Cultural, religious and even some professional mental health practitioner shape how society at large views and thus deals with infidelity in a marriage. Often the views of these groups are to pathologize the person who committed the betrayal by labeling them morally weak, sinful, evil, selfish, a sex addict and needing of punishment. They see the person who chose to have a sexual relationship outside the marriage as sick or even with addiction such as the new-fangled though not clinically recognized term “sex addiction.” Please note that sex addiction is not a recognized disorder. This conceptualization is neither helpful nor healthy way to view infidelity in a marriage.
It’s Choice to be Married
In examining infidelity, it is important to remember that marriage is a choice, not an obligation or duty that someone does for someone else. Instead,marriage is an entity that two people, hopefully of free will, both choose to come together and work to build something they both want to choose. It is important to remember that marriage is a choice and the decision to keep choosing to do the marriage is always a choice.
Sometimes the reasons or lack of reasons that people choose to get married can be a foundation that will later open up a couple to infidelity. When people do not carefully think through the purpose of getting married it can lead to problems. If the only purpose to get married is because people “love each other” this will not be enough to sustain a long term marriage.
Marriage has very little to do with love and is a practical entity. People are coming to build something bigger than each person’s individual needs. Not being clear on what you are doing or the amount of effort and prioritization it will take can lead to infidelity.
Systemic relationship counsellors look for problems in how the couple the functions as a team, or if there is even a team in place. Another aspect is to look for is whether or not the two people are building one version of the relationship that both people want to choose. When couples lack an effective framework that prevents good team work and an effective forum for discussing and merging needs and wants through healthy conflict, this can create an environment open to cheating and infidelity.
Couples that have patterns of avoiding conflict because it is so unproductive, results in two people living like roommates. The other pattern is that the conflict becomes so escalated one person gives in to the other partner and then feels resentful. Either pattern results in one person seeing a diminishing value of the relationship. They become less willing to do things for the relationship and this opens break can open some up people to seek connections elsewhere.
High risk infidelity marriages are ones that have a dominant person deciding for spouse what they want, how they’ll live, how they’ll parent, what type of sex life and social activity to engage in. Basically one person is setting the rules of the relationship. The dominating spouse believes they are doing things in the best interest of the relationship and are often not open to hearing what their partner wants or become very defensive if their partner doesn’t want what they want. They can often blame the partner for not agreeing with them. The dominant spouse frames the disagreeing partner as the problem. In reality these couples do not know how to do compromise. The more submissive partner chooses not to confront the dominant partner because the conflict is high and results are low. This is a very ineffective relationship pattern.
In dominant/submissive couples, they believe there are only 2 choices, mine or yours. This belief results in highly escalating patterns of avoidance and fighting where it is winner take all. No adult wants another adult, who is not paying them, deciding for them on what they want, what to choose or how to behave. This type of relationship is at risk for affairs.
Healthy marriages in which both parties’ needs are met and that allow for healthy merging through effective discourse are the protective factor against infidelity. When both people feel loved and accepted for who they are able to get their needs meet, they have no desire to look outside the marriage. People need to build marriages that each person wants to choose. You cannot force someone to choose the marriage as the only way you can do this is in relationship disconnecting ways such as blaming, complaining, threatening and other punishment behaviors. Marriage counselling can teach build how to build happy marriages.
Individual Responsibilities to Make a Marriage Work
In order to make a marriage work the individuals in the marriage needs to be mentally healthy. According Dr. William Glasser, happiness or mental health is enjoying the life you are choosing to live, getting along well with the people near and dear to you, doing something with your life you believe is worthwhile and not doing anything to deprive anyone else of the same chance for happiness.
If someone has a mental health issue such as addiction, clinical depression or anxiety or a personality disorder such as Borderline Personality Disorder, these marriages will have a more difficult time. People need to be mentally healthy to do marriage.
Each person in the marriage is responsible for his/her own happiness. No one can give you happiness as people can only give you pleasure. Happiness is something you share in marriage not something your spouse gives to you. Happiness is an internal state, a way of being and dealing with the events and people in your life. Someone times people never learned how to do their own happiness and they may turn to the spouse demanding they make them happy. This is an impossible task and will result in serious problem in the marriage.
Other times a person may have some personal crisis due to a health issues, financial issue or family issue and not be able to do their own happiness at this new juncture in their life. As such, this person may, in a state of panic, turn to the person they love the most, their partner and expect them to make them happy. Again this is not possible as happiness is something that we share with others; it is not given to us.
When people get married believing their spouse is supposed to make them happy this will be an unattainable goal and an unhappy marriage. The unhappy spouse will make more and more demands of their partner in a vain attempt to get happiness. At first the partner will accommodate and do the requests of their demanding spouse to try and give their spouse happiness. But after a while, it will be too much and even with all their effort, their spouse never gets happy. So at this point the spouse stops trying and the unhappy spouse feels reject and angry and is still unhappy. In this case the unhappy person needs professional help. Until they can learn to do their own happiness the marriage will flounder.
Your Own Desire
Monogamy is a part of most Western and some Asian ideals of marriage. Many people take for granted monogamy and see it as something that just happens. However, monogamy is a choice that each person must make to the relationship. Monogamy requires each person to maintain their desire and attraction to their partner, not the other way around.
Polygamy is a common state for tribal groups as well as some religious groups around the world. In the West and in some Asian groups they have chosen to establish monogamy as the norm. Monogamy requires couples to work out in detail how they are going to define it as well as how they will maintain it.
