Surviving Infidelity

Surviving infidelityIn my experience as a counselor, I’ve come across a variety of cheaters and cheating styles. There are those who cheat with one-night stands where there is a one-off never-again-to-be-repeated episode (hopefully) of infidelity. There are those who have long-standing, deep emotional and sexual affairs, where very often the individual fancies himself/herself to be in-love with someone else. Then there are those no-sex affairs ; those close friendships and soul-ties which can prove lethal to the marriage or primary relationship even when they remain only at the emotional level. There is also serial infidelity, as in, sex with a different person every time even when trying to maintain the semblance of a primary relationship. Flirtatious infidelity, describes the behaviour of one partner which is inappropriate either through language, touching or looks, even when this never leads to sex; the problem here is that the affair is alive and well in the heart. Finally, there is cyber-sex or techno-sex; sex that is aided and abetted by the use of technology and or the internet.

If you’ve been cheated on, chances are you may not be interested in an intellectual or academic discussion of the thing. So much has already been said and analyzed as to why people cheat and many of us already understand that cheating occurs for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the cynics among us will say that as long as there are relationships, there will be cheating. As long as there are rules, boundaries or parameters for relationships, people will break and defy them; that’s just human nature. If this is at all true, how then does a victim of infidelity cope? How does such a person live with the reality of betrayal, especially since cheating is evidently here to stay?

Factors like relationship philosophy, personality, and even gender will to a large degree significantly influence the way we choose to respond. The following represents some of the options which victims may have at their disposal after an experience of infidelity. Please note that these do not refer to initial responses but to the ongoing or long-term way an individual chooses to handle being cheated on.

Going It Alone

Some decide that they want out of the relationship that has caused them so much pain. The hurt from the betrayal has lodged in such a deep place that a separation or divorce seems like the only viable option. For such an individual, infidelity has already sealed the deal on the question of loss. Since in their books their partner is already lost to them, walking away is just a formality.

Deciding to “go it alone” has the distinct advantage of giving individuals the option of starting over again in the future. It can also provide a vital space for clearing the head and soothing the emotions. The down-side can be seen when the decision is based on unresolved anger and bitterness.

While being alone is sometimes a good thing, it is seldom a permanent state. Failure to deal with the why and the how of the infidelity as well as failing to forgive can be lethal to the victim’s sense of self and can affect the “peace” of future relationships. At the same time, a decision to distance oneself from any romantic involvement and to take the time to reflect and regroup, can lead to an amazing experience of self-discovery, especially when victims grow to understand their own self-worth.

Infidelity in a pre-marital arrangement can and perhaps should halt or delay wedding plans. It provides a window of opportunity for the engaged couple to re-evaluate their choice of a life-partner before a serious covenant vow is made. Of course deciding to leave an already established marriage is serious business and should be well thought out from all angles before a separation or divorce is finalized.

Seeking Revenge

Deciding to do a “tit-for-tat” is perhaps one of the more common and understood responses to cheating. This can be a well thought out and premeditated response or it can occur almost inadvertently because the victim’s hurt causes him/her to more readily let their guard down with another. Those who themselves pursue an affair in response to being cheated on, have decided to maintain their primary relationship but seek to exact revenge for being hurt.

Such individuals are intensely angry and seek to salvage their own hurt by inflicting pain on the one who caused it to them. Some pursue an affair in an attempt to repair damaged self-esteem and to assure themselves that they are still desirable. While some will themselves keep their affair secret and allow it to function more as a psychological boost, others will deliberately engineer a discovery in order to inflict a similar wound on their partner.

More often than not, however, the satisfaction obtained from revenge is short lived, since it is built on a faulty notion that causing pain eases pain. The retention of anger and bitterness which motivates this behaviour means that the source of the first affair is never exposed and dealt with. Such a decision of revenge is likely therefore to be counter-productive and simply ensures that the cycle of pain and disappointment continues.

