Infidelity in marriage is a terrifying seismic event in one’s life. Everything is shaken to its core after an affair, and it leaves devastation in its wake. However, infidelity doesn’t necessarily mean that the marriage is done. It is possible to work through the issues, rebuild, and become a stronger couple in the aftermath of an affair.
What is infidelity in marriage?Asking what infidelity is might seem like an odd place to begin, but it’s with good cause. There is no one universally accepted configuration of what marriage is supposed to be and what boundaries ought to exist to protect it.
Some couples have “open” marriages, which may mean that they can have sexual partners apart from each other. For some people, they consider sex to be meaningless, and what truly matters is whether one has feelings for the person. For others, they draw the boundary at constant texting or talking with someone at a deeply personal level.
All of this is to say that couples differ and draw the boundaries for their relationship in unique ways that may not always align with the Biblical vision for marriage and relationships. Whatever the case, it’s important that spouses respect each other’s boundaries and not violate them. Infidelity can thus take many various forms, including emotional affairs and affairs with a sexual component.
Emotional affairs are when one spouse substitutes another person for their spouse in terms of emotional and mental intimacy. It can look like preferring to confide things to that other person than one’s spouse.
Often, if a person is having an emotional affair, they keep their interactions, text messages, or meetings a secret from their spouse, and they can get defensive when asked about the relationship. An emotional affair draws time, energy, and affection away from the primary relationship.
Why people cheat: understanding infidelity in marriage.
It’s commonly thought that infidelity in a marriage is rooted in deep unhappiness or a lack of fulfillment within the marriage. In this way of thinking, the only reason why someone has an affair is that something is missing at home, and the wandering spouse was looking elsewhere to meet a need. This could be sex, companionship, or something else. This often inspires a mad scramble for an answer, the answer, to why the one spouse cheated.
Often, the spouse that was cheated on will go on the hunt scouring for answers by looking at themselves and any potential deficiencies within themselves that could account for their wayward spouse’s behavior. This can be quite damaging, and it can lead to the cheating spouse not being held accountable for their actions. Such self-recrimination is unhelpful, and it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter.
There are many reasons why people have affairs, but at the end of the day, the person who has an affair has to be responsible for their actions. Neither party in the marriage may be innocent, but each must take responsibility for themselves. Some of the reasons why people are unfaithful include the following:
- Meeting a need such as sex or emotional intimacy
- For a sense of adventure by doing something transgressive
- To pursue the path not taken and explore what could have been. It’s one reason why some people have affairs with an ex from another time in their lives.
- For self-discovery and exploration, breaking out of the routine of daily life
- As a form of revenge, for instance, if they were themselves cheated on by their spouse
- Simply because the opportunity arose for an affair, for instance, an office romance or a one-night stand while out of town
Whatever the reason for the affair, there are consequences for violating the boundaries of marriage.
How infidelity in marriage affects a couple.
Discovering an affair can be a disorienting and painful experience. The spouse that’s been cheated on may feel something akin to grief. Being cheated on can trigger a long process of questions and doubts about the future of the marriage. What seemed safe, secure, and perhaps immune, fell victim to the same squalls that swamp other marriages. One can begin to wonder why it all happened and whether something was missing in the marriage.
Grief is an appropriate way to describe what experiencing infidelity is like emotionally. Like grief, processing what an affair means is unpredictable. The spouse that’s been cheated on may vacillate between denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance.
One day they may want to know all of the details of the affair so they understand what happened, and then they may find that they feel burdened by the knowledge the next. Grieving is not a linear process, but one with many unexpected turns along the way.
The spouse that cheated has their own journey of working through guilt, feelings of shame, reckoning with what they did and why, as well as working to be accountable for their actions. An affair may raise questions about what they truly want in life, what their values are, and what they’re willing to do to protect what matters most. For some, an affair may confirm their desire to leave the marriage behind and start a new life, perhaps with the person they had the affair with.
Moving toward recovery.
Is it possible to recover from infidelity in marriage? Yes, and it’s possible to emerge stronger from the crisis.
When an affair happens, it can make the couple question everything about their relationship. That questioning isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it can lead to self-discovery and expressing desires and needs that may have been unknown, ignored, or left unarticulated.
Asking tough questions about your marriage can be uncomfortable and downright painful, but an affair can serve as the impetus toward deep and honest reflection.
Recovery from infidelity can proceed along different paths. For some, they want to ask questions of the spouse who cheated, such as why they had the affair, whether the affair is over, whom it was with, how long it went on for, whether they had feelings for each other, if they were planning a life together, and if they plan on continuing with the affair.
These questions can help the spouses understand what happened and why, and they can function as a step toward accountability. Knowing the answers to these questions can help the spouses to make informed decisions about their next steps.
For a marriage to recover from infidelity requires intentionality. It takes two to have a marriage, and ultimately both parties must be willing to hold onto their marriage and put in the work to nurture it.
A couple can go for counseling to help them process what happened in their marriage, address faulty or unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior, as well as equipping them to communicate well and meet one another’s needs.
Through couples counseling with a marriage and family therapist, a couple can strengthen their emotional bond, deepen their conflict resolution and problem-solving skills, and cultivate respect and appreciation for one another.
If your marriage has been rocked by infidelity, know that it isn’t necessarily the last word on the matter. Your marriage can recover, and you can emerge stronger than before.
Licensed marriage and family counselors or therapists are uniquely equipped to navigate the complexities of intimate relationships, and they can serve as a guide and support on your journey toward a stronger marriage. A Christian marriage and family therapist will integrate Biblical and spiritual resources to strengthen your faith and draw constructively from it for your life.
Reach out today and our office can connect you with a counselor to get the help that your marriage needs.
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