Infidelity in marriage or in binding relationships is a frequent cause of break-ups and divorces. There are numerous myths surrounding the topic of “infidelity”. For example, that infidelity is proof that something is going wrong in marriage. Or that women are generally more loyal than men, that infidelity always means the end of a relationship or that an occasional adventure in a dusty relationship is good. Some also believe that infidelity is a proof that the unfaithful spouse loves less than the other, or that the affair will not remain an individual case. All of these myths are often incorrect in concrete cases.
Where the desire for exclusivity comes from
The desire for exclusivity in the harbor of marriage or a binding relationship with the feeling of belonging and emotional home requires predictability, reliability, protection, trust and commitment. In addition to emotional stability, it also deals with topics such as securing fatherhood and tying up resources to make childcare easier.
Reasons for infidelity
In addition to the desire for exclusivity, all people have the need for autonomy, freedom and openness in different degrees. Feel unique, desirable and vital again and leave the everyday life behind - these emotions drive spouses out of the familiar marriage - relationship into an adventure. A good partner for an affair offers a projection screen for your own build up needs and dreams.
In the analog age, real-life infidelity was found through face-to-face contacts. In the digital age, thanks to GPS location and a perfect match on corresponding apps and dating platforms, it is often just a click away. Pornographic material is permanently available on the internet, the sexual fantasy gets unlimited feed, the stimuli are strong and leave their mark in the wishes for one's own life.
Attractive people with time and financial freedom, open eyes for opportunities, experiences in own past with infidelity or separation of own parents, or affairs they have already experienced are tempted more often on average. "Opportunity makes thieves" - this can happen from a situation where everything is still fine in the core relationship.
In addition, infidelity can be a place of escape away from a marriage - relationship with chronic conflicts and unresolved problems. This affects spouses who no longer feel seen in the relationship, or who are only involuntarily with the partner due to external circumstances. The affair as a small island on the edge, in which energy and strength can be recharged.
Spouses with strong fears of being alone often also look for replacement partners. Here one keeps a relationship and searches for a new one at the same time. If a new attractive partner is in sight the overlapping monogamy changes from one relationship to the next.
Couples have visions of a common future in mind, plan with a lot of idealism and often feel strong feelings at the beginning of the relationship. The romantic triad provides love, sex and bonding within a relationship: fresh couples often grant each other complete exclusivity of the relationship. When there are children, it is absolutely necessary so that resources such as money, time and feelings end up in your own relationship. Couples reliably differentiate themselves from the outside world. At the beginning of a relationship, little attention is paid to the definition of loyalty, since everything feels so good with the longingly desired partner. These unspoken definitions are then valid until one of the partners breaks out or takes up space that was not agreed upon.
It is advisable to discuss exactly where the limits of the relationship should be at it´s beginning. What is exclusive and where does infidelity begin? You cannot go into too much detail here, because in an emergency everyone has a different definition in their head and those affected realize that the relationship was played on two completely different stages.
Love and erotics - a balancing act?
The desire for closeness and commitment and the need for autonomy and freedom are strong opponents. The balancing act between love and eroticism also appears paradoxical. Can I long-term desire the partner I love? Is love "monogamous" in its "essence"? Can you love two or more people?
Does the romantic concept (“everything with one forever”) correspond to the “nature” of humans? Can love, attachment and sex be lived out in different areas? Do I have a right to my partner's sexuality? Do I have a right to my partner's openness? Am I obliged to be open to my partner? Is cheating legitimate if I fell in love? Do I also have a right to privacy in the relationship?
Love needs closeness and erotics distance. The so-called “Coolidge effect” describes the growing weariness when a person has intercourse with the same partner again and again without any change. Infidelity can be pre-programmed in the digital world with all the images and infinite sexual possibilities.
Couples with numerous non-monogamous life concepts attempt to master this balancing act: open partnership, relationships with several people (polyamory) or swinging. Experience shows that couples that do this require a very high level of differentiation and excellent communication skills. Otherwise, the primary relationship is put to the test.
If the partner is suspicious
Affairs are one of the most common reasons for break-ups and divorce because they threaten the primary relationship. Infidelity means loss of loyalty. It is experienced as humiliating and is accompanied by a loss of control. Primal fears such as loneliness, shame or fear meet anger. A roller coaster of feelings is pre-programmed.
Stones often roll when a partner becomes suspicious. There may still be an imprint of lipstick on the white collar. Nowadays, suspicions are kindled mostly by technology: a read “WhatsApp message”, not deleted chat histories, changed behavior on the cell phone or unknown addresses in the navigation device of the car cause the radar of the betrayed to be addressed.
Affair blown - and now?
When the affair is exposed, the couple is in a state of shock. The betrayed one has lost control, questions everything, and considers whether the relationship can survive the insult.
This phase is draining on the strength of both spouses. Loud discussions follow an unusual feeling of closeness, insomnia, loss of appetite, difficult concentration, inner restlessness and constant circles of thoughts. Everything is very typical for this phase.
Often the overwhelming feelings change over time, so it is not advisable to make a hasty decision. The more self-confident a person is, the more likely they are to face the issues and not to immediately flee. Take your time. Feelings regulate and an affair looks completely different in week 1 than in month 3.
The decision phase
In the period that follows, there are interesting changes. The main actors often react differently than expected. There have been intensive and honest discussions between the spouses for some time now. Couples who have often had no sex for a long time sleep together again. Everything has gotten out of hand, the rules of the game that previously existed are now being questioned. Solutions are being sought.
The unfaithful spouse often has a guilty conscience. At the same time, he is in a balancing act between the affair and the spouse and in the event of a break-up, has to go through a mourning process in which the betrayed partner cannot logically stand by him. Guilt and shame must be overcome so that a relationship can take place at eye level again. Is there a chance for a fresh start? Are there any problems that need to be resolved? The betrayed partner will ask himself whether he should forgive and how he can find trust again. He has numerous questions and endless chains of thoughts will go through his head. The focus is on getting a sense of control back over the period he didn't know about the affair. At the same time, he has to protect himself from numerous details and images.
New rules of the game instead of silence
If the two spouses decide to stay in marriage or a relationship, they have to deal with chronic conflicts or problems in the relationship. We should be warned against moving too quickly into a new order and denying what happened. This is the time to revise the old rules of the game and to look inside the relationship. Are the roles still correct? How does the couple deal with exclusivity? Is the definition of loyalty still correct?
In all phases (from the secret affair, through the discovery and processing of the infidelity to the realignment), it can be helpful to take the advice of an experienced couple therapist, whose role is to mediate and regulate emotions. Talks are structured and less emotional in the presence of a neutral consultant. Looking ahead and a systematic approach to dealing with the situations is found to be very helpful and relieving. Blind spots for your own problems in the relationship can be uncovered and permanently eliminated.
Many couples overcome infidelity, even if it takes a lot of effort for everyone involved. Ideally, the end result is a more honest and sometimes more solid marriage or relationship. Every couple that has once overcome an affair will now redefine and understand the content of the saying “in good and bad times”.