In this post we’re exploring myths about infidelity. Many of these myths stem from black-and-white thinking. We often like the certainty that this kind of thinking gives us. This is good and that’s bad. It’s cut and dried. The problem is that humans and human relationships are messy and complex. When we ignore this fact, we can get stuck feeling we have few options and being unable to make sense of our lives. Black and white, good or bad, this or that doesn’t work when we’re talking about marriages and people. Let’s look at some of those myths now.
Divorce is inevitable
In my opinion, the number one myth out there about infidelity is that divorce is inevitable. And it’s understandable why we think this. Have you heard someone say it’s the one thing they couldn’t get over? Or that they’d ask their spouse to leave on the spot? Or that this is a deal breaker? People who have experienced a spouse being unfaithful might have said some of the same things themselves. And yet, when it happens to you, the decision is not so easy. It might even be surprising to learn that many people who experience infidelity stay married.
So why don’t we hear about it? When a spouse is unfaithful, the person is often left feeling very alone and thinking they are the only one to experience this. Well, it’s just not something that people talk about. Affairs are not one of those experiences that couples laugh about later and tell their kids and grandkids. Know that if this has happened in your marriage, you can choose to end it, and probably no one would blame you. Or you could work it out. Divorce is not the only option. The couples who stay together and work it out don’t talk about the affair as often as the ones who split up. There are many more people who stay married—and happily married—than you might realize.
The person who strayed wasn’t in love with their spouse. And the affair is all about sex.
While some people may cheat for these reasons, they aren’t the only ones. Relationship expert Esther Perel says affairs are often not about these things at all. They are about exploring parts of oneself. The person who had the affair may love their spouse very much and even have a satisfying sex life.
The non-cheating partner must have been/done something terrible
No one can make you cheat. Your partner may treated you badly; you still made your choices.
You were looking for an affair when it happened
Many or even most people who have affairs didn’t go looking for them. Something that started as innocently as coworkers or friends chatting developed into an emotional connection you were never expecting. Or you were out of town, maybe drinking, and an opportunity just presented itself. You got carried away and don’t know exactly how it happened or why you did it.
People who cheat are horrible people
Many are very good, lovable people who made regrettable choices. Even the best people make mistakes, sometimes really costly and hurtful mistakes.
Once a cheater, always a cheater
This one assumes that people can’t change and are defined by their actions. I just don’t believe this is true.
If there’s no intercourse/sex there’s no affair. Or there was no emotional connection, it was just sex.
These myths are both about the definition of infidelity. How do you define when cheating happened? Is it intercourse? What about oral sex? Is it being in love? What about texting or online chatting? Porn? I cannot give you one definition that works for all situations. You need to discuss with each other where your boundaries are and what you consider cheating in your relationship.
People can’t help themselves, we’re wired that way
This one may hint at some truth, but it’s still false. The kernel of truth is that we can’t help feeling attraction. The myth is that there’s nothing we can do about it. You may notice someone in your office, at a store, or among your friends that you find attractive. Your body may even experience arousal. This we don’t have a lot of control over, if any. You can control what you do about that. Do you let yourself entertain fantasies about this person? Do you allow yourself to be in situations with this person where attraction can flourish? Are you sharing with them things you don’t share with your spouse? These are all choices you make that leave you vulnerable.
What do we do about all this?
Did you feel scared or vulnerable reading any of these? Well, if the sex is good and the couple is in love and the spouse is a good person, how can we predict an affair and make sure our relationship is safe from one? Remember that black-and-white thinking I mentioned at the beginning? It also protects us from seeing and experiencing the discomfort of our own vulnerability. There may not be ways to be sure 100% that our relationship is safe.
What we can do is trust our partners. We can take each others’ concerns and complaints seriously; we can talk about needs that aren’t being met, parts of self that haven’t been explored. I often get phone calls from very remorseful people who say some version of “my spouse has been asking me to go to counseling for years and I refused to go. Now they are asking for divorce.” Not all of these cases include infidelity, but the idea is the same. When we take each others’ concerns seriously, we increase the likelihood that we will both be satisfied in our relationship. We can create a culture in our relationship that allows us to talk openly. We can have conversations about what we consider cheating, where we draw the lines.
And finally, we trust. We practice the courage to invest in our relationships with our whole hearts. This is the road to happiness. This is where there is hope.
If you’re dealing with infidelity in your marriage, you don’t have to go it alone. Reach out for help. If you’d like to try marriage counseling, email me or give me a call at 951-430-3011. I also recommend reading After the Affair or Healing from Infidelity.