Last edit of this page 04/11/2012
1.0 Defining emotional and/or sexual infidelity
What infidelity means depends on who you ask.
One described it is a 'face lift and an anti-depressant in one'.
Esther Perel thinks of it in terms of the 'failed ambitions of love'. Source
1.1 Timing & duration
Infidelity is most likely to occur in the first three years of marriage or in the last year of the marriage.
In my clinical experience relationships are affair ready at the most vulnerable times in the family life cycle and also when one or both are depressed, feel dead inside or carry an unresolved bereavement. Over the honeymoon period, during assisted reproduction, following birth or death, from an empty nest and during career change, to name a few. More on affair readiness on Fidelity 2.
The following statistics are just a bit too neat for my liking:
1.2 Who does it?
27% of people who reported being happy in marriage admitted to having an affair!
How often does it occur?
The statistics are misleading since men and women lie with equal frequency. A chaste infidelity is an affair - an affair of the heart but not all think it as a betrayal. It can be catastrophic for all concerned when it is exposed, sometimes more damaging than if it were 'just a one night stand' or 'just about sex' (which it rarely is).
The statistics may or may not lump together one night stands and long term affairs with sanctioned and unsanctioned liaisons. They don't register straight people on queer beats . Few survey swingers, queer couples, group marriages or polyamorous lifestyles.
A deeply private person can experience betrayal when their partner talks about their intimate relationship to a third party such as a close sibling, parent, counsellor or priest, without their partner's blessing.
This may only require forbearance or growing up on the part of one or both. Or it may be violation of an agreed boundary and thus an infidelity without an affair. For some, even revealing the relationship's problems to a counsellor or priest may be experienced as betrayal.
TO DO: at the outset of your relationship ask your spouse, partner or lover for their definition of infidelity. Review it and give it the care and attention that a significant relationship deserves.
Predictably, most relationships get into trouble from a lack of due care and attention over many years. Infidelity is more likely a symptom and a wake up call, rather than a cause.
Like a great deal of the human story, betrayal teaches moderation and truth.
Partner poaching occurs in most cultures and countries and tends to form unstable relationships. In a recent survey of 16,000 university students in 53 countries, 20% of long term relationships began when one or both partners were involved with someone else.
The late Shirley Glass concluded from reviewing 25 studies that 44 percent of surveyed husbands and 25 percent of surveyed wives have had extramarital intercourse, the majority undisclosed to their partner. A 1994 study by the National Opinion Research Centre (NORC) found that about:
The 2003 NORC study supports the 1994 study. NORC studies may, however, underestimate the incidence because they are in-home interviews, possibly with a partner hovering in the background.
In an substantive review of scholarly research findings on infidelity in committed relationships and with a methodological review of those studies, the authors conclude extra-marital sexual intercourse 'occurs in less than 25% of committed relationships', whilst cautioning this does not include the equally devastating emotional affairs without sexual intercourse.
Holly Hein in her book "Sexual Detours: Infidelity and Intimacy at the Crossroads" presents the following statistics and opinions as fact.
Note: I dispute that some of them are facts at all but they make for provocative reading.
1.3 Related to divorce & separation
A number of studies and clinical reports suggest that up to 90 percent of first time divorces involve infidelity. A 1997 study with Kristina Gordon found 'more than half of the marriages that experience infidelity ended in divorce'.
In clinical experience divorce rarely follows an affair if the affair has ended.
An extramarital affair threatens the primary pair bond and sets up an alternative attachment and thus an alternative orientation to life. This is like having opposite points on the compass to guide one. This is disorientating. All life forms are intolerant of disorientation and exquisitely sensitive to it. Human beings do not easily unwind one of those two pair bonds. Pair bonds are essential to survival. Thus the disorientation persists after the end of the affair.
An emotional and/or a sexual affair can be simultaneously over and unfinished. It can remain as an orientation, an attachment, even whilst it is for all intents and purposes over.
Millions of years of evolution have made pair bonding our primary buffer and mediator of stress. Secure bonding or attachment releases the cuddle hormone oxytocin, which is an antagonist to the stress hormone cortisol.
Most people report that distress in their pair bond (i.e. the primary couple or marriage partnership) is more disturbing than losing their job or even a life threatening accident or illness. MRI studies show that the part of the brain that flashes on when the pair bond is in distress is the same as occurs during a heart attack.