Staying Depressed

A decision to stay in a state of depression usually exposes a significant problem with low self-esteem. There are admittedly different types and levels of depression and this is not meant to trivialise the issue. It is obvious that an incident or incidents of cheating cuts at the core of a marriage or of an exclusive relationship. Because we look to others for love, acceptance and affirmation of our worth, we can misguidedly take on the opposite message when infidelity occurs. We can believe that we are undesirable and unlovable. Many women especially blame themselves when their spouses cheat and this can be debilitating to the psyche. Dwelling in self-pity encourages depression and a feeling of powerlessness. This can rob victims of the belief that they have the power to act on or change the challenging situation in which they find themselves. Victims find it easier instead to focus on their pain, to own it and to repeatedly re-live the details of the affair in their minds, until the effect is emotionally crippling. This response spells disaster for the future of the relationship.

Flying Free

In Tyler Perry’s “Diary of a Mad Black Woman”, the main character played by Kimberly Elise describes herself as being “mad as hell” after her husband turns her out of their house so that he can finally be with his other woman. Although she subsequently meets a very charming guy who turns out to be everything that her husband was not, she is unable to totally relax in this new love. Instead she discovers that she must process her anger, hurt and pain, articulate it to the one who hurt her and then choose to forgive. Her decision in fact “frees her” to love and live again.

Forgiveness is an act of ultimate self-empowerment. It reflects the choice to extend grace towards an individual who has done us wrong. This should not be interpreted as weakness or as an act of cowardice which condones what was done. Instead it reflects an inner resolve to be free from the hate, anger and bitterness which places the victim under the emotional power or control of their partner.

Forgiveness in fact places victims of infidelity in a psychological and spiritual space where they are better able to assess what happened to them and make the right choices. Forgiveness should never be rushed prematurely. Although it is an act of the will, it is a process and not an event. This means that it involves the articulation of anger and hurt and individuals must believe that they are “ready” to forgive, before they can actually attempt to do it.

Many individuals are unable to arrive at this place on their own but often need the intervention/assistance of a counselor, therapist, pastor or friend to help them through the process. Because women are socialized to articulate emotion, they tend to be more comfortable with the expression of anger and pain through sharing, crying and journaling. This often makes forgiveness an easier process for women than it appears to be for men. Men who have been cheated on are in fact more likely to hold on to anger and bitterness because they see expressing pain and hurt as a sign of weakness. This affects their ability to ever be free from the effects of the cheating and this baggage they take to subsequent relationships.

While forgiveness will not cause an automatic erasing of painful memories, it at least robs those memories of the power to control an individual’s pursuit of happiness or peace. If individuals are to survive infidelity and live to tell the tale, this means getting in touch with a well thought-out response which should be in their best interest. For those who choose to walk away, without forgiveness, all future relationships will suffer the effects of the infidelity. If both parties value the marriage and want to make it work again, then choosing the path of forgiveness is the better option.

Sex After Infidelity

cheating-husbandAfter a confession or the discovery of sexual impropriety, a decision to stay together is going to be filled with challenges. One of the primary places where the effects of infidelity are likely to be experienced is the bedroom. How does a couple reclaim their sexual groove after one of them has cheated?

The Cheater
Waiting It Out: If you’re the guilty party it may be important to communicate that while you still want to connect sexually, you are willing to wait for as long as your partner needs, to feel emotionally ready to resume intimacy. This communicates genuine remorse and a willingness to be selfless; especially since your act of indiscretion will reek of selfishness.

Talking It Over: Understand that the period of waiting is likely to be punctuated by long questioning sessions which will pry for sexual details; it is likely that the victim of infidelity will be consumed by a need to know incidents and details of time and place. Curiosity may also be extended to the nature of sex acts participated in. This time can be made easier by not erecting further barriers with silence but by answering questions as honestly as possible.

Sensitivity In The Sack: Most likely, your partner will be consumed with thoughts of the other man or woman. It is imperative that you go slowly when the time for lovemaking comes or at least take the lead or cue from your partner who has been hurt. This sensitivity should include lots of verbal affirmations which are intimate and loving. Be sure to let your partner know why you married her, how much he is loved and how much you appreciate her staying in the relationship. Affirm your partner’s beauty or brawn and use loads of eye contact which confirm how truly sorry you are.

