Can Relationships Overcome Infidelity?
Infidelity and cheating are viable threats to any intimate relationship. Predicaments of an affair are a possibility for anyone, especially during this era of technology and virtual anonymity. Betrayals of relationship integrity, whether through infidelity, cheating, or adultery are, unfortunately, more common than one would think. If the couple has children, the fallout can be even more devastating. The following statistics help to illustrate the possibility of adultery occurring in one’s relationship:
- 40% of unmarried couples and 25% of married couples experience at least one incident of infidelity or cheating at some point within the relationship.
- 70% of all Americans engage in an affair of one type or another at some point in their marital life.
- 45% of men and 35% of women have been either sexually or emotionally intimate with someone other than their committed partner.
- 45-50 % of married women and 50-60% of married men engage in extramarital affairs at some point in their relationships.
That Sounds Bad! Is My Relationship Doomed?
No, but it will take some work. It may seem hopeless to repair a relationship that has been damaged by one of the ultimate betrayals. Cheating is the one error in judgment that is considered to be a deal-breaker for most relationships. Trust is a necessity in all aspects of relationships. It stands to reason, therefore, that a violation of trust, such as infidelity and cheating, can cause great heartache and devastation within a marriage. Infidelity can undermine the bedrock and the very foundation of marriage itself. It can devastate, humiliate, and crumble a once-thriving and loving union.
However, with hard work and a resolved commitment to make the relationship succeed, many relationships can (and do) survive a bout of infidelity or cheating. Just because your partner shows signs of cheating does not mean they are being unfaithful. And, even if your partner is cheating, an instance of infidelity doesn’t mean that your marriage is doomed. Marriage and family therapist Gabrielle Applebury states “adultery is no longer a deal-breaker in many marriages,” and that “70 percent of couples actually stay together after an affair is discovered.”
It takes time, patience, and commitment to overcome this obstacle. Relationship advice author Kevin Darné said, “one of the most important things a betrayed person should do is take some time to determine if they really can forgive.” When both partners are committed to healing the damage and closing the gap caused by a significant breach of trust, many marriages do survive and, with concentrated effort and work, can actually become stronger and experience deeper levels of intimacy.
The Three Types of Intimacy
There are three specific tools to “affair-proof” your relationship: Self Intimacy, Conflict Intimacy, and Affection Intimacy. These three tools can be thought of as the mortar to the building blocks of any relationship. Every recipe for a long-term relationship has at least some of each of these three ingredients.
To start, self-intimacy is knowing what you feel, think, and want, and sharing these with your partner. It is being self-aware. When we are self-aware, we acknowledge what motivates us so that we can make healthier, more mature choices. We use our Emotional Self Awareness to strengthen Self Intimacy. Emotional intimacy is the foundation of any solid relationship. “Emotional intimacy can be defined as allowing yourself to connect more deeply with your partner through actions that express feelings, vulnerabilities, and trust”, says Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist in New York City and faculty member at Colombia University. It is being open and vulnerable and expressing that vulnerability to your partner. This brings couples closer together and enhances overall trust. And overall trust enhances intimacy.
Secondly, conflict intimacy is the ability to “do conflict well” in a relationship. This is a key tool that many couples lack. Differences and tension are inevitable in all relationships, especially those weathering infidelity, and being able to talk about these with one another is essential. Conflict intimacy is a marker of how well the couple can overcome tensions and difficulties within the relationship. The more effectively a couple can handle stress and tough times, the stronger and closer that couple is. Being able to “argue well” is a good indicator of how strong your relationship is. When couples can talk with respect and calm, they can begin the process of working through the negative, while simultaneously remaining in touch with the positive, loving aspects of their relationships.
And finally, affection intimacy is the “gravy” in the relationship; it is the sweet, sensual, and passionate/sexual aspects of the relationship. It feeds the love that grew early in the courtship. When a couple is good at Self Intimacy and Conflict Intimacy, their Affection Intimacy grows and flourishes. Their relationship is resilient and can handle differences. More importantly, they have a way of constructively dealing with the inevitable challenges that happen in all relationships. In this context, relationships with high levels of affection intimacy are able to discuss issues of personal integrity. Subsequently, they are better prepared to weather risks to relationship integrity. They are able to present fears and vulnerabilities in a way that does not harbor insecurities or view secrets as acceptable.
The Need for “Love” and the Influence of Commitment Phobia
We are all human. We cannot simply turn off our biological urges and ignore our instincts. However, we ARE able to control our behavior and not give in to our darkest desires. Unfortunately, many of us do succumb to this desire, especially during a vulnerable time in our life. It is very important that we maintain healthy communication within our relationships. We must do this with consistency, respect, understanding, and kindness.