A recent UK survey found 25 percent of men said an affair was a reason for divorce. An Australian survey found 23 percent said infidelity was the reason for divorce (there were 53,100 divorces in Australia in 2003). In Gottman's misreported view, 20 percent divorces USA are 'caused' by affairs. He observes most marriages end with a whimper by couples growing apart.
50 UK divorce lawyers were asked to name the most common causes of their cases in 2003. Of those who cited extramarital affairs, 55% said it was usually the husbands and 45% said that it was the wives who cheated.
Here is a summary of why people divorce with beginning methods to address the issues.
1.4 Shape of the problem
Between 10-15% of children are conceived in an affair. There are potentially 3 people hurt, affecting at least 2.4 million Australians according to this paternity fraud site. For some it makes no difference. For others, bitterness, recrimination and then law suits to recover maintenance follow. More about children conceived in an affair on Fidelity 4
Add to this the potential distress locked up in all the types of infidelities and the number of family and friends disempowered by complicity in keeping it secret and you start to get a sense of the size and the shape of this ancient journey. That most affairs go undetected is a measure of our social tolerance for and covert support of infidelity, though opinion polls show we overwhelmingly support monogamy.
Marriage education, couple coaching and early intervention are always going to be superior to any kind of relationship therapy. Especially once intimate betrayal is outed or the couple have gone for therapy as a last resort.
In Gottman's studies, 50% of those in relationship therapy (coming on average after 6 years of compromising and negotiating around key issues) continue on to divorce. Of the 50% who continue in their relationship, 35% report distress two years later.
Here is the Introduction and the Afterword to Shirley Glass' excellent book 'Not Just Friends'. On her web site there are related quizzes and more wake-up stats on this site. Evolutionary psychology (EP) studies jealousy and infidelity, finding in 'the orgasm wars':
1.6 A story of infidelity and healing
People described in the examples on this page and elsewhere on site are fictional composites drawn from many life stories. None of the events took place in the locations indicated.
There was a man named James known as Hap. He was a cold climate wine maker who slowly comprehended the enormity of his partner Jennifer's disclosure of her serial affairs over many years. He told me, "all that I had held dear was utterly betrayed. All that I had worked for completely meaningless."
He ranted and raged for a week, threatened everyone involved, made 'stupid' phone calls to family and friends, tried to bargain with Jenny to make it go away, ate and slept little until finally he collapsed and wept uncontrollably for three days and nights, "sobbing his little heart out", she told me. Jenny held him like a wounded animal exhausted from fever, soothed him, rocked him and sobbed herself with grief and shame.
She stayed connected with him and he with her, and neither checked out on each other.
From this profound and renewed collaboration came the realization that he had never dealt with the emotional abandonment he knew as a child. Through his tears he laughed at the TV soap 'revelation', but knew it was undeniable. He had put the past behind him, but always feared getting close in case abandoned and thereby like many of us, co-created the very conditions in which it can occur.
He could not connect deeply with Jenny, would not draw her to him as the beloved nor open his heart to her. She, who so desperately longed for that meeting gave up hoping after one of their twin son's, Simon died at age 3 and Hap wasn't there for her. She found what she needed outside and tried to hide it from him so that he wouldn't hurt. Hap buried himself on a chilly slope founding a Riesling vineyard. They disappeared out of reach and not from lack of love, commitment or even knowledge of what makes marriage work, but from that deep aloneness and exhaustion of a marriage that has lost its way.
Jenny was a veterinarian for large-animals and travelled interstate two or three times a year for the breeding programs she supervised. She was organized, intelligent, systematic and she could keep a cool head. Unfortunately Jan, the wife of one of her lover's, found out through a third party who had seen them out of town and late at night. Jan ranted and raged (as Hap was about to do) and swore her partner Cobby would never be allowed to forget it.
Jan had been suspicious of his odour for some time but he had denied sleeping around so she was on the warpath when finally there was solid evidence. For good measure she took out an insurance policy by calling Hap with a wine order and telling him, 'I've heard so much about your wines from Cobby and just by the way, I don't know if I should tell you this but do you know they've been sleeping together .............'
Hap had wanted to believe it was only the one time, but so many over the years seemed to make a complete farce of their whole relationship. Jenny too had wanted to tell him that it was only the once, but she had reached a place of terminal desperation and couldn't see the point in going on with the marriage if the core of it couldn't give her, give both of them what they needed.
