Infidelity is much more common than most people realize. It is estimated that 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women today will have an extramarital affair. Infidelity takes many forms. Some people have sequential affairs—a series of one-night stands or short affairs. These affairs involve very little emotional investment and may be rationalized as harmless. There is always the danger of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. When such behavior continues for several years and finally is discovered, it is difficult to heal the years of deceit.
Other affairs are isolated events. These also involve minimal emotional investment. Sometimes affairs last longer and become more serious. These affairs may be quite loving and sexual. Sometimes they grow into more serious relationships and may last for years.
WHY DO AFFAIRS HAPPEN?
Infidelity happens for many reasons. Here are a few of the common explanations:
- An affair may be a response to a crisis, such as the death of someone important, moving to a new city, a job change, or some other kind of life transition.
- Sometimes people become bored with their partners and seek sexual or emotional excitement with someone new. The new person seems to supply the excitement that has been missing.
- Stressful times in the family life cycle lead some to seek escape in an affair. Stressors can include things such as taking care of aging parents, raising teenagers, or becoming new parents.
- People sometimes look for outside relationships because their expectations of marriage have not been satisfied.
- Some people seek outside relationships when their partners are emotionally unavailable because of illness.
- Some people begin affairs because they seek more affection than their partner can provide.
- Some people seek professional or social advancement. There are also many social reasons why affairs happen— factors in our society that lead many of us to expect a fantasy version of marriage that could never really exist.
- When marriage doesn’t live up to this expectation, some of us keep looking for it outside of marriage.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF INFIDELITY?
The following signs indicate that your partner may be unfaithful. These are things that people have noticed before discovering that their partners were having affairs. None of the items by themselves mean that infidelity is about to happen, but they may be cause for concern if they are part of a larger pattern that is causing apprehension. These may apply to either men or women.
- Partner has recently lost weight.
- Partner has changed hair color or hairstyle.
- Partner begins wearing a different style of underwear.
- Partner pays more attention to clothing and appearance than in the past.
- Partner begins using a different brand of soap or shampoo.
- Partner begins using breath mints.
- Partner stops wearing a wedding ring.
- Partner wears more jewelry than in the past.
- Partner buys a sports car.
- Partner changes the position of the car’s passenger seat.
- Partner calls one number repeatedly according to the cell phone bill.
- Partner doesn’t leave a number where he or she can be reached.
- Partner gives vague answers about where he or she will be.
- Partner has sudden work obligations that keep him or her from attending family events.
- Partner’s key ring has an extra key.
- Partner has restaurant matchbooks in pocket or purse.
- Partner’s clothing smells of strange cologne or has lipstick or makeup on it.
- Partner often makes excuses to go out alone.
- Partner goes for more workouts at the gym.
- Partner smells like he or she just took a shower.
- Partner seems emotionally distant or preoccupied.
- Partner seems less interested in family activities.
- Partner changes his or her sexual behavior, wanting either more or less.
- You have a gut feeling that something is wrong.
COMMON REACTIONS WHEN DISCOVERING THAT ONE’S PARTNER HAS BEEN UNFAITHFUL
People who are involved in relationships in which their partner has been unfaithful say they have a wide range of reactions. Discovering an affair is the beginning of a long, painful process in which both partners are likely to go through several emotional stages. These are a few of the common ones:
- A physical reaction, such as feeling as if you have been punched in the stomach.
- Refusing to believe that anything is wrong.
- Feeling stunned.
- Blaming yourself (I didn’t pay enough attention to her, I wasn’t sexy enough for him, I let myself get too fat, etc.).
- Blaming your partner (I can’t believe anything she says).
- Blaming the relationship (we were too young, we were wrong for each other, we had different values, etc.).
- Blaming the lover (it’s all her fault, if it weren’t for her); transferring anger from one’s spouse to one’s lover.
- Feeling extremely sad and depressed. Many people report crying for many days or weeks, being listless and unable to function.
OTHER CONSEQUENCES OF INFIDELITY
In addition to the emotional impact of infidelity, there may also be other consequences: sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, problems at work, and loss of relationships.
HOW DOES A COUPLE RECOVER FROM INFIDELITY?
Even though infidelity has a devastating impact on a marriage, many marriages do survive. Let’s look at what it takes for a relationship to recover.
If You Were the Unfaithful Partner
If you had the affair and you want to save your marriage:
- Stop the affair, and tell the truth about it.
- Make the choice to stay in your marriage and practice fidelity.
- Understand your partner’s need to ask questions and to understand what happened. This need may continue for the rest of your marriage.
- Spend plenty of time with your family.
- Find a therapist, and explore what has happened in your marriage.
- Expect to reassure your partner of your commitment to the marriage.
- Listen carefully to your partner, and accept his or her feelings and thoughts.
- Admit that you were wrong. Write a letter to your partner and admit everything. Let it all out.
- Make amends. Identify what it would take for you to deserve forgiveness. Then do it.
If Your Partner Was Unfaithful
If your partner had the affair and you want to save your marriage:
- Acknowledge your anger, and express it productively.
- Be aware of distorted thoughts that may fuel your anger.
- Give your partner the choice to leave or stay. A partner who freely chooses to stay is much more likely to remain committed to doing the necessary healing work in the aftermath of the affair.
- Find a way to explore and express your feelings. For example, write in a journal, or work with a counselor.
- Explore the advantages and disadvantages of saving your marriage.
- Establish a safe environment where you can learn about what happened.
- Give yourself plenty of time to heal. Expect to pass through several stages of different feelings.
- Read available books on infidelity. Find out what others have experienced, and learn what to expect in the coming months and years.
- You will react to this experience in your own unique way. It affects each person differently. They help you focus on facts, not emotions.
- They help your partner clarify his or her own thinking by hearing your summary.
- They help you deal with multiple disagreements so you can deal with them one by one.
- They help you separate the important issues from the trivial.
Neutral questions and phrases get your partner to open up and elaborate on the topic you are discussing.
- They are more focused than open-ended questions.
- They help your partner understand what you are interested in hearing more about.
- They further communication because they help you gain more information.
- When you ask these kinds of questions, you demonstrate to your partner that you are interested and that you are listening.
- These skills will help any relationship improve.
- Regardless of whether your partner joins you in counseling, your positive behavior will more than likely cause a positive change in your relationship.