Affair and Infidelity – Definitions
Before coming in for couples therapy or marriage counseling for an affair or infidelity, let’s get clear on some definitions. When we hear the word “affair” or “infidelity,” we may immediately think about sex with somebody outside of the relationship (which can also tie in with sex-related issues). Which is one aspect of an affair or infidelity. The reality is that definitions for affair and infidelity shouldn’t be limited to sex with others outside of the relationship.
A thorough definition is this: “A secret sexual, romantic, or emotional involvement that violates the commitment to an exclusive relationship.” Further, “the notion that extramarital sexual contact is not necessary for one to feel betrayed” is supported by research. In other words, an affair or infidelity includes involvement in sexual, romantic, or emotional ways with a person not in the relationship. Additionally, people can (and do) feel betrayed even if sexual contact hasn’t happened.
For example, imagine that you’re female and your partner is male. You’ve been together for eight years and you decide to host a party for his promotion at work. A female that you’ve never met or heard about walks in and you realize quickly that she knows quite a lot of details about you and your life. Way more, in fact, than you know about her, as you’ve never even heard your husband talk about her. You realize that he has a very close relationship with her and also that you had no idea. While there may have been no romantic or sexual involvement, you feel absolutely betrayed.
The point of this example is not to say that your partner shouldn’t have friends outside of your relationship (that’s not at all the case). The point of this is to highlight that your partner’s emotional connection coupled with secrecy (a key word) is grounds for betrayal and infidelity.
How will I ever trust again?
This is one of the most pressing questions and fears for any person who’s been betrayed. It’s hard. And that’s putting it mildly. The reality is that your whole world has been shattered and you’re on the precipice of even deciding whether or not you want to make it work with a partner who has lied to you. You may love your partner very much, but aren’t sure at this point whether or not they can be trusted. Rightfully so. Your trust has just been shattered.
That doesn’t mean you won’t ever trust again. It does mean that we’ll carefully rebuild trust between the two of you (if all parties are interested in rebuilding the relationship) and that it will take time, effort, and intention. It will be painful, yes, but where you’re currently at is also painful. It becomes a matter of deciding which painful route you want to take. And that doesn’t feel fair and, in many ways, it’s not. And that doesn’t change where you are. You can trust again, but it takes time and hard work.
Can I heal from this?
Short answer: yes and it depends. First off, we use the Gottman Method Couples Therapy approach to working with affairs. It’s tried and true, although healing is still hard.
Secondly, regardless of what mass media would have you believe, most divorces or separations aren’t direct results of affairs. Affairs and infidelities are usually (but not always) symptomatic of larger/more issues in a relationship. So healing is two-fold. There’s healing the immediate betrayal, which is devastating to the person who’s been betrayed. This takes precedence. There’s also healing the larger issues within your relationship.
There’s no cookie-cutter “larger issue” within any relationship, but we do know a few things regarding what successful relationships look like (such as no horsemen, healthy communication, and effective conflict). Part of the work in healing is tending to these factors that create successful relationships. It’s possible and it happens.
If you and your partner choose to move beyond the betrayal, then please recognize that your relationship might not ever be the same. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be worse, unfulfilling, or lonely – it just means that it’s going to be different because the two of you are different. You’re going to have to start a new way of being together. It’s hard work, but for lots of people, it’s worth it.
What Now? I’m ready to heal from this.
Reach out and get any questions you have answered or set up an initial session. This can be done via phone call or email.