Understanding Infidelity: Why is it so damaging and how do I deal with it?

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by Chris Torrone

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09.28.2022

Infidelity has and always will be one of the most disrupting and damaging things many couples face in marriage. The psychological effects can devastate a marital relationship or any kind of romantic relationship. The emotional pain of infidelity within committed relationships has a way of sticking around much longer than it does with other types of mistakes or betrayals. 

The faithful romantic partner often finds it incredibly difficult to forgive and to trust again, along with suffering depression, a loss of confidence and more, while the unfaithful partner (cheating partner), can feel prolonged shame and guilt, and increased anxiety over not being “welcomed” back into the relationship. 

It is important to understand that for many couples, an affair can destroy the relationship for good, leading them to divorce, heartache, and great difficulty for their kids as well. Avoiding affairs is vital to the health of any intimate relationship and to the long-term health and stability of family life. It can also save you a lot of headache and money since extramarital affairs often lead to ugly and costly divorces. 

It’s good to understand and recognize the warning signs of infidelity or outside emotional attachment. But more importantly, it’s best to develop greater intimacy within your relationship, each day, through better listening and communication, valuable time together, unselfish acts, ongoing support, and genuine interest.

It is also a good idea to get some couples therapy together, not just when things go bad, but long before. The point is to get healthy, both as individuals and as a couple. This helps you avoid deeper problems down the road. 

Let’s look now at some ways infidelity damages a marriage, a few ways to guard against it, and what to do if it happens. 

couple dealing with the pain of infidelity

Why Some People Cheat

There are many reasons men and women cheat. Every relationship is different, and the problems faced by each couple are unique to them. Still, most of the time, cheating happens because of one or several of the reasons listed here. 

Lack of Satisfaction

This can be dissatisfaction with any number of things, including sexual satisfaction, financial struggle, emotional distance, a husband or wife that shows little genuine interest, too much work, not enough money, unattentiveness, a lack of intellectual connection, and a host of other frustrations, all leading up to an unhappy marriage. 

Curiosity and Opportunity

While this sounds flippant, it isn’t meant to be. By nature, human beings are curious about what they don’t have, or feel they can’t have. Unfortunately, this curiosity, when combined with just the right, or better yet…wrong, opportunity, can make for a terrible disaster. 

Some couples, even those with little to no major problems, suffer from the bad medicine that killed the cat. It might be someone at work, at school, a parent of one of your child’s friends, an ex, or a random online encounter. Especially with our constant digital access, these opportunities for infidelity have increased over the past several years.

It’s important, for the sake of your marriage and the health of your family, to make choices with long-term effects in the forefront of your mind. One or even a handful of passionate nights can ruin a profound and beautiful relationship, one that has the power to shape your character, increase your happiness, and bring greater meaning to your life. An affair can quickly tear down everything you’ve built and everything the two of you hoped to build together. 

Age, Image, and Self-Esteem

Many middle-aged individuals have affairs with younger men and women, because it can sometimes make us feel younger, validated (especially when our spouse isn’t paying much attention to us), and more confident.

This temporary feeling is real, and the inner concerns and desires are valid and worth discussing. The problem is that most of these encounters don’t last. This means you’re left picking the pieces of not only your lost fling, but more importantly, a broken family. 

If you’re feeling lost, low on confidence, upset about your body, or not seen and appreciated, it’s a good time to work together on expanding your connection points and communication, along with developing new ways to build physical and emotional intimacy.

Experienced counselors, sex therapists or family therapists, trusted mentors, and close friends can help you get to the root of problems, develop new tools for communication and intimacy, help you work through pre-existing emotional wounds, understand how to shift your view of body image, and even inspire you to explore new avenues of sexual passion and fulfillment with one another. This leads to a healthy relationship that can span entire lives. 

Revenge

Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Tragically, revenge is often a strong motivation to cheat. It may be anger over a spouse’s past indiscretion, a partner’s emotional affair, a way to get them back for breaking up with you in the past, or payback for any number of other real or perceived offenses. 

No matter the reason, revenge is a meal best never served at all. Spiteful, unforgiving, and reactionary decisions lead to greater conflict, growing anger, increased dissatisfaction, distrust, broken intimacy, and divorce. 

Marriage is an opportunity to be the best version of yourself, to take the higher ground and love someone else the way you desire to be loved. There are many avenues of pain in marriage. Revenge only worsens them. It’s up to each of us to act with character, wisdom, and respect if we want to build a lasting and happy marriage. 