So she, in a sense and like one does in a final gasp of hope, took hold of them both in her capable arms and told him everything and spared him nothing over that first sleepless week. She answered his every question over and over until he had taken it all in. Unravelling the process and making sense of how this could happen to them of all people, the ideal couple according to their friends, began healing the betrayal and then the marriage and then the grief of losing the twin arose as if it had never begun and then, finally it reached their childhood wounds. That took many months. They not only had to forgive each other but also their parents and themselves for what they took from the lessons of childhood and applied wrongly in adult intimacy and that they were not there for each other when Simon died as they could be now.
There are layers of forgiveness and inter generational grief that infidelity opens. Hap's parents were also unable to give that intimacy to each other but for a different reason. They were 'forced' to marry because of the pregnancy that delivered Hap and that then bound them together in an unhappy arrangement. Jenny's story resonated perfectly, as it does for many in long term relationships.
She knew her father found relief from his unhappy marriage through clandestine affairs. That was her knowledge of a normal resolution of unhappy marriage and she knew it was wrong. As a result of betrayal and recovery, Hap and Jenny became married, intimate for the first time in their lives. They rebuilt accurate maps of what was going on in each other's hearts and heads, which enabled them to better differentiate and anticipate the other's needs and wants. They had a shared language for this geography of mind that kept their knowledge fresh and relevant. Much else changed. Hap was more open about the stuff he used to sit on for months, even years and without having to be asked 'what's the matter?' over and over again. Jenny stopped flirting at wine functions, which before may have sold an extra case or two, but now could trigger Hap reliving the trauma. He now let the grapes grow without anxious supervision. They travelled interstate together on her trips having their own 'dirty weekend' to look forward to and he held her so tightly that she, finally, felt wanted and belonged.
They talked and loved like they never had before and this always had the added poignancy of how it would have been were they able to do this earlier - 'so many wasted years' they said, made each new day so precious. I didn't meet their grown up children though I spoke to the youngest, but I have met others later, and so can imagine the work this story will have given their kids on their journeys to intimacy.
When Jenny and Hap wanted to talk about it with the kids and felt ready to share what had hit them in the last 12 months, and how their process of healing proceeded, Jenny planned it very carefully. Their purpose was to undo, to the extent that they could, the emotional climate they feared they had passed on as that of a normal family. It had mixed results. A rift formed with the eldest and surviving twin son Marcus. He was wedded to the system of partner distance that he learned at home and chose a capable wife in Victoria, who railed against it rather than take an escape route outside. Maybe he felt abandoned by his parents when they disappeared emotionally, after Simon's death but he remembered nothing of that time and yet somehow he was hurt. The anger he now felt equally toward Jenny and Hap stirred it and he pushed them away.
This too resolved in the following year, but it was hard going for all of them and particularly for Victoria who with Jenny could see the cost of a family pattern that failed (and through failing healed) Hap and Jenny, being carried on by the next generation as normal. For their recently married daughter Harriet. it drew she and her partner closer and they took what they learned to confirm the life they were already building. For the youngest one Kelly, who lived on campus at the Institute of Sport, she said didn't care as long as Dad and Mum stayed together and sorted it out before she left with her team for the Commonwealth Games. Kelly was the organizer and it was she who called me first to see if I 'did couples'. Her coach had been a client of mine and was concerned that her father's crazy phone calls were interfering with her training!
1.7 Beyond the therapy ideology of trauma and betrayal
Sometimes honesty and transparency backfire. It is a very modern, 'democratic' even puritanical view that intimacy requires transparency and absolute honesty and that affairs are a symptom of a relationship dysfunction requiring treatment. One hundred years ago there was a clear distinction between the domestic and the erotic in the dominant cultures of Australia, Canada and the UK.
My concern in these pages is with those discovered or disclosed illicit or non-sanctioned relationships that one or both partners experience as betrayal.
In Australian and Canadian workplace sex harassment laws, harassment is defined by the receiver not the perpetrator. In this cultural context, betrayal tends to be validated by the one who perceives they have been betrayed no matter how much the other deflects the injury with, 'it didn't matter, it was nothing, it won't happen again, I never meant to hurt anyone'.
Despite the cultural approval of monogamy and disapproval of infidelity, men's infidelity continues at the same rate and women's infidelity continues to increase. So there is more at play here than a symptom of monogamy's discontent.
