Infidelity is unfaithfulness in a marriage or relationship. It can severely strain a relationship and the people involved. An affair can leave the other person feeling devastated, alone, betrayed, and confused. Sometimes, an affair ends a relationship. Other times, couples can repair the relationship. They may do this on their own or with the help of a therapist. This can often make the relationship stronger.
What one person considers infidelity, someone else may not. One person may not see their partner’s viewing of pornography as cheating. Another person might see it as cheating. People may feel inadequate if their partner engages in behavior they see as unfaithful.
Some view infidelity as sex outside the relationship. They may not see emotional affairs as cheating. But emotional affairs can also harm a relationship. They may even do more harm than a physical affair. An emotional affair could mean the unfaithful partner is no longer invested in the relationship. It can help those in a relationship to discuss their expectations early. They can then share their views about monogamy. (Monogamy means a couple does not have other partners outside their relationship.) They may discuss how they feel about nonmonogamy. This can help avoid future strain on the relationship.
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Studies show adults in the United States expect sexual monogamy. (This excludes those in an open relationship.) However, up to 20% will engage in extramarital sex at some point. Affairs happen for myriad reasons. One main reason may be lack of relationship satisfaction. A successful relationship often means both people feel stable and secure. It often also requires physical and emotional intimacy. Deficiency in these areas can reduce relationship satisfaction. Lack of relationship satisfaction can make infidelity more likely.
Adultery does not always occur due to lack of satisfaction. A partner may enter an affair based on personal unhappiness. They may do so for a confidence or ego boost. Desire for a new sexual experience can also lead to an affair. Others begin an affair seeking emotional intimacy.
Some other reasons a person may engage in infidelity include:
- Low self-esteem
- To end the main relationship
- Lack of emotional intimacy
- Sex addiction
- Avoidance of personal or relationship problems
Some different types of infidelity can occur in a relationship.
- Object affair.This is the neglect of a relationship to pursue an outside interest. The pursuit may reach a point of near-obsession.
- Sexual affair. One partner may have sex outside the relationship. They often do not experience emotional attachment to that person. Studies show men have a harder time forgiving a sexual affair than women do. Women may be more likely to forgive an affair when emotions are not involved.
- Cyber affair. This is infidelity committed through sexts and chats. It may stay online and never reach the point of sexual intimacy. This type of affair might also include the viewing of pornography. Some people consider that act itself to be a form of infidelity.
- Emotional affair. This occurs when one partner becomes emotionally attached to someone else. The person is often of the gender to whom they are attracted. A person might spend hours talking on the phone or online to someone other than their partner. An emotional affair can negatively impact a relationship. Someone in an emotional affair may discuss relationship problems with the person outside the relationship. They may also neglect to do this with their partner. Sex is not always part of an emotional affair.
An affair might also combine sexual and emotional intimacy. This is often considered a secondary relationship. Most would view this as infidelity.
Infidelity can greatly impact both parties in a relationship. These effects may extend to others, such as children.
A partner’s infidelity can have severe impacts. One study reports that being cheated on may negatively affect physical and mental health. Someone whose partner had an affair may experience:
- Increased distress
- Low confidence and self-esteem
- Self-blame or shame
- Posttraumatic stress (PTSD)
- Poor performance at work
People who are cheated on may also be more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors. These behaviors could include having unprotected sex or sex under the influence of drugs. Increased drug or alcohol use may be another one of these behaviors. Overeating, undereating, and over-exercising could also be more likely during this time.
If your partner has had an affair, couples therapy may help. Partners who choose to rebuild their relationship after an affair may use therapy to help rebuild trust in their relationship.
Those who engage in affairs can also be affected by infidelity. Sometimes people are in affairs that last a long time. Some affairs can go on for years or decades without the other partner knowing. The emotional and mental impact of cheating on the person in these types of affairs can be severe.
People in affairs may feel increased anxiety or depression. They may feel overtaken by guilt. Feeling helpless or trapped in the situation are other common feelings. Changing their situation may feel difficult or impossible. This can make the affair last longer.
The longer an affair lasts, the greater its impact may be. The majority of affairs do not remain secret. This means that fear or resistance to speaking up about an affair may harm both partners in the long term.
Data suggest some factors correlate with increased infidelity. Some risk factors for infidelity include:
- Being male. Men are almost 80% more likely than women to have engaged in an affair.
- Living in a big city. This may increase odds of infidelity by 50%.
- Being young. Twice as many infidelity cases take place among people aged 18-30. Fewer cases are reported for those over age 50.
It is important to keep in mind that these factors are results of studies. Just because a person is in one of these categories does not mean they will cheat. If you are worried your partner is cheating, consider them as their own person. Anybody can engage in infidelity or be cheated on.
A few issues come up when a partner engages in repeated affairs. Some questions that come up include:
- Were there issues leading to the first affair that were never addressed?
- How was the first affair handled?
- Was the offender truly remorseful?
- Did the person own their actions?
- Did the other spouse acknowledge their own feelings and reaction?
Any of these unresolved issues can lead to more infidelity. Hilary Silver, LCSW observes in her practice that repeated affairs often occur due to sex addiction. She has seen that "the behavior is a compulsion rather than a statement about the state of the relationship."
Partners with multiple affairs must explore pre- and post-affair factors. They must identify behaviors, communication, and emotions shown. They should also look at each partner’s role in the relationship before and after. Partners should be honest with their feelings of hurt, guilt, and shame. The foundation must be solid after the affair. This may help protect the relationship from future infidelities. Lingering doubt or insecurity may be fatal to the relationship.
Some researchers point out that monogamy is not common in nature. They say it is instead a construct of human beings. It may conflict with the biological desire for multiple partners. Despite this, many people continue to aspire to such ideals. Many cultures demand sexual fidelity by harshly punishing those who stray.
If you feel that monogamy is not for you, it may help to discuss this with your partner. In an open relationship, you and your partner will be on the same page. It may be harmful to use nonmonogamy as an excuse for keeping a long-term affair secret.
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