Maximising The Moments: Sex with your spouse after confessing an affair is likely to be more about emotional and spiritual re-bonding than about the quality of an orgasm. Use this time, nonetheless, to cement your reconnection by focusing on your spouse’s pleasure. The vulnerability that occurs, because everything is out in the open, can actually increase the intensity of passion.

The Cheated
Admit Your Pain: There is no greater disservice you can do to your marriage then to attempt to trivialize the impact of an affair. It is imperative that you articulate your disappointment and hurt. This may involve screaming, crying, throwing things, journaling, talking to a counselor or even moving out of the bedroom for a while. If you are to experience great sex again without feeling victimized, sharing the depth of your pain with your spouse is critical.

Focus On You: There is a huge temptation after being cheated on to blame yourself—your lack of attractiveness, lack of sexiness and the like. This is particularly true of women. It will take a Herculean effort at this time to reach inside yourself to find the worthwhile, sensual woman who deserves to be loved despite your spouse’s act of indiscretion. For husbands as well, images of your wife making love to another man can be disconcerting to say the least. It is critical, therefore, to disassociate yourself sexually from what your spouse did and to refuse to accept blame. It is also critical to pay attention to your own sexual health by getting tested for any STDs.

Resist The Temptation To Compare: Wondering if you are better in bed than your spouse’s lover is likely to be an obsessive thought but is actually counter-productive. Studies consistently show that many have affairs while still having great or adequate sex at home. The motivation for an affair usually has little to do with the quality of sex and tends more to be linked to life-challenges, transitions, depression, a weak moment or feelings of inadequacy. When these thoughts come, focus on how you can make your love life even better. Dwell on the fact that you and your partner have decided to stay together; this must mean something in terms of how you feel about each other.

For Both of You

Putting Sex in Perspective: After the confession of an affair, resuming sexual intimacy may be the last thing on your minds as a couple. Anger, bitterness, resentment and remorse are likely to be the dominant emotions and not sexual passion or desire. While communication about the affair and even counselling by a professional will be critical at this stage, resuming an exclusive sexuality in your relationship is also important. Sex, however, should not be used to cloak or cover the serious issues which may have contributed to the infidelity in the first place.

Redefine To Reconnect: If you, your marriage and your sex life are to survive this juncture, it is critical that you seek to redefine your marriage. This involves acceptance of the affair as an event of the past which cannot be altered. This process is, of course, a lot easier if the guilty partner cooperates in these efforts by developing new levels of openness and honesty. The result is likely to be improved communication and greater levels of intimacy, which are often precursors to a better sexual relationship.

Denise J Charles is Director & Counsellor/Coach at Better Blends Relationship Institute e mail betterblends@gmail.com

Why Women Cheat

couple-lying-in-bed1While there is still plenty of debate about who cheats most, it cannot be denied that women’s changing social and economic circumstances have perhaps widened the opportunity for cheating to occur. We rationalize that women become vulnerable to affairs because of loneliness and a lack of emotional intimacy with their partners. Women are our mothers, sisters and social nurturers so we feel uncomfortable blacklisting them in the same way we do men and often try to provide excuses. Examining some of the more unconventional reasons why this cheating occurs should, therefore, be instructive.

Sexual Independence
The idea that women cheat for emotional connection while men cheat for sex, is a common stereotype and perhaps misperception. The fact is that today, we live in a society which is far more self-focussed. We want more education, better jobs, healthier bodies and yes; better sex. Women are encouraged to go after what they want and to define their lives on their own terms. In the sex department, this has led to some women seeking out men who they believe will meet their sexual needs in a way not currently being met by their partner. Admittedly, some men aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be in the sex department. Men can often have a very scripted, formulaic approach to intercourse which can drive any woman looking for sexual creativity around the bend; you know the usual two minutes of breast fondling and two minutes of vaginal groping, before setting out for candy-land. This boring and predictable approach to sex can influence a woman to seek sexual diversity elsewhere especially if she feels that she does not have a voice in her relationship. She in essence uses the affair as a way to speak or claim what she wants sexually because unfortunately, this may be easier than opening up to an insensitive spouse.

