“Soon he was online every night until one or two a.m. Often he would wake up at three of four a.m. and go back online. He would shut down the computer screen when I walked in. In the past, he used to take the laptop to bed with him and we would both be on our laptops, hips touching. He stopped doing that, slipping off to his office instead and closing the door even when I was asleep. He started closing doors behind him. I was steeped in denial, but my body knew.”
― Suzanne Finnamore, Split: A Memoir of Divorce
In my over ten years of working with couples I know: Infidelity happens. It happens a lot. It happens for more reasons than can be described in a blog post. It happens for more whys and wherefores than can be captured in books or volumes of books. When I work with people sorting through cheating, betrayal, and lies, they are fervently searching for some place to rest their mind.
Infidelity is a like a tragic car crash. It happens to everyone else until it happens to you. And, it may even happen by your own hand. You may have caused the crash and still be destroyed by your own actions.
“Most people don’t cheat because they’re cheaters. They cheat because they’re people. ” – Cheryl Strayed
Infidelity is disorienting. It can literally cause people to act crazy and do things inconsistent with who they are as a person. It may start gradually and then happen quickly. It happens because people want validation and connection. It happens because people are lonely. It happens because people are selfish. It happens because we are not honest with ourselves and our partners about what we want for our lives.
Good people cheat. Honest people cheat. Because even good and honest people are not good and honest all the time. In addition, infidelity can be honest – it might be the most honest relationship in your life. The relationship that is born from infidelity may evolve into a monogamous, happy, and healthy partnership that goes the distance.
Temptation is everywhere. Your partner has most certainly coveted another person. If you do not believe this, you do not understand the human brain. Some people believe thinking is cheating. I do not ascribe to this logic because we cannot control the thousands of thoughts (sometimes odd, strange and peculiar thoughts) that creep into our heads. However, once a thought moves into action you are culpable.
Often, the line crossing into infidelity happens much earlier than people are willing to admit. It involves verbal intimacies and communications. It involves inside jokes and accidental touch. It involves sharing details about your lives and hopes for your future. It involves putting yourself in the path of connection with the person that is not your partner. It involves reminiscing about better days and happier times with the other person. It may involve sexual intimacy but not always. I’m not sure the sexual component is the most damaging part of having an affair.
“For a lot of people—men and women—having an affair is an affirmation that I’m really okay. He said about his mistress, “There wasn’t anything special about her. But she listened, was interested, and made me feel special.” That’s the key, I thought—we all want to feel like we matter to somebody.” – Oprah
Infidelity is not necessarily a death sentence to a relationship. A surprising number of couples survive and thrive after infidelity. Couples come through infidelity all the time because relationships are complex and composed of moving parts. Infidelity can bring to the foreground parts of the relationship that were shuffled to the back or pushed aside. A betrayal can actually save a relationship by forcing the relationship to be a priority for the first time in years. Sometimes, infidelity is a way of communicating (albeit, poorly): DO YOU SEE ME NOW!
However, in some cases, infidelity is the path out of a relationship. It may be a path that the offending party did not intend to take. Not all relationships are built to last forever.
Of note, if you find that you want to check your partners phone, Facebook, or email for proof to substantiate what your gut is telling you – the relationship is in a bad place and/or you are in a bad place. I think it is a better practice, to try and first, tell your partner that you concerned about the relationship. If don’t believe you can share this with your partner and get an honest answer, you already have the answer you need.
“This isn’t about slipping yourself an extra twenty dollars of Monopoly money. These are our lives. You went and broke our lives. You are so much worse than a cheater. You killed something. And you killed it when its back was turned.”
How do you prevent infidelity?
There is no wizardry to avoid these things from happening for all the reasons stated above and so many more. The hardest part to understand (and believe and accept) is that you can never entirely know what your partner is thinking and feeling. We all have the capacity to cheat.
What seems to work the best to prevent infidelity? Make every single effort to make your relationship so safe, so fun, so honest, so great, so fantastic, so supportive, so incredible, and so special that to betray your partner would mean you risk losing those wonderful parts of your life.
What else? I suggest you love your partner with all you have, make them a priority every day, tell them you love them and appreciate them, be authentic and honest about your wants and needs, do not be afraid to be vulnerable with your partner because that is where the deepest connections are born. Most importantly: Please tell your partner if you are feeling dismissed, lonely, invalidated, disconnected, unattractive, unappreciated as soon as those feelings crop up.
By being honest with yourself and your partner about what you need and working together to get your needs met, you are doing the best you can to prevent getting those needs met outside the relationship.
I think that is the best you can do.
How do you recover from infidelity? Well, that is a different post entirely.