Other Reasons

Several other reasons can contribute to one’s choice to be unfaithful. Some of these include:

  • Complete breakdown of communication
  • Substance abuse or other addictions
  • Pornography
  • Boredom
  • Physical health issues
  • Unresolved traumas or emotional struggles
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Consistent lack of affection
  • And more

Types of Affairs

Infidelity doesn’t come in just one package. It can take on a host of faces, depending on the individual dynamics of each couple. Let’s look briefly at a handful of the most common types of affairs married couples contend with. 

Sexual Affair

This is usually the one we think of when we hear the words affair, cheating, or infidelity. Sexual infidelity can mean onetime or repeated acts of sexual intercourse with an outside partner, sexual activities not including intercourse, or even kissing and touching. Sexual infidelity is one of the most damaging kinds of betrayals. Most people find it incredibly difficult to get over without professional help, and it always takes time. 

Emotional Affair

Sometimes, there is no sex involved. Once in a while, co-workers, friends, exes, or acquaintances develop an emotional bond through time spent together. This outside relationship can grow too strong and disrupt intimacy between spouses, leading to jealousy, hurt feelings, distrust, and further consequences for the family. 

Often, emotional affairs come with sexual affairs, and these intense encounters often lead to tremendous emotional and relational fallout, even divorce. 

couple dealing with infidelity

Financial Affair

Financial infidelity refers to instances where a spouse has a habit of engaging in secretive spending habits or in keeping certain financial details hidden from their partner. Individuals may try to hide past debts. They sometimes make large, impulsive purchases and keep this from their spouse’s knowledge, whether it be larger ticket items, small gadgets, weekend spending with friends, or paying off other debts. 

This too can be quite damaging to a relationship or family. It can harm the financial stability of the home, negatively affect financial and investment plans, increase debt, and most of all, damage the trust and intimacy between the couple. 

Object Affair

This is when the offending partner dedicates an inordinate amount of time to an outside pursuit. It could be a hobby, an athletic or fitness goal, a project, a new work endeavor, a friend, or several other things. Of course, pursuing our passions is important to our quality of life, and we should support one another in this endeavor. However, we sometimes go overboard and become obsessed. 

This can damage marital intimacy, cut into our time with our spouse or kids, affect our finances, eat up all our time, and drive a wedge between us.

Cyber Affair

In the age of instant digital communication, opportunities for infidelity have only grown. The internet, our social media apps, and our constantly connected phones give us the tools we need to engage in any number of secretive relationships. 

Individuals often meet online and begin text or phone conversations in secret. These often lead to things like sexual calls, sexting, or even in-person encounters. 

What Effects Does Infidelity Have on the Uninvolved Partner?

The aftermath can be devastating, leading to a range of psychological, emotional, and even physical consequences, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of Self-Confidence
  • Identity Crisis
  • Addiction and Substance Abuse (self-medication)
  • Family Conflicts
  • Awful Pain
  • Physical Health Problems
  • Work Problems
  • Shame and Self-blame

These injured partners are often confused and deeply distressed, wondering if they simply weren’t enough, or are somehow unworthy and inferior. It is important to remember that it was the other person’s choice, not yours. However, the emotional and psychological damage is very real and should be taken seriously. It is the right time to pursue counseling and the ongoing support of close friends and family. 

Effects of Infidelity on the Cheating Partner

Choosing to engage in infidelity affects the cheating partner as well. Consequences include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Lingering Guilt and Shame
  • Confusion
  • Feeling Trapped in the Relationship
  • Conflict with One’s Children
  • Physical Health Problems
  • Disruptions in One’s Friendships

Effects of Infidelity on Children

Children are often the unintentional victims of infidelity. The fallout from cheating and, of course, a broken marriage can affect children, even for decades to come. Some of these consequences include:

  • Anxiety, Depression, and other Mental Health Concerns
  • Issues with Academic Performance
  • Increased Anger and Conflicts with Friends
  • Loss of Interest in Normal Activities or Hobbies
  • Negative Attitudes Toward the Cheating Parent
  • A Feeling of Being Betrayed
  • Sexual Problems as they Mature
  • Emotional Problems that Last for Years
  • Imitation of the Same Harmful Choices in Their Own Marriage

What Do We Do to Avoid and Heal from Infidelity?

Infidelity is always difficult to deal with. But there are things you can do to lessen the chances of it occurring and much you can do to heal if it does take place. 