Scheinkman's article in Family Process (Volume 44 2005) and here in .pdf format provides a balanced view and no easy answers:-
Esther Perel is a refreshing voice in this conversation. She describes female infidelity as a statement of empowerment and rebellion. It still carries a death sentence in many countries. 'We have affairs not because we are looking for another person but because we are looking for another version of ourselves. We live two lives. We are different with different people.' Source.
1.8 Am I the last to know?
Since most extramarital intercourse goes undetected we can conclude the majority of us are neither mind readers, psychics nor cheating street smart. We're more like trusting wombats asleep in our cozy little hole until one fine day we're blown out of the ground by discovering an unimagined, unthinkable betrayal.
Nothing can really prepare us for the pain, no more than child birth education classes can represent birthing. The map is not the territory.
And yet betrayal is a birth and a death of sorts, an awakening.
The after sensations of infidelity persist in body and mind. However, that is hard to read when you don't suspect it. Something like looking for a word in the dictionary without knowing the letter it starts with. True, there are people whose body involuntarily melts or cringes when they catch a scent or a song and unexpectedly recall an affair they finished decades ago. It's a give away sign that we might have read earlier if we knew where to feel/look for it.
Some unfaithful build inner shrines to those poignant memories and worship at them in secret and in bed with their betrayed partner. But if we haven't got the first letter, the first direction, the opening stanza, how do we know where to start? Now you see it, now you don't.
Truth is - the betrayed are the last to know.
That's the point of 'clandestine' and 'secret'. The whole charade is designed to keep the betrayed in the dark and thus postpone accountability.
We lie because it works and we have choice.
There are significant gender differences in jealousy induced interrogations and denials.
One research project found 'that if their partner discovered that they were involved with someone else, (a) men more so than women deny any emotional involvement with the extra-pair partner, whereas (b) women more so than men deny any sexual involvement with the extra-pair partner.' Source.
There is also a gender difference in perceptions of harm. 'Men are especially bothered by evidence of their partner's sexual infidelity, whereas women are troubled more by evidence of emotional infidelity.' Source
As a consequence of the damage of repeated denials and the demolition of trust from a prolonged discovery and interrogation process I recommend, without encouraging unfounded prosecutions of the innocent or morbid obsessive jealousy of the forgetful, a read of the give-away habits of the unfaithful from a site that supports philandering.
Their tips for maintaining an affair are here. For example: 'keep it to yourself'; 'do not change your habits'; 'never use a personal or company credit card'; 'never call your lover from home or work'; 'don't leave a trail' and 'keep your emotions in check'.
Read their philanderers creed for the jaw dropping irony.
The lieseeker.com web site has extensive interpersonal deception resources.
The 'Manual On How To Cheat On Your Wife' (or husband), is a collection of signals, excuses, and tricks men and women both use when having an affair, it used to be free to download - funny, thorough and painful.
1.9 How people react to an affair in their life
In her book 'Patterns of Infidelity and Their Treatment', Emily Brown (2001, 88) describes the implicit bargain the couple often makes: “OK I'll obsess, you apologize, then I'll forgive you and then we can move on and not really have to handle this mess”. However, what follows is “But you haven't apologized enough yet.” Thus the system stays balanced and change impossible. It may be at this point that a couple arrives in the therapist's office.
The straying partner also is tempted to avoid the hard work ahead and in the beginning appeasing the spouse can seem easier. Indeed this may have been the pattern in place before the affair, now further heightened and made more rigid by the rupture in safety and trust. Obsession and premature apology can be considered opposite ends on a continuum, both promising safety. In reality both are places to hide – neither is safe. Jane Langmai.
Emily Brown divides affairs into five types. These can be explored in more detail on her web site
Here is her questionnaire to help you decide which type of affair is in your life.
The reactions of the betraying partner, the betrayed and the third party to discovery and exposure, can all be recognized as shame, and as the grieving of a healthy response to loss. And as blame, which is a lose-lose response to loss. And as relief from no longer being besieged by doubt and fear. And as renewed efforts to end the affair and then hide its re-commencement all over again. That may be a form of intoxication. It is a triangular interaction pattern.
The stages of grief were mapped by Elizabeth Kubler Ross and each may be re-visited many times in the 9 to 48 months it can take to recover, with individual variations in intensity and duration. These stages are Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Testing, Acceptance.