Maintaining sexual attraction and desire for your partner for the next 30 to 50 years requires focus and attention, it doesn’t just happen. People spend very little effort really think through their choice to do monogamy and how they will maintain it.
All human being crave novelty. We like new things. Nothing beats new. However, all new things become old. Same is true in a relationship. Couples need to figure out how to keep novelty in their relationship and in themselves as an individual. This is an individual job, not your partner’s job to entertain you.
Individuals that don’t plan for how to deal with boredom in the marriage, whether emotionally or sexually are at risk for infidelity and betrayal. Staying interested in your marriage, in your partner and your life with your partner requires each person to think about and create a plan for how they will do that. Marriage is a high cost activity that couples with infidelity take for granted.
Your sense of safety is also your responsibility not your partners. When discussing safety, things like financial safety, your partner’s attraction to you, your sense that your relationship can endure difficult times is each person’s responsibility. Everyone has different needs for safety and they are often different from your partners. Couples need to work out how they will create one version of safety that is need satisfying to them both.
Common areas that couple struggle in safety often have to do with finances, career and parenting. Every couple is unique and there is no universal rule of what works and doesn’t work. This is a task that every couple needs to work out. If couples are not able to work this out, it can create fractures in the relationship, reducing the benefits of the relationship to 1 or both parties and thus opening up the relationship for infidelity.
Common issues that divide couples are about whether both spouses should work, especially after the children come in the relationship. How much money needs to be saved versus how much of the financial resources should be spent. How much time do couples need to spend together versus apart and what constitutes time together. Each individual in a marriage has different needs. There is no one right answer. Couples that take a position that there is one right way, my way, will have lot of marriage difficulties and can open themselves up to infidelity.
Infidelity: Now What- Punishment?…maybe think again
Once infidelity occurs people are often faced with overwhelming emotions and fear. Many people believe they need to punish the betrayer, in fact, that it is their right to punish the betrayer. There are many religious, cultural and even some mental health professionals support this view of punishment.
Our position, from a systems approach is different. As discussed in this article marriage is a choice that needs to be mutually satisfying. The decision to do the marriage is something each person much choose each day.
There are many areas in the relationship that can go wrong that can lead to a break down that opens up the relationship to infidelity. The person who decided to go outside of the relationship did that of their own free will and nothing the betrayed did caused them to do that. However, the betrayer is not “sick” and instead was seeking the best solution they knew how to solve a problem they didn’t believe was fixable with the partner.
Affairs often happens in pairs. What this means is that often couples collude together to not address what isn’t working in their relationship and will actively ignore it hoping it will go away. I’ve yet to meet people who are happy in their relationship and then found out about infidelity. At someone level both people were unhappy in some aspect or aspects of the marriage and they didn’t do anything about it and just hoped it would go away or get better on it’s own.
People inaccurately believe punishment will teach the betrayer a lesson, but what lesson is that? Is the lesson that you are capable of causing them great pain, that you can be mean and abusive and vengeful? Even if this is your right, what person would want to choose to merge their life with someone that is inflicting pain into them on purpose?
If the desire is to see if the relationship can be saved, the betrayed will have to find more effective ways to express and deal with their pain than inflicting pain onto their partner. If you do not want to save the marriage, you can inflict all the pain that is congruent with your belief about yourself.
Punishing the betrayer will teach them nothing, other that you the betrayed are causing them pain. It is very hard to love and feel affection to someone who is causing you pain.
Creating pain to teach the person how you feel is often a common motivator to use punishment. However, your betraying spouse is wired differently than you and even if there were somehow able to feel exactly what you feel what makes you think you that they will make the choices you make?
Human being are NOT cause and effect but rather Cause, choice choice choice. Punishment takes an overly simplistic view that humans are cause –effect. Meaning if I punish you, there
is naturally only choice you’ll make…that is to not cheat. However, this is not true, in reality if you are causing the betrayer more pain, they have lots of choices to consider from, such as ending the marriage due to loss of hope and love due to all the pain now and earlier in the relationship, maintain the relationship with the affair partner, end the marriage, move out or try to punish you.
Research after research continues to show that punishment does not work on cognitively complex situation. Marriage and human needs are complex. Punishment will not be effective tool if you have any hope to see if the relationship can be saved.
As the betrayed, you may feel it is unfair that you feel as you do as well as have to deal with what you have to do with and as such it is your right to punish your spouse by kicking them out of the house, interrogate them on what they did, remove their basic human dignity by stripping them of privacy, the access to their kids, house, and finances.
If you have any hope of exploring to see if the marriage can be saved, these tactics may prove fatal later on. Unfortunately life is not fair and regardless of what people do to us, we are still responsible for our behavior and choices. Individual counselling can be an effective way to help process the grief and loss as well as the overwhelming pain and betrayal you are going through.
Infidelity usually results out of either a person perceiving they cannot get their needs met in the relationship, some personal issues around happiness, mental health or a combination of both. Couples do recover and improve from infidelity but it requires effort and hard work looking at what wasn’t working. Other couples do stay together after infidelity but it can be a hell on earth where pain of the betrayal is kept alive even fifteen, twenty or thirty years later. It is important to remember that the type of a marriage is up to BOTH people. Because one person chose to cheat doesn’t abdicate anyone of their personal responsibility to repair and improve your relationship.
Professional Marriage Counselling for Infidelity is one place where a couple can have a neutral third party help through the many task of dealing with infidelity. It is a place where people can learn to deal with their pain, explore the meaning of trust and how it works and lastly see if there is one version of the relationship both people want and then how to do it.
If you would like help, please contact us to learn more at 90307239.