Most members of romantic relationships have a list of negotiables and nonnegotiables, things about which they wouldn’t mind compromising and things that are relationship-ending deal-breakers. Some people don’t know what theirs are right off the top of their heads, and others have had this list for years. Take a minute to think of what some of your nonnegotiables are in a romantic relationship.
The most common item at the top of these lists is infidelity. I’ve had a lot of clients who are pretty sure that there’s no way their relationship can or will survive infidelity. The one who was cheated on fears that it will happen again, that they can never regain what they feel they’ve lost, and that they’ll be a fool if they stay. The one who cheated feels like they must forever repent and feels as if they are no longer entitled to their feelings about what has happened in the relationship, and each member feels incredibly disconnected from the other. It takes hard work by willing and committed participants, but, by no means, does infidelity have to mean ending your relationship.
Cheating is often a symptom of a relationship that hasn’t been getting what it needs for a fair amount of time. Some people will read this and misunderstand that to mean, “Hey, they weren’t getting what they needed from you, so they went looking for it somewhere else.” This is not what I am saying. I’m talking about everyone in the relationship, all sides.
Every member of a relationship has needs. We bring our different communication styles, ways of showing and receiving love, histories, and insecurities in with us. At the intersection of where we make space and balance for each of these for every member is where the relationship is. And it’s usually at this intersection where people run into trouble. It can be easy to fall into a routine and stop taking time for one another. Sometimes we don’t appreciate each other as much. Maybe someone in the relationship feels burdened by their role(s) and doesn’t know how to express it. At some point, you were genuinely expressing yourselves, but for whatever reason, that doesn’t feel like an option anymore. Time passes, and these issues get worse. You still love one another, but you don’t know how to address any of this, and it feels pretty hopeless. You’re carrying a lot of resentment, you’re tired, frustrated, and you’re afraid that this is what your relationship is going to look like from now on.
People use cheating as a band-aid for their pain for many reasons. Sometimes it serves to abate loneliness. Sometimes it helps them to recapture a part of themselves they feel they’re losing, or they fear won’t be accepted by their current partner(s). Many people look to infidelity because they fear that, to address dissatisfaction in their relationship, could be to end the relationship. They see it as a way to stabilize themselves in a significant relationship that they don’t want to lose.
The most common reaction to an affair is the one who didn’t cheat to begin harsh punishment for the one who cheated. This is an understandable impulse, but disturbing to the healing process since it implies that the next step is the one who cheated to win back the grace of the other. But both of you are injured parties here. Both of you have been suffering, and both of you are in pain. It doesn’t help either of you to move through this if you punish this person. It will not make you feel better. Likewise, if you are the one who cheated, it will not make it any better if you throw yourself at the mercy of the other. You don’t have to ignore your anger and hurt, and you don’t have to ignore your guilt, but you don’t have to act them out, either.
Common terms used to identify who’s who in episodes of infidelity are “offending party” and “injured party,” but when something like this happens in a relationship, I consider every member to be an injured party. It’s clear that everyone has been suffering long before the affair.
It’s important to explore what happened before, what lead to this so that you can stop living in pain, rebuild trust, regain connection, and make your relationship as healthy and satisfying as you want it to be.
If you have questions about this or would like to set up an appointment, please call me at
(415) 794-5243 or go to my Contact Me page. I look forward to working with you.
Love and Be Loved,