Infidelity is usually followed by intense grief, disorientation, and self-doubt. Even if we rationally know that the decision of our partner was taken alone and therefore the responsibility is theirs to bear, we are compelled to question ourselves too. Understanding infidelity better might help you make sense of them cheating on you, taking any blame of yourself, and create clarity to decide how you might want to proceed.
There are various forms of infidelity and each one of them fulfils a different need. Infidelity usually implies secret sexual activities outside the relationship or marriage which break the commitment and promise you have to each other. Whilst emotional infidelity also exists and can be immensely damaging to our romantic life, we’ll focus on sexual infidelity in this article.
We can distinguish between five major types of infidelity: romantic, conflicted romantic, opportunistic, commemorative, and obligatory. We’ll look at them each one by one.
1. Romantic infidelity
This is as the name suggests, entering into another relationship because they’re looking for romance and intimacy with someone else. The cause might be because they cannot find it in their current long-term relationship, or simply because they don’t feel romantically attached to their partner.
They might be committed to their relationship and the life they have, but meet their needs for love and intimacy with someone else. They rarely leave the relationship, keeping both the long term relationship and their romantic affair going.
If you decide to discuss the infidelity with them as an invitation for potentially moving past it together, you’ll need to ask yourself some honest questions as well:
- Do I feel emotionally intimate with my partner?
- Have I ever felt emotionally intimate and if so, what might have happened if I no longer feel this way?
- Do I welcome their emotional approach and return it and do they feel that?
- Do they feel emotionally intimate with me and how do I know that’s true?
- Am I more committed to the idea of the relationship than to my partner?
If emotional intimacy has been missing in you relationship, you might have or not been part of growing apart emotionally. The relationship might have lacked emotional intimacy from the beginning. Before making a final decision about the future of the relationship, learn about your own intimacy needs and how intimacy feels in the body. It will help you bring it into your current relationship or the next one.
2. Conflicted romantic infidelity
Fairy tale love is exactly as the name suggest: a fairy tale. The idea that we meet “the one and only” is a form of magical thinking rooted in stories and highly romanticised ideas about love. In fact, we are capable of loving or being attracted to more than one individual at the same time. Many of us do, some act on it, which leads to consequences.
This is particularly difficult to accept because it will be shocking to learn that the person who you know is in love with you has also fallen in love with someone else and cheated on you. It might also destroy some of your deeply held beliefs about what love is.
If you decide to give this relationship a second chance, you’ll need to be open to the idea that idealised notions of love aren’t realistic or helpful to expect from your love life and to have some candid conversations of what are you both expecting from this relationship and committing to.
Here are a few questions to get you started:
- How do I stay committed to my partner when I feel attracted to another person?
- What am I expecting of myself and of my partner in this relationship?
- Can I accept that people can love more than one individual and still stay faithful to one?
- Can I still trust this person or has this trust been compromised?
- Are all these years together more important to me than their one mistake?
- Can I let go of my partner if that’s what they truly want?
When entering a conversation about what happened, express your feeling by starting your sentences with “I”, e.g., “I feel distraught that you’ve had an affair.” or “I don’t know how to trust you any more.” rather than starting it with “you” and blaming them, which will only lead to defensiveness and possible insults.
3. Opportunistic infidelity
We don’t just have the capacity to fall in love with more than one person at the same time, we can be sexually attracted to people other than our spouse. This is very normal, but unless you’re in an open relationship, succumbing to lust leads to a lot of suffering.
Opportunities are often created by proximity, such as a colleague at work, or a neighbour, or familiarity, for example bumping into an old lover. This is often accompanied by alcohol consumption, a party, or having someone act as your informal counsellor when you’re going through a difficult time.
Whatever created the opportunity, your spouse was the person who committed the cheating, not the circumstances. Just because we have sexual urges, doesn’t mean that we need to act on them.
Your partner might love you and are committed to the relationship, but they still took the opportunity, which they probably feel guilt about, at least as long as they think the truth might come out. At this point your fear might be that they’ve done it before, or they would do it again, which can lead to jealousy and gradual deterioration of trust.
Before making any decision about setting boundaries, and making some commitments and expectations of your relationship explicit, you will need to tune in with your body and feel whether you can rebuild trust in your partner. This might become easier as a few days of weeks have passed, but if you cannot trust them any longer, your relationship will have lost one of the two most important pillars.
4. Commemorative infidelity
In this case, your partner doesn’t feel love or attachment towards you, but might want to keep things going as they are for the sake of appearances or convenience. They might tell themselves that they don’t get what they want from you, so they “have the right” to get it from somewhere else without feeling guilty.
If they don’t love you, you must have suspected it from their coldness or emotional and probably sexual detachment. But suspecting isn’t the same as needing to face the facts.
A loveless relationship that has lost respect as well is deeply unsatisfying. It is possible to live in such a relationship and to focus on your commitment, relinquishing your needs for intimacy and love, but it has a high cost. It’s possible to live in survival mode, but won’t thrive as a woman in these circumstances.
If you’ve forgotten what love means to you and what it is to be loved, that’s where you want to start: remind yourself of what love really feels like. You might decide to do that on your own, or invite your partner on a journey of discovering it together. But know that any invitation can be declined.
5. Obligatory infidelity
Your partner might be attached and committed to you but still cheated on you because they felt it was an obligation or they needed the approval of the other person.
Sometimes, people enter into sexual relationships with their boss or a client because they feel if they said no, there would be negative consequences. Knowing this might make you feel more compassion towards them, but you might also think they are weak-willed and a pushover. Don’t feel guilty for having mixed feelings towards them, after all you’ve been a victim too: the victim of infidelity.
If you decide to repair the relationship, your partner will benefit from learning to set healthy boundaries and to understand the legal aspects of a boss taking advantage of their employees in such a way.
If they felt that they needed to cheat on you just to win someone’s approval, will bring in a different type of complication. They might have a very low self-esteem and they boost it with external validation. You could end up forgiving them just to find them repeat the infidelity. In this case, they might have to agree to therapy that helps them build self-esteem that’s built on internal validation rather than external ones.
Hopefully, armed with this information, you might feel more prepared to tackle the situation, even if it hurts just as much as it did before you read this article.
Infidelity can be grounds for separation, but it can also be an opportunity to grow stronger together if both of you want the same things and your partner shows genuine regret and a renewed appreciation of what he has. There is no guarantee that a partner will never cheat on you again, so if that’s always on your mind after this incident you might either need professional help to move past the doubt, or you might consider separation as an option.
The quality of your romantic life has a huge impact on your mental and physical well-being. Choosing and staying in the right relationship is the most important decision you will ever make, and as most difficult things, it will be up to you what you choose.
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If you’re interested in honing your embodied relational intelligence skills to build a loving, mature, and enduring romantic relationship either with your current partner or the one you commit to next, reach out or simply buy one of my coaching and or hypnotherapy services and I’ll meet you on Zoom.