Ultimately, human beings are social creatures; we all crave connection and unity with other people. In relationships that do not meet this need, it can be easy for one to stray. For some, it’s difficult to live up to the expectations of others. For others, commitment phobia and relationship anxiety are real and trying fears that can influence every relationship in their life. This is particularly true in romantic relations.
Some Common Causes of Commitment Phobia
Some common causes of commitment phobia can include:
- Worrying that the relationship will end without notice or signs.
- Fear of not being in the “right” relationship.
- Concern about being in an unhealthy relationship characterized by abandonment, infidelity, abuse, etc.
- Childhood trauma or abuse.
- Unmet childhood needs or attachment issues.
- Complicated family dynamics while growing up
For these reasons, some relationships are especially challenging to preserve, and cheating can result from some of these unresolved issues. Inevitably, not every relationship can withstand the transgression of an affair. Therefore, the unity and intimacy that once thrived in a healthy relationship can become extinguished and a single act of betrayal can develop into a casualty of the marriage.
What Happens if the Cheater Decides to Leave His or Her Spouse and Marry the Outsider?
Well, statistics are not in their favor. For instance, roughly 3% of men who engage in extramarital affairs marry their mistresses. Men who do marry their paramours have a subsequent divorce rate as high as 75%. In fairness, most second and third marriages fail regardless of why the first one ended. A couple beginning their relationship on the betrayal of a sacred vow may have the odds stacked against them. But a marriage constructed out of unconditional love can overcome many obstacles, including infidelity.
What Are the Next Steps if My Partner Has Cheated?
For couples wishing to repair a marriage upended by infidelity, carefully consider how to proceed. Before choosing to decide whether to stay together or go your separate ways, take the time to heal and understand what was behind the affair. This is not a time to make important family decisions based on emotional responses. A marriage constructed out of unconditional love can overcome many obstacles, but there is also honor in fighting for your vows. In this, honor can heal wounded hearts. The following are significant tools that one may choose to apply in the healing process of their marriage:
- First, seek guidance from a licensed psychologist and/or certified counselor who specializes in marriage and family therapy. Within these sessions, remain focused on the marital problems that built up to the affair. Do not stray away from the underlying problems. Find a therapist that encourages both parties to take accountability, this is imperative. Stay within boundaries. This is not the time to bring up any topics that existed prior to the relationship, such as childhood issues or any comparison of your current partner to those of previous relationships. A good marriage counselor will help you put the affair into perspective and help to identify the contributing factors that led to the affair. He or she can further provide both parties with the tools to rebuild and strengthen the relationship.
- Second, seek help from outside sources such as spiritual leaders, understanding and non-judgmental friends, and reading material that relates to infidelity. You may also consider utilizing resources on any of the issues that contributed to the affair. For example, self-help books, educational materials focusing on issues regarding control, and/or abusive tendencies within the relationship (if applicable) could be beneficial.
- Third, if outside influences played a part in the damage that accrued, such as sexual assault, then other sources of help or information are available. If sexual assault is a factor, then other, more pressing issues of grieving come into play. Educating yourself on the sensitive topic of sexual assault, as well as the effects and aftermath, can help you and your partner overcome this trauma. Take the time to learn how to support your partner in healing from a traumatic situation. The support will certainly enhance the healing process and forge a strong bond to move forward with further reconciliation. “The only effort earned is the effort received. You get what you give, so give it your all.” Attitude is everything in life, thus it is important to reflect positive vibes with a mentality of “I’m willing to do everything I can to make this work.”
- Finally, create a plan to re-establish trust, with the goal being reconciliation. If you were the responsible party and the betrayal is yours, admit your disloyalty to your partner, hold yourself accountable, and seek authentic forgiveness. If it was your partner who committed the infidelity, offer forgiveness when you are truly ready and seek understanding and reconciliation with the helpful tools described above.
You should never consider an act of retaliation by cheating on your partner in kind. The healing process necessitates that both parties work to regain lost trust and respect. Moving forward will probably get worse before it gets better. It can be done, but only if both parties are committed to healing the relationship, despite all the pain and suffering that both parties are feeling. If you can work together and stick it out, the results can be very rewarding. Subsequently, one can achieve a renewed marriage–a partnership that continuously flourishes and will likely exceed any previous expectations and emerge renewed. Ultimately, to move forward successfully, reconciliation must be the end goal for both partners.