There are plenty of exceptions to this pattern with many people coming through bereavement without passing any of these road signs! Recent research debunks the whole idea but I think it still has it's uses.
Remember, it's only a map. Remember, if the territory differs from the map - the map is wrong. You can expect initial reactions of shock, denial and then anger from all parties to the affair. They are unavoidable. I'd be worried if they didn't appear, and particularly if anger didn't show up and stay awhile.
Clinical depression can be solidified by unresolved anger or disempowered rage as well as by chronic undifferentiated unhappiness. It may be a factor in the origin of the affair.
Initial reactions differ from later reactions, informed by the consequences of the first but the process of grieving is ongoing unless clinical depression or learned helplessness set in or it is complicated traumatic grief.
More on traumatic reactions to discovery on the next page Fidelity 1.8.
Unexpressed or stage managed reactions by both betrayer and betrayed may be an indication of what will turn up later or of what is being wilfully ignored or minimized now. You might get clues to this undertow by observing the standard eye movement directions that most follow when accessing unspoken responses. It is based on the NLP model. Here are free articles on NLP.
However, one pivotal lie embedded in many truthful statements is hard to detect, as this BBC article describes.
For both, a related concern is how should I challenge incomplete disclosure of details of an affair or unfinished expressions of reactions to disclosure?
Genuineness (rather than ingenuity), transparency, tenderness and kindness are what most want, so generally give that in a tough love framework in order to get that back.
1.10 Should I fight to get him/her back
Who wants a relationship to be based on pity asks Arnold Lazarus in his book 'Marital Myths Revisited'. If your partner wants to leave you there is no point in degrading yourself by begging. He contrasts the hang on and fight versus the let them go approach to disclosure of an affair.
He suggested to Vicki, a client shattered by her husband's telling her that he was in love with another woman and wanted a divorce - that she give permission for he and his girl friend to move in together for three months. Lazarus was confident that unencumbered togetherness would allow the romance to die a natural death. Vicki ignored his advice and put up a fight for him. That drove the lovers even closer together and confirmed Gerald's choice to leave.
By contrast, when Elizabeth's husband revealed his undying and eternal devotion to another woman, without rancour she said quietly with obvious feeling, I'm really going to miss you! The husband realized his folly and capitulated - a bit too neat for me but in every situation that kind of calm, self-validation is vital to self-respect whatever the outcome.
1.11 Unsanctioned, observed and continuing
Because of the ease and low cost of surveillance technology, hacking email accounts and installing web cams - together with detailed phone accounts and itemized credit card and bank statements, a determined person can obtain intimate knowledge of their partner's affair day by day. This is even easier if both husband and wife run a business together.
In one instance, a client maintained a blog of the events of her partner's affair, to which the other woman angrily contributed and countered with her own blog. Many others read the daily posts. The betraying partner's workplace read these blogs and gave him hell each morning. The affair continued in this public glare.
More troubling was one who by discrete surveillance found that the affair partner, so like themselves in many ways, became a surrogate for the relationship they wish they had with their partner, the cheater. It grew beyond wanting to be the other woman to empathizing with the other woman's experience of her husband.
Edwig read the weekly PI report, saw video highlights of clandestine meetings in an apartment owned by a mutual friend, and played over and over again the telephone conversations between her partner and his lover. Each moment was as if it was hers. She could not bear to bring their marriage to a crisis in case it crashed her hopes. It hovered at the event horizon.
Edwig waited, hoping that the qualities of his affair would grow in her marriage. There was little evidence of that happening, yet the surveillance continued because: 1. she had become a clandestine partner to her husband's affair hoping he would bring it back home, and 2. she was unwilling to walk away without having done everything in her power to mend an irretrievable situation.
1.12 Why did this happen to me?
Why do affairs happen? Here are some 'good reasons', some excuses and also some myths on these links and here. But in the beginning the best answers are about as sensible as why a fire storm destroys two houses on either side but not the one in the middle. Making sense of our collective madness is part of the work during recovery.
There may be little meaning in the biology of sex and that is possibly why some adulterers insist it was not about sex. It is more meaningful than sex. Some argue entitlement to uncommitted or meaningless sex or to the adventure of swinging or to special friends outside of marriage. Sometimes it is a self-medication of depression, anxiety or trauma. Sometimes it is a compulsion to connect, which the felon can only steal sexually like a hungry hit and run.
