Is a relationship over after an affair?

30 Apr, 2018

When you find out that your partner has had an affair, to say it hurts is an understatement. It usually sends people reeling, and often feeling shamed and embarrassed, as if it reflects on something they are personally lacking.  Yet, it is an experience that we know has nothing to do with the value of the person who has been cheated on, and we know that the act of cheating usually masks something deeper in the couple relationship.  It is usually a sign of problems in the relationship long before the affair began. Frequently it reflects an imbalance of power in the relationship.  Exploring this terrain is the work that couples do when they come to IFS.

Infidelity can be defined as a violation of trust emotional and physical. A complete betrayal.  Infidelity for many signifies a potential lack of commitment to one’s intimate partner. There are lots of reasons that women in particular feel ashamed when their partner cheats on them. 

Infidelity can be defined as a violation of trust emotional and physical. A complete betrayal.  Infidelity for many signifies a potential lack of commitment to one’s intimate partner. There are lots of reasons that women in particular feel ashamed when their partner cheats on them. 

Society often yields a laundry list of reasons for men who cheat on their wives like“She let herself go,” “she didn’t give him enough attention,” or “she must not have been willing to have enough or the right kind of sex to keep her partner satisfied”!

Women who do the cheating are often called names never assigned to their male counterparts.  Women are called names describing them as hypersexual, bad mothers, or having character defects.  In contrast when men cheat their behavior is often normalized through comments like “all men cheat,” or “that’s just how men are”.

In LGBT relationships, cheating is often minimized and normalized by heterosexually influenced media, dismissing the hurt and pain in a dehumanizing manner. 

Talking about infidelity as a problem of power and control is just not as sexy (no pun intended) as these other explanations, and people like a juicy story. But the bottom line is, all relationships are based on power and control, and when there is an unacknowledged pattern of power being misused it can lead to either partner cheating.  Sometimes it is the partner who has been misusing power in several dimensions of the relationship and other time sit is the partner who experiences a lack of power and seeks to have their emotional and physical needs met outside of the relationship.

In men’s and women’s circles, clients at IFS explore their relationships  in multiple dimensions of intimate life including sex.  Who does the laundry and takes care of the kids primarily, who makes the big decisions like when to buy a new car or a new house, which investments to make, whose career goals get priority?  Couples at IFS are often surprised when they track these patterns in their relationship, and they begin to have a different understanding of some of the underlying problems.  As a result a different perspective offers possibilities for change.

Jack, for example, came to IFS because his wife, Marie, cheated on him and he felt betrayed and angry.  He said cheating was a line that he thought neither of them would ever cross.  As he was coached around exploring his responsibilities in the home, however, he began to understand his wife’s frustrations working like him full time and also doing most of the second shift work.  While he thought he had a lot of responsibilities in the home, he started to see that many of the tasks on his list were seasonal, like doing the yard work, or sporadically required like having the cars maintenance and cleaning the gutters.  He hadn’t appreciated that the list that his wife was responsible for took an extra several hours a day:  cooking, cleaning, buying groceries and child care. And he had no sense of the toll it took on her. His expectation that she switch on the playful, happy energy in the bedroom when he wanted to be intimate was unfulfilled.  Disappointment and sometimes anger are expressed by both of them.

Jack started talking to the sponsors in the men’s circle about being consistent with making equitable changes to sharing second shift tasks.  After a few months of Jack committing to these foundational changes, he was able to talk to his wife about his sense of betrayal over the  affair. He gained a deeper and clearer understanding of how his behaviors had contributed to the deterioration of their relationship.  Marie and Jack re-committed to being fully invested and committed to their relationship, with its newly defined parameters of equity and responsibility.  They were given some assignments on strengthening intimacy from Esther Perel’s work, whose research on infidelity and intimacy can be found at estherpere.com.

Not every relationship survives infidelity.  But the ones that do are committed to broadening their understanding of the “problem” in their relationship beyond the affair, and taking responsibility for one’s own choices in creating an equitable partnership.  Making that link between the laundry and your intimate life can lead to building strong, satisfying relationships for new couples, and couples who have lost the joy and zest for one another.

While doing the dishes may not  be sexy when men do them it leads to better sex.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *