it is the unfaithful partner who holds the responsibility for having made the choice to cheat.
Once the issues in the relationship have been identified the repair and healing process can take place. This is achieved through a variety of ways and individualized for each couple.
Once these issues are repaired it will be important for the couple to maintain the changes and tend to their relationship to make it affair proof. Relationship care needs to be done daily. Relationships are like gardens. If not tended to they will become overgrown with weeds.
It is always important to consider the issues with both partners as they will be jointly struggling from this experience. The unfaithful partner may have given up someone whom he or she has developed feelings for. The hurting partner may show symptoms similar to someone who has experienced a trauma including; flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance towards the unfaithful partner, inability to sleep, anxiety, and trust issues. All these issues will need to be addressed and mitigated.
Relationships can and do become stronger following infidelities but there is a lot of work that must go into the repair effort. If the couple is willing to work hard the end result can be a much stronger bond.
A few good books to help you following infidelity are listed below.
Melissa Muller MA, LMHC