Ways to Avoid Infidelity

Some ways to avoid infidelity include:

  • Spend more quality time together
  • Get regular counseling, both together and individually
  • Prioritize your marriage before other professional and personal concerns
  • Create a clear vision for your marriage together and work toward it each day 
  • Play and laugh more often – nothing is more healing and life-giving than greater levels of casual play and humor
  • Avoid spending an abundance of time alone with individuals you find attractive or who find you attractive
  • Discuss emotional and psychological frustrations with your spouse and your counselor
  • Enjoy more outings and activities together – and don’t disrupt this valuable time with other commitments or distractions
  • Conduct yourself with integrity when it comes to digital communication. Avoid sites or contacts that you know are temptations for you and remain open with each other about your conversations (without being paranoid). 
  • Work with counselors and each other to develop better listening and communication habits with each other
  • When temptation arises, discuss it openly with one another so that it doesn’t grow in secret
  • Spend time with older mentors (couples who’ve been married successfully for decades) and with trusted friends who want the best for you both
  • Read some excellent relationship books together and talk about the thoughts and feelings that arise from it

What to Do When Infidelity has Already Happened

If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of dealing with infidelity, there are many steps you can both take to move toward growth, healing, and trust. Let’s look at some of these. 

couple dealing with infidelity

Don’t Make Big Decisions Right Away

It’s easy to jump toward separation or divorce or even to a rapid and false sense of resolution. Take time to understand yourself and one another emotionally and psychologically before moving toward large changes. 

Remain Accountable

After a significant violation of trust, it is imperative to focus on being open and accountable for your actions. Transparency builds new trust over time. However, don’t be heavy-handed. Don’t make unreasonable demands for excessive transparency. Don’t use it as a weapon. Also, the non-offending partner should be equally transparent so that they can build a sense of equality, mutual respect, and support. 

Consult with a Marriage Counselor

It may be something we bring up often, but it’s worth repeating. A qualified family therapist is often your number one advocate and facilitator on the journey of rebuilding a marriage. Their tools, experience, and unique outlook can help you both in ways no one else can. 

Face Difficulties Rather than Running Away

It’s easy to run and hide during this time, especially for the cheating partner. An abundance of shame and guilt often propels us toward conflict avoidance and reclusiveness. This destroys trust and intimacy and makes it easier to repeat your mistakes. 

Instead, “bear witness” to your mistakes. Own up to your wrongdoings, not with excessive apology and shame, but with honesty, recognizing how your choices have deeply hurt and affected your spouse and others around you. This allows true feelings to surface and to eventually get washed clean. 

As the non-offending party, don’t use your partner’s vulnerability to hurt them further or make them feel terrible. They are already feeling bad enough. Honor their openness and honesty and respect their efforts to take responsibility for their actions and their pursuit of reconciliation. 

There are certainly more steps to take. The important thing is that you work together on the path toward healing and with a qualified professional who can guide you both into a healthier place. 

In Closing

Infidelity remains one of the top reasons many couples separate or divorce. It can damage entire families and destroy larger social circles. It’s best to take steps to build intimacy, communication, and satisfaction so you can avoid infidelity in the first place. 

However, if it happens, take time to decide what you want. Many marriages fully recover and even come out stronger with the right help, work, and support. If you end up choosing to end the marriage, work with a good divorce lawyer and advocate to find resolution and peace of mind. 

Torrone Law helps individuals, and families successfully navigate divorce, custody, and adoption. Contact us today and gain the confidence and peace of mind you and your family deserve. 

For more information about infidelity, see our frequently asked questions and answers below. 

FAQ

Why does cheating happen?

Unfaithfulness happens for a range of reasons. Many of them include:

  • A lack of satisfaction in the relationship
  • Sexual problems or infrequency
  • Curiosity and opportunity
  • Revenge
  • Boredom
  • Lack of emotional intimacy
  • Depression and other mental illnesses
  • Temptation from online communication
  • and more

How often does infidelity occur in marriage? 

When combining statistics for both men and women, around 15% to 20% of marriages experience cheating. 

How can we avoid infidelity?

Great things to focus on include:

  • Working with an experienced marriage and family counselor to develop your relationship and intimacy further
  • Spending more quality and fun time together
  • Laughing and playing more
  • Working on listening better
  • Reading a few relationship books together and discussing your thoughts and feelings
  • Remaining open and vulnerable with one another about concerns, difficulties, and hopes
  • Creating a marriage vision together and actively working toward it with each other
  • Dedicating considerable time to simply enjoying one another, and getting to know each other better
  • Remaining transparent about digital communication or extended time with others that might be a temptation
  • Treating one another each day with selfless acts of kindness  

How do we heal from the effects of cheating?

Partner with a counselor. Dedicate yourself to transparency. Take responsibility for your actions. Be open about how your spouse’s mistakes have hurt you, but don’t drown them in blame, shame, and guilt. Rebuild trust through honesty and consistency. Know that it will take a long time to mend. Avoid trying to get revenge in either large or small ways. Ask for additional help from friends or mentors with successful marriages. Make time every day to listen, talk, and relax together. Face challenges together and don’t avoid necessary conflict. Show respect each day and hold on to your self-respect as well. 

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