The Crisis of Infidelity. The single most destructive threat to committed relationships is when one of the partners engages in a sexual relationship with another person. This is not an uncommon event. Conservative estimates suggest that about a quarter of women, and a third of men, have violated their marital commitment to their partners. About 65 percent of marriages struck by infidelity end in divorce.
The impact on the lives of those who practice infidelity is enormous. It violates the integrity, trust, and commitment upon which marriage is based. When two people enter into a committed relationship, they make a promise to love and honor each other. This involves making a heartfelt promise to work through the problems that are sure to arise within the relationship. To break that promise means dishonoring the trust of the person who has agreed to live with you and build a life together. When an extramarital affair is discovered, a crisis ensues. Now the question is – can this relationship continue? In more than half the cases, the relationship does end – but, depending on how this crisis is dealt with by both partners, the relationship does have a chance to continue. In some cases, this relationship crisis serves as a watershed event that opens the door to self-examination and honest communication that may put the relationship on stronger ground. As a Marriage Counselor working in Affair Recovery that is exactly what happens to the couples I help who are committed to the process. They state despite the difficulty in talking about the affair the sharing of thoughts and feelings brings about a vulnerability that creates an emotional connection between them and they feel closer to each other than ever. Hence the phrase, “the affair has become the best thing that has happened to us.”
Whether infidelity leads to the negative outcome of the dissolution of the relationship or, at the other extreme, a more positive outcome with a stronger commitment and better communication depends on many factors. An important variable, among others, is whether the partner who cheated came from a family with infidelity. People with parents who were unfaithful are at higher risk for infidelity within their own relationships – although this is certainly not always the case, and many people from these families are determined never to repeat their parent’s mistake. Yet we learn many things in our families of origin, and one of those is to copy the behavior of our parents – and sometimes to act out our unresolved issues.
Another factor that may determine whether a relationship can survive infidelity is the nature of the affair. Some affairs lack any emotional commitment, while others involve a deeper level of intimacy and connection than is found within the primary relationship. While a marriage or relationship may survive the former, as long as the underlying issues are brought out into the open and worked through, the latter type is not as hopeful. The couple would have to put in a great deal of work to save this relationship.
The serial affair, for example, involves many one-night stands or a series of affairs. This type of affair lacks emotional commitment and intimacy, and the motive is often sexual excitement. These affairs usually occur out of town or away from areas where friends might find out about them. A sex addiction might be present in serial affairs. Although a person who engages in serial affairs is not interested in establishing an emotional investment with his or her partners, there is also a lack of attention paid to the vow of fidelity within the primary relationship – and this is a serious issue that must be addressed if the relationship is to continue.
The more formidable threat to a primary relationship is the romantic long-term affair. In this case, there is an emotional commitment to an outside partner, and some of these affairs can last for several years. If the primary relationship is to have any chance of surviving, the affair needs to come to an end. If the affair were to continue, the straying partner would likely not have the emotional energy or motivation to repair the damage done to the main relationship. Some Hurt Partners, however, allow the affair to go on and pretend not to know about it because they don’t want to end their primary relationship – but the price they pay is a high one. As a Marriage and Couples Counselor in San Diego, I help couples who are dealing with the aftermath of discovery of an affair and help them sort out what to do next. I will be discussing the different Types of Affairs in my next Blog which include:
The Cry for Help
Breakdown in Communication
The Exit Strategy
For more information on Infidelity and Affair Recovery please contact me at (858) 735 -1139.