Surviving Infidelity

Did you know approximately 3% of all kids are the product of infidelities?  A lot of the time, the dads don’t even know.  Most of these kids are unknowingly raised by men who are not their bio-dads but they are going to be their fathers, if everything holds together.  Interestingly, yet sadly, infidelity is becoming more common among people under 30 and many experts believe this increase in cheating is due to greater opportunity and young people developing the habit of having sexual partner after sexual partner after sexual partner.  That gets to be a habit too.

Statistically more men are likely to cheat than women. But, as women become more financially independent, they are certainly catching up.  Money is one of the key factors in this.  Wow.

Emotionally, it is possible to have feelings for more than one person at a time. But pragmatically, you can’t be loving two people at one time.  As more and more women enter the work force, “office romances” are getting more common because spouses are spending more time with coworkers than they are with their own spouses.  You’ve got the internet, you’ve got e-mail, you’ve got chat rooms…well that’s the beginning of fooling around.  And most infidelities involve physical and emotional betrayal.  Read more at: Facts and Statistics About Infidelity

So one of the things I want to comment on is the discovery of infidelity since I hear that way too often on my radio program. The pain and shock of finding out your spouse has fooled around on you is one of life’s most traumatic events.  It’s seriously a punch in the gut.  So it should not be surprising it takes years for couples to repair a relationship after infidelity comes to light.

Here are some things to keep in mind about surviving infidelity, because many couples are able to recover and most of the time develop an even stronger relationship:

  • More intimacy
  • More closeness (because it put a bomb in the middle of the relationship and repairing it, there had to be a lot more attention then perhaps both were giving to the relationship). 
  • A lot more giving, and a lot more interest, it’s an awakening for many relationships. By the way, I wouldn’t recommend infidelity as a technique for awakening your relationship in order to reboot it.

What makes the difference between those who can get past it and those who can’t?  Early on in the relationship, was the quality of the relationship really, really, really good?  I don’t mean way in the beginning when you both were just ga-ga, but for years was it good?  If that’s a “yes” then we can lean on that.  “We were once like that.”  If we don’t have a time like that, it’s less likely the relationship’s going to work. 

Are both people committed to making it work?  Is everybody going to be open and in counseling with the right person?  The first thing you should ask when you go to a marriage counselor is how many times they’ve been divorced or what percentage of their clients get divorced after marriage counseling, because it’s important to know that.  Some counselors have positivity, some counselors have negativity – and they don’t even realize it.  We need to know, because we’ve really got to get to what the underlying problem is. 

The underlying problem can be all sorts of things:

Boredom – For the most part if nobody has some deep-seated problem, boredom comes from two people just not paying attention to the relationship.  And when you meet somebody new, excitement starts up again and you believe “Oh, this is better than that.”  It isn’t, but it feels that way and some people find it easier just to go into what’s exciting than to make their relationship less boring.  Everything can get boring…everything.

Too much happening – Some people get into affairs when there’s a whole lot of stuff going on, and they just lose their way.  It’s like losing your way into a bottle of alcohol; you’re losing your way into somebody else’s arms – it’s the same behavior.  So it doesn’t really have to do with the quality of the marriage; it has to do with that person just having a total meltdown. 

Disrespect – One obvious reason they’re cheating is because when you were dating there was cheating and you forgave it.  When you were engaged there was cheating and you forgave it.  When you first got married there was cheating and you forgave it.  When you had your first kid there was cheating and…need I say more?  Because when you repetitively forgive a cheater, that person now respects you less — they know they can get away with it, you’ll continue to take them back.

Revenge - Some people have an affair just to hurt the other person because they’ve been hurt in some other way.  Some people are in marriages where they’re been taken for granted and they wonder if they’re still attractive.  One way to solve that is to get your hair cut, put on some makeup and find other ways somebody is turned on to you. 

Thrills – Some people just enjoy the thrill of cheating. They’re sociopaths.  They like running around secretly, risking getting caught, creating thrilling moments, forbidden romance…some people just get off on being bad and you’re not going to fix that. But if the underlying problem does not get addressed, the cheating will likely happen again because the problem’s not been solved that lead to it.  And serial cheating…forget about it; don’t even try.

The initial shock of discovering an affair creates tremendous uncertainty and depression, anger, shame, obsessive thoughts, dwelling on the details of the affair, inability to concentrate, and a desire to monitor that person’s every move.

And at this point, giving advice to that individual is typically not useful because people are so emotionally distraught they can’t think clearly, they don’t make decisions that are in their best interest, and they shouldn’t be making decisions.   When feelings become less intense and less intrusive, it’s really important to talk about it with somebody who won’t judge it (and that’s hard to come by), but will just let you vent because you’re just going to have to vent, vent and vent.  Unfortunately the person you can’t vent with is the person who hurt you because that’ll just create a defensive reaction – denial, shifting the blame, or withdrawal. 

Sharing feelings with someone who is not willing (or able) to listen makes your bad feelings worse. So support groups, individual counseling, family or friends who don’t get too excited (you know, because a lot of them will go “let’s just kill him/her”) may help.

Now if both parties decide they want to try and save the marriage, that next phase is probably the most difficult, because people generally lack insight into their own behaviors and if they do not understand why they cheated, they often do not want to disclose this information to a spouse, thinking it’ll cause more problems.  But they’ve got to identify it.  This is really important.

But here’s the kicker: when you get to that point and you’re willing to acknowledge what’s inside your head, heart and life, you really need to work with your spouse as a team.  “How can we approach this?”  That gives the victim a sense of power and participation.  It’s very good when you start becoming a team.  You can read more: Dealing with the Discovery of Infidelity   

Now what about the ugly details?  There are different schools of thought.  I think the basic details like time and place (and not intimate, nitty-gritty, vulgar details) are enough.  So hiding how you spent the money, where you went, how you did this, the kids, whatever…you’re going to have to come clean with all of that.  But please, don’t be describing positions and stuff like that. Don’t.  But you’ve got to agree to be open.  You have to.