Empowerment
Does every dissatisfied woman just get up one morning and decide to cheat? I think not. For the most part, women do tend to have a greater sense of being responsible for the health of their primary relationships. There are, however, also several factors which may cause a woman to divert from this trend. Her age, sense of financial security, and the extent to which she may feel that she has been cheated out of relational happiness and fulfillment can also influence her infidelity. On the other hand, a woman who is financially dependent on a man and feels closeted and controlled by him, may also cheat as a means of attempting to reclaim her personal space and autonomy. Such a woman has an affair to have “one up” on her partner. She is secretly doing something of which, for all intents and purposes, he is totally unaware and this can cause her to feel that she has a greater sense of control in her life. The affair may seem like the one thing over which her partner has little say and she pursues it to feel a sense of personal empowerment. A constant need for novel experiences or a need to recreate the thrill of a new romance can also lure a woman outside the boundaries of her relationship where she begins to feel that she is finally getting all that she deserves both emotionally and sexually.

She Wants More
Sometimes a woman steps out because she just wants more. There can be a deep sense of emotional or spiritual dissatisfaction which she experiences and which she is hoping that her intimate relationship will fulfill. When her primary relationship fails to heal her damaged emotional state, she opts for an affair hoping that such will do the trick. Very often she discovers that more sex, expensive gifts, more orgasms and loads of attention, does not accomplish this. She may have been scarred emotionally and is struggling with self-esteem issues. Her sexual relationships are therefore an attempt to make her feel more desired and valuable as a person. Because her core issues are never exposed, she can become trapped in a lifestyle of serial affairs.

As commonplace as cheating has become among both men and women, it continues to offend most of us.  Whatever the reasons given, it is a serious act of relationship dishonesty and disloyalty which is not to be excused. The desire for commitment and sexual exclusivity is a core need which many of us share. Unravelling the reasons why cheating occurs has to be the starting point towards relational healing.

Denise J Charles is Director & Counsellor/Coach at Better Blends Relationship Institute e mail betterblends@gmail.com

Why Men Cheat

Sex-Love-iconWhile the issue of infidelity spans both male and female behaviour, there can be no argument with the premise that a larger percentage of men cheat. The issue of female infidelity is admittedly a distinct creature deserving its own examination and I will give it individual attention in a subsequent article. When it comes to intimate relationships, however, men and cheating seem to fit almost like hand in glove. Admittedly, there should be no cookie-cutter approach to this cheating phenomenon. Mild statements like “men will be men” to the more anger-laced “all men are dogs”, point to a range of attitudes from belligerent acceptance to intense bitterness. Women, the world over, are not happy with this state of relationship-affairs; so while men continue to cheat, women also continue to ask why.

Bruised Egos
Although hesitant to admit this, some men cheat out of emotional neediness and an inability to handle negativity. The perpetuated image of the rational, logical, secure male is often based on fictitious social stereotypes. Because males from childhood are socialized to be less vocal about their feelings this results in an adult discomfort with articulating pain. When a man is faced with a challenge, instead of talking about it, he turns to what defines him, his sexuality, to seek comfort. When the source of this pain is perceived to be his wife, woman or home situation, he therefore looks for emotional solace in the arms of someone else who can give him the unconditional emotional support he craves. In literal terms this means finding a woman who will butter his ego and still give rip-roaring sex, while remaining silent about his flaws or mistakes. While sex becomes a natural outflow of this extra-marital emotional bonding, it was, however, never the primary motivator.

Sexual Greed
Then there are those who cheat because of an insatiable need for sexual variety. Such men believe in having their sexual needs met at all costs and will often assert, without apology, that their wives/women were unwilling or unable to keep them sexually satisfied. Their sexual complaints may include issues like a failure to perform oral sex, a refusal to perform anal sex, insufficient sexual episodes in the relationship, or even a lack of enthusiastic participation in various states of physical contortion.
For the wife who may be bending over backward to meet her spouse’s sexual needs but still finds herself the victim of infidelity, the issue is about more than just sexual quality. In fact, research confirms that a large percentage of cheaters continue to enjoy their sex lives at home; especially when such infidelity is a secret. Since male sex is often about the chase and the conquest, and not just the act of sex, some men cheat in an effort to re-create this preferred hunting scenario; in fact they often become serial cheaters who allow their lives to be overtaken by indiscipline.

