It happened again. Infidelity, cheating, an affair; whatever label we use, it adds up to one thing: betrayal.
Sadly, such transgressions are not unusual among couples. They present major relationship obstacles. In fact, infidelity can be catastrophic if it becomes chronic and remains unresolved.
What is Infidelity?
At first, the answer to this question seems obvious. But, in reality, each couple sets its own ground rules for faithfulness. Of course, the most common rule is no sexual contact with other people.
However, many couples include variations on that theme. For example:
Various types of contact (flirting, sexting, etc.) may be permitted
Certain sexual acts may be conceded while others are taboo
Open relationships and polyamory may be addressed
Swinging may be taken into account or rejected
Role Playing may or may not be okay
It is absolutely crucial for couples to make time to clarify their wants and needs. Do not take for granted that you have an “unspoken” agreement. As with so many aspects of your relationship, allow for evolution and new perspectives. Communicate and come to a clear agreement. Stay in touch about what infidelity means to you both to avoid the ugly clean-up afterward.
When Infidelity is a Habit
When infidelity becomes a habit for one partner, the faithful partner is traumatized repeatedly. The hope of recovery and the work that couples might do following a single disclosure of unfaithfulness is no longer in play. The relationship is held hostage to the betrayal and disrespect. Stability cannot be achieved as sexual “shoes” are dropping all the time.
Partners cannot move forward together in a healthy way in such a state. Patterns of repeated deception and unfaithful sexual behavior are serious relationship crimes. They must be addressed. Decisions must be made for the health and safety of all involved.
Just know, if you are facing chronic betrayal by your partner, you are not alone. And the steps you must take to protect your emotional and mental health in the face of such hurtful behavior are well within your rights. You deserve physical and emotional safety. A return to boundaries, self-care, and internal strength is vital.
If you are the chronic cheater, you must take stock of your behavior and make healthier choices that honor yourself, your partner, and your relationship. A return to honesty and integrity are crucial.
What Steps Can a Couple Take to Address Chronic Betrayal?
1. Recognize that the Cheater Never Sets the Recovery Agenda
This is non-negotiable. The betrayed partner has every right to make demands if you agree to attempt relationship saving measures. The cheater must come clean, break off all sexual contact with other people, and never deflect the blame. Also, the cheater cannot set a timetable for when their betrayed partner is “over it.”
2. Develop a Trusted Support System
Whichever side of the problem you’re on, you’ll need non-judgmental people to lean on. Perspective is paramount. Do not do this alone.
3. Feel What You Feel
Again, because the infidelity wasn’t a one-time “mistake,” emotions are ricocheting like a pinball machine. Allow yourself to feel it all. Don’t stuff or ignore your emotions. Processing what you feel will take time and may be volatile in your current situation. Therefore, it may be necessary to separate and work through what you feel before attempting to express your feelings to each other.
However, when the time is right, safe expression of your emotions, whether cheater or victim, is key and will likely require the objectivity and support of a counselor.
5. BIG Decisions Must Be Made
It takes guts and a lot of work to fix relationship problems. It takes maturity and self-love to recognize when something can’t be fixed. Think long and hard about what you can honestly commit to. If you are too confused to make a coherent decision about your marriage, don’t rush into anything. Seek out a trained, experienced couples counselor to help you navigate your futures clearly (see below).
Why You Should Seek Help Now
Each situation is different. Therefore, of course, unique methods must be employed. However, there is one approach that transcends all the variations of infidelity. Couples counseling is where you and your partner can begin asking and answering questions like this:
What happened and when?
Why is the cheating still going on?
Why is infidelity the chosen lifestyle at all?
How can we work through this in a productive manner?
Can this relationship ever be healthy again?
Can either of us ever feel normal again?
Who can help us stop this pattern?
What else am I missing?
Is this relationship too far gone?
If so, how can we separate in the healthiest way possible?
Such conversations may not be possible without the presence of a skilled mediator, given the level of deception, emotion, and distrust. Your therapist is not there to take sides or push an agenda. Thus, a productive dialogue exposing hidden feelings and motives may be more easily achieved with a trained professional.
Infidelity — especially a second or third round of it — is not something to be suffered without a recovery plan.
You Needn’t Go On This Way
Finally, to deal with a deep sense of abandonment, deception, irresponsibility, and victimization is no easy feat. Working toward self-esteem, self-control, and mutual respect requires diligence and commitment.
Quality counseling can help you and your partner consider your relationship and yourselves in ways you may have never thought you could before. Your counselor’s professional feedback, support, advice, and direction can greatly improve your self-awareness, self-care, empathy, and healthy decision-making. Whether you move forward together or apart, you’ll move forward much healthier if you do the internal work. Please contact me for a consultation. Let’s end the cycle of unfaithfulness and emotional turmoil. Begin healing for good.