A predatory violation of trust is normalized in cinema, novels and scandal sheets. Something made so ordinary by its over exposure is also known as a dangerous game at best and at worst an irreparable tragedy in the making. Yet we still do it to ourselves, to our nearest and dearest believing our extreme care and discretion will make it harmless and that our secrets will be safe. Evidence to the contrary abounds in support pages all over the web.
1.13 How did this happen to me?
In my experience the why of it is less useful than how it happened?
How questions bring workable answers and directions for growth. Knowing how a good person overcame the internal prohibitions and the guilt of stealing forbidden fruit whilst knowingly violating the trust of a valued primary relationship to which they return with this devastating secret under wraps planning to do it again, is the beginning of making a map of the other's inner world.
'How could you do that' and 'what were you thinking' translates into 'what was your inner process, what did you think and feel, what practical and psychological steps do you take to prepare yourself for it and then to cover it up after and repeat the process after sleeping with me'.
Full and honest answers to those sort of questions can then be followed by, 'please signal me when you feel or think or act like that again or find yourself walking down that path again, even if you are just about to do it again, call me, talk to me, we're in this together'.
Then the secret inner world becomes shared and a collaborative venture can begin. Until then, it's pictionary without the clues.
Some committed relationships have little practice in sustaining a soft eye to eye connection through intimate conversation and tender holding, both when the going is easy and when the going is tough and rough. Many struggle to fearlessly share and willingly explore their inner world, of how they make sense of their lives and how they navigate its ambiguities.
Healthy, intimate, communication requires both a willingness to be vulnerable and a differentiated sense of self. Intimacy can not move without these two limbs. With only one leg you can hop with two you can walk, run and climb. Marriages lacking that hip joint are exposed to a number of problems in which an affair, for instance, is a symptom of habitual disjunctions and disconnections and not a cause of them.
Each watches their own movie of a relationship entirely unrelated to the other's movie and defends their version as the truth rather than dispassionately watching the other's movie to learn about their map. It can be shocking when the other movie starts playing in your own private theatre. An affair is a big wake up call in the dress circle.
1.14 One path to healing for the betrayed
We tend to say the ugly, blaming stuff for a while but ultimately it is not sustainable: 'You've destroyed my life' or 'You have betrayed me and You have to make it right' or 'I didn't ask for this to happen to Me' or 'I will never forgive you for this' or 'I will make you pay, storm your work place, rant and rage at your family,' etc..
It tends to leave the betrayed in continuing, impotent rage and permit the betrayer to wallow in ill defined limits or to retaliate with counter-accusations, such as 'this wouldn't have happened if you had or had not done ..... I would never have done it if you had given me what I asked,' etc..
Having read the latter statements on this page, one of my clients dared not say in a session, 'this wouldn't have happened if you had not been working so hard' knowing that I would jump on it. Nevertheless he managed to imply it during the session in a tangential way - 'oh, you know it happened when Kim was very busy with a career and not at home much.'
Jaw dropping denials of accountability like these are common in the early stages.
Another told me (in a session that arose from the affair having been discovered by their partner) that he sent all of my fidelity pages to his special friend and both felt it was very persuasive. They understood that an affair was the wrong way to let their connection develop. They cooled it but then months later continued into an affair, his third. I wondered aloud if this kind of discouraging web information is now part of affair courtship?
Here are four gifts of Islamic and Jewish wisdom, heart won by their authors, that can save one from the terminal sleep or the sleepless anguish of stuck and unforgiven:
At some time for some of us these truths may be affirmed in naming and claiming the injury as our own. This is a big ask when we are in a lot of pain early in the process of discovery and grieving. When the time is right you may say to yourself and your partner some part of the following:
However you construct your own intention, these affirmations begin building new vows out of the wreckage of the original promises that founded your relationship. There are plenty of ideas for the betrayer to show contrition, apology and to rebuild trust in the pages that follow.
Every situation is unique so I doubt the value of hard and fast recipes, one size fits all. The aftermath of betrayal is a little easier to negotiate if we commit to where the responsibility for healing and for boundary setting lies; where the boundary of my responsibility ends and yours begins and where we have shared responsibilities. Even in the shared areas, we are each 100% responsible for our own contribution to the joint effort.
