Some researchers point out that sexual monogamy is not common in the animal world but is instead a construct of human beings that tends to conflict with the biological desire for multiple sexual partners. Despite this fact, many people continue to aspire to such ideals and many cultures throughout the world demand sexual fidelity by harshly punishing those who stray.
For many couples, the discovery of a partner’s infidelity is experienced as a betrayal that shatters one of the most fundamental assumptions of a relationship: its exclusivity. Infidelity is much more common than we like to believe, it’s neither solely men’s domain, nor is it an indication of a bad marriage. Infidelity is not a sign that the marriage is over in fact, most marriages not only survive infidelity and affairs, but they can actually do well.
Although humans have always been intrigued by extramarital transgressions, research shows that in recent years there has been an exponential rise in infidelity due to the advent and widespread use of internet and social media through which couples can easily meet thrive and socialise frequently anonymously. Because of this, a contemporary definition of infidelity goes beyond extramarital sexual interaction to include emotional and internet-based interactions and relationships alongside a wide variety of behaviours such as viewing pornography, online relationships or extramarital friendships.
Although, at the heart of all definitions for infidelity is a behavioural violation breaching a stated or implied contract between two individuals in a committed relationship; what constitutes a breach in fidelity is idiosyncratic and is defined by the individuals in the relationship contract. Also, because the parameters of sexual and emotional exclusivity are not always verbally stated, partner’s expectations may differ widely on what is appropriate for their relationship.
Another important aspect regarding infidelity’s definition is the matter of secrecy. In therapy therefore, is essential to gather a clear understanding of the client’s meaning of infidelity and secrecy to help determine what constitutes a contract violation within the relationship.
Impact of Infidelity
Following a disclosure of an infidelity, each partner can be expected to have quite different emotional, cognitive, and behavioural reactions. Most common experiences reported by injured partner’s experiences are:
a deep emotional turmoil characterised by confused thoughts and intense emotions frequently: shock, anger, and denial. Followed by
a period of grief due to the disintegration of previous assumptions, expectations and trust in their relationship.
scepticism and pessimism about the relationship
sense of self loss and one’s sense of purpose
loss of a sense of uniqueness and self-respect
greater self-doubt, insecurity
worries about physical attractiveness and sexuality.
Statistically, women are six times more likely to experience a major depressive episode when their husbands had an affair. Commonly, the fallout of discovering infidelity can be compared to symptoms of post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD): re-experiencing, avoidance, or hyperarousal.
It’s not uncommon for the involved partner endures a mourning period and just as the injured partner experiences depression. However, sometimes depression is not present, providing a clue that, most likely, he or she has fallen back or did not end the extra marital relationship. On occasion, the involved partner may lack guilt, experiencing the extra-marital relationship as a boost to his or her self-worth and breadth to life’s experience. In this case, the betrayer shows a strong ambivalence around conflict resolution, little empathy, and less patience for their partner’s experience. Nonetheless, most commonly involved partners feel a great amount of guilt and remorse.
Therapy for Infidelity
In general, a successful relationship requires feelings of stability and security, physical and emotional intimacy and companionship. When any one of these is deficient, one or both partners are likely to feel dissatisfied and dissatisfaction in a relationship can increase the likelihood of infidelity. Adultery does not always occur because of a relationship dissatisfaction, though, sometimes a partner may enter an affair based on personal dissatisfaction or for the personal gratification of obtaining an ego boost, a new sexual experience or shared emotional intimacy.
Some of the reasons a person may engage in infidelity includes:
Primary relationship dissatisfaction
As an exit strategy to end the primary relationship
A lack of emotional intimacy in the primary relationship
Avoidance of personal or relationship problems
The way couples recover from infidelity depends in large part on their cultural background and their personal or religious values surrounding infidelity, but above all by their willingness to engage with therapy and their commitment towards their relationship.
Many couple pursue therapy to determine whether to continue the relationship after an affair and to process their feelings surrounding the incident. A therapist can serve as a supportive listener as each partner expresses his or her emotions regarding the infidelity and can help the couple determine their needs and future goals for the relationship, whether they choose to maintain or end it. If the couple wishes to maintain the relationship, a therapist can assist them by helping each partner discover his or her level of commitment to the relationship, teaching the partners skills for repairing trust and guiding the couple through the process of healing.
A therapist can also help clarify the true nature of the relationship by encouraging an open evaluation of the relationship’s strengths and weaknesses. If unhealthy patterns exist, such as co-dependency emotional abuse, or repeated affairs, the therapist may call these into question. In addition, therapy can help those people who feel they are to blame for the infidelity of their partners to work through those feelings and obtain new perspectives.
When a couple decides to end the relationship, a therapist can still be of assistance to both parties. The partner who was betrayed may find it beneficial to discuss his or her feelings of inadequacy, betrayal, and anger; the therapist can also assist in helping him or her cope with the trauma of the loss of a partner. The involved partner may feel regret and wish to understand what caused him or her to pursue an affair. If the individual had an affair after realizing the relationship was not satisfying, for example, a therapist can help him or her determine ways to communicate feelings of dissatisfaction more effectively so that he or she does not repeat the behaviour. After working with a therapist couples will embrace the new relationship that they have created and experience a stronger, more genuine bond.
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