Because They Can
Unfortunately, some men cheat because they are enabled by the women in their lives. Because women tend to be the nurturers in their relationships, this often influences them to take total responsibility for the health of the relationship. In this scenario, a man is absolved of his need to work just as hard as his wife, to keep their relationship thriving. The relationship then becomes lopsided and out of balance. There is no pressure therefore for a man to live out his vows or to practice relationship integrity. He knows that when it comes to the survival of the relationship, that his wife will be the one to make all the sacrifices. He knows that every time he slips and falls into the arms of another woman, he will be forgiven and welcomed back. The relationship may also be governed by financial or emotional dependence on the part of the woman. There can also be an unspoken but very real social expectation, which validates these philandering ways with an attitude which states that “men will be men”. Because he is not challenged to change, his cheating ways remain.

While these few reasons posed are not exhaustive by any means, they can provide a reference point for understanding why the men in our lives may cheat. The critical decision remains with the woman who must assess her own relationship and self-worth to determine whether or not she is willing to literally live with this continued state of affairs.

The Art and Science of Cheating

The more I have witnessed and become acquainted with the stories of couples, both married and unmarried, the more I am convinced that cheating is both an art and a science. Let me explain. Popular culture has done a great job at magnifying the notions of a great passion and the pursuit of the forbidden. As a matter of fact, many of the familiar stories of great passion tend to be intricately dove-tailed with some aspect of the forbidden. From the old tale of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, to Cinderella, to the very real story of King Edward VII who abdicated the British throne for love, the common thread seems to be that great love and passion are just outside the reach of the common man. In other words if we want to experience that great passion that seduces us, then we’ve got to be willing to surmount any bridge or barrier to get there.

If we just listen to any number of the love songs of today’s popular culture, then we could easily become convinced that our very reason for being is love, passion and don’t forget sex. These things represent the honey which we humans follow like bees. The barriers to our romantic and sexual happiness however, if we follow the trend of thought of Shakespeare, Hollywood, et al, could be anything from a long-standing family feud, to class differences, to even a wedding ring. Which brings me to the subject of cheating as an art.

I am sure that if I were to carry out a poll, all of us would admit that the idea of us being cheated on in a marriage or romantic relationship, rubs us the wrong way. We just don’t like the idea of being taken for a ride. No matter what the casual sex proponents say, those of us in serious relationships want to believe in the promise of sexual exclusivity. Yes, the idea that my man only gets it on with me, as in ONLY gets it on with me. However, there is a whole other view which is being espoused today. It holds that passion must be pursued at all costs. The chase and capture theme of love-stories (boy running after girl, girl swooning and capitulating even against her better judgement) is a common enough theme for us to get the idea that its quite alright to go after what you want; regardless. Affairs in popular culture have therefore become artsy, romantic, melancholy,wistful and bittersweet. These are qualities that many a woman who is hooked on the romance novel or romantic comedy, is unable to resist.

So being armed with such a philosophy, why should anyone think that something as simple as a wedding ring, or marriage vows, or a serious commitment, or a promise, or pledge or just plain decency, would keep individuals out of each other’s hearts or underpants for that matter? The romanticized ideal about passion and hot, forbidden sex, has somehow grabbed hold of the psyche of many people out there searching for relationship utopia. Remember that song “Me and Mrs. Jones”, (we’ve got a thing going on)” or better yet Whitney Houston’s “I’m Saving All My love For You”? These songs, among many others, did and continue to do a very good job at romanticizing infidelity. Their underlying suggestion is that the love or passion being shared is so special, that the individuals would do anything to keep this special something “going on”. I believe that the individual who cheats either has a particular relationship philosophy or is seduced into seeing relationships in a particular light. I do agree that there is diversity among cheaters. People do not cheat for the same reasons but all who cheat do begin from a point of similarity. Basically, they lack relationship integrity. It is nonetheless interesting to perhaps examine some of the thinking behind this behaviour called cheating.