No one can force contrition, heartfelt apology, healing, change or forgiveness or make it happen in a specific time frame or conform to a specific formula like the manifesto above.
People tend not to change if they have to.
Every one is unique and how each resolves betrayal is going to be unique as well. More on coercion and ultimatums at Fidelity 3.6
More in the article 'Healing the Wounds of Infidelity Through the Healing Power of Apology and Forgiveness' here in pdf format.
Step by step forgiveness on site.
1.15 One path of healing for the betrayer
The strayer may be grieving the loss of a love at the same time as both repairing the damage and re-entering the primary relationship.
When the straying partner appears to be blocking an open disclosure of the affair's timing and events, it may be that they are being blocked by unexpressed grief rather than deliberately withholding the controversial information about the affair. Both can be true also.
They may believe they have no right to openly mourn the loss of their affair partner, the presence of whom led to the devastation in primary relationship.
They may believe sharing their grief is selfish and the details will only cause more pain to their partner. They often express deep shame and guilt about the damage but are unable to allow themselves to admit the depth of love they have lost in saying goodbye to the affair partner.
This is one of the tougher areas of working with infidelity for the couple and for the couple therapist.
The betrayed partner does not want to become a grief counsellor at home. At the same time they want to create a safe harbour for the straying partner to find home again. At the same time strongly addressing and correcting wrong doings and rebuilding trust.
This requires excellent boundaries and clear thinking if it is to work for both.
It requires considerable generosity of the strayer and the betrayed.
It cannot be undertaken if the affair is unfinished.
It is a matter of balance as well, when weeping and wailing a lost affair is just self-indulgence or self-pity. The balance point is where the betrayer's grief does not rebuild psychological intimacy in the primary relationship.
Remember the earlier quote, 'There are three major hurdles to overcome in crisis: dealing with pain, attitude, and cleaning up the heart.' The attitude required here is of acknowledgement and rebuilding, a balance between looking back and forward, applied in the present moment.
Opening the windows and doors into the affair rebuilds psychological intimacy. The betrayed partner can then reclaim what was hidden in the sanctuary of the affair. The strayer acknowledging and to a degree openly grieving the loss of a (forbidden) love is part of that process.
This presupposes the straying partner is willing to admit the affair was not just about sex or companionship but something deeper and more meaningful.
No matter how trivially one describes an affair, it is still an attachment.
There is always some kind of emotional bonding including over the internet, with sex workers and in a one night stand.
Trivializing attachment denies one's humanity. 'We are biological willed to attach'.
Openly grieving the loss, to a degree, also demonstrates the extent to which the affair is finished both externally and internally.
In most cases grief can only proceed to resolution when there is no possible bargain with the end of the affair.
Betrayed women are usually more devastated by the story of psychological intimacy and love than betrayed men.
Betrayed men tend to be more devastated by their partner's sexual infidelity.
Grief and mourning is a little valued process in our fast culture. Many people report to me that friends and colleagues allow them about two weeks to grieve the loss of a love, family pet, death of a child, parent or partner. After that no-one asks or they switch off when you touch on the subject.
Grieving the end of an affair slams up against the duplicitous judgment of a society that both condemns and condones affairs. You get very little support for helping your partner to grieve the loss of a love that betrayed you. You can expect to be condemned for giving them air time at all.
Very few partners and even fewer strayers can deal with this grief at the same time as mending the relationship.
However, as difficult as it is to open the doors to that mourning, doing so may rebuild trust in a profound way. At the same time it risks revealing the depth of the love and thus the loss. That is a two edged sword.
One of my couples realized that if they didn't know the whole story they couldn't work out where their marriage had gone off course and thus could not help to put it back on the right track. The straying partner felt they did not deserve to receive this kind of care and close attention to their loss when they had caused the other so much more.
The betrayed partner wondered, 'Will you ever feel that way about me? How did we lose that love we once felt for each other? Will you ever be able to forget about them? How much is that going to cost you?'
At the same time the betrayed partner is grieving the loss of a love and secure attachment, which they thought they had in their partner until they realized the depth of their betrayal.
To grieve together is a huge challenge.
It pulls for compassion, connection and attachment.
Yet, with no guarantee that the primary relationship will survive. There are no guarantees.
However, only a generous and safe harbour could possibly contain so much grief.
That is life changing.
© ZPJ Fox 2005 - 2012 All Rights Reserved peterfox.com.au
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