Tit-for-Tatters

These cheat because they have been cheated on. (I guess this is where the laws of science come in, something like A+B=C?) They have been hard done by and they intend to go for the jugular. It is likely that such an individual has been hurt so much that they have not even processed their pain. All they know is that they want revenge and perhaps want to enjoy it too. The down side of playing tit for tat, is that the underlying issues are never dealt with. The brief satisfaction felt in having that “eye for an eye” is ultimately lost when it is realised that returning hurt for hurt does not eradicate pain.

Grass Grazers

There are those who just believe that the grass on the other side is greener, healthier, free from chemicals and organic to the bone, I mean blade. They just are into taste-testing and make no apologies for it. At the heart of this Columbus syndrome is not only a deep dissatisfaction with the spouse or partner but a deeper dissatisfaction with the self. A man doesn’t just pursue another skirt because he wants to test a new vagina. He wants to test himself in a new scenario. He wants to prove that he can chase, woo and conquer (just in case he forgot). He wants to know that he hasn’t lost his skill; especially if his wife treats their sex-life like the last thing on earth that she’d want to participate in. (And I’m not giving the guy an excuse to cheat lest I be misread). Women too can be motivated by a need to re-prove their sexiness and failure to pay attention to the old car in the garage just makes the new car in the show-window seem even more attractive than it actually might be.The affair becomes then an easy cop-out in a relationship where the garden has not been carefully tended.

Sex Addicts

Why those who are addicted to sex bother to tie themselves to any one person I will never completely understand. Could it be that marriage or being involved in a long-term relationship offers them the ruse of respectability while they really explore the deeper, darker side of their personality? The Tiger Woods of this world have an insatiable desire for sexual variety that is in no way connected to traditional relationships. It does not mean that a sex addict is not able to appreciate having a spouse and a central point of reference from which from which he or she can navigate. The central point is just not enough when it comes to the sense of sexual fulfillment because addicts need constant sexual variety to feed their habit. For them the high of sex is used for medicative purposes or sex becomes a form of escapism. It is used to cover other personality deficits. Such an individual is therefore unable to be faithful unless these underlying issues are addressed.

Emotional Exposers

Many affairs begin because individuals fail to erect emotional boundaries in their relationships. They are either emotionally needy and their current relationship does not cater to this or even if it does, they make the error of dropping their emotional guard with someone else. Although not exclusive to women, this phenomenon is perhaps more common among them than men. In the same way that we have a driving sexual centre which cries out for fulfillment, we also have an emotional centre which must be addressed in our relationships. This centre cries out for affirmation and validation. When this need to be affirmed is ignored because our spouse fails to listen to us, we can often inadvertently look to others to fill this void. If we are a woman and this person is a man, then the emotional bond with another has the potential to create a sexual attraction which if not brought under control, can lead to a full-fledged affair. The same holds true for the guy who gets loads of attention from a specific woman in the office. If there is a missing emotional connection with his wife or significant other, then he becomes vulnerable to creating an emotional tie which can lead to sex.

The thing is that emotional fidelity is quite lethal on its own even when sex is not involved. Some believe that as long as they’re not having sex then there is nothing wrong with pursuing a close emotional bond with another. While the potential for such a relationship to evolve into a sexual one is always on the horizon, even if it never does, such ties rob the primary relationship of the type of emotional energy that is needed to cement and distinguish it as being “set apart” from all other relationships. If this issue is not addressed, what will develop is a case of divided loyalties which will undermine the primary relationship. This spells disaster with a capital D.

These affair profiles are not exhaustive by any means. The truth is that some will cheat just because they can do it and get away with it. It’s called human selfishness. Some will do it just for the fun of it. Of course they are the “Relationship Imposters” who are really immature and selfish and really not emotionally ready for any serious commitment. The good news is that fidelity is not outside the ambit of human behaviour. Many new studies point to the benefits of monogamy. If the energy and creativity that are needed to make an affair work and preserve its secrecy, were perhaps applied to our primary relationships, then probably the effort alone would bring us a sense of hope and renewal.