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  • Writer's picturePhoebe Baker

Understanding Infidelity

Updated: May 12, 2021

Dealing with infidelity can be a huge challenge and is proven to have traumatic effects on those who have to go through this painful experience. There will undoubtedly be many questions that will be going through your head. How do you continue your life - whether that is staying in the relationship or deciding to part? At the end of the day, the most important thing is to look after oneself, but how does one go about this? Our experts have looked into the ways in which one can heal from infidelity and here is a guide to give you a better understanding.

We recently listened to an insightful podcast by Esther Perel where she explained the psychology behind infidelity. Listen here to Rethinking infidelity ... a talk for anyone who has ever loved.

Perel gave this as her definition of an affair – “it brings together the three key elements: a secretive relationship, which is the core structure of an affair; an emotional connection to one degree or another; and a sexual alchemy. And alchemy is the key word here, because the erotic frisson is such that the kiss that you only imagine giving, can be as powerful and as enchanting as hours of actual lovemaking.”

Experts say that infidelity is almost never about sex. It’s often about intimacy and needs being unmet. Perel explains that “when we seek the gaze of another, it isn't always our partner that we are turning away from, but the person that we have ourselves become. And it isn't so much that we're looking for another person, as much as we are looking for another self.” The desire is not necessarily for the sex itself, but a desire to have attention and to recapture parts of ourselves that we have lost or indeed never found.


First Steps

After discovering the affair, you will undoubtedly be hit will powerful emotions such as anger, betrayal, shame, depression, guilt or remorse. It will be difficult to make decisions. Here are some initial steps you can consider taking as the individual who has been hurt:

· Don’t make decisions hastily

· Give each other space

· Seek support

· Take your time

· Maintain a healthy physiological state through sufficient sleep, exercise and good nutrition

· Avoid talking about it with anyone you don’t want to

· Finding at least one person you trust to talk it through with – whether that’s a trusted friend, family member of trained professional

· Reflect but avoid dwelling

Taking these steps will hopefully give you better clarity to move forward, whether that’s to repair the relationship or to leave your partner. Don’t let anyone judge you for the decision that you make.


Mending the relationship

It is not uncommon for a marriage to continue after an affair. It will be, however, likely one of the most challenging experiences of your life. With your partner, you will learn how to rebuild trust, admit guilt (the cheating partner), learn to forgive and reconcile struggles to be able to move forward and strengthen the relationship again.

Consider these steps to promote healing:

· Take responsibility for your actions (the unfaithful partner)

As the unfaithful partner, take responsibility for your actions. As a first step, it is vital to end the affair and stop all interaction with the other person (in person, email, text or other). Express guilt and remorse for hurting your partner.

· Seek help from different sources

Seek help from a licensed therapist who is specifically trained in relationship therapy and has experience in this area. It is useful speaking to someone who is completely objective and not directly involved in the marriage. Otherwise, speak to non-judgemental friends, who you can trust and that have your best interests at heart. Proceed with caution and be wary of those that are trying to probe too much.

· Restore trust. Make a plan that will restore trust and result in reconciliation. Agree with your partner on a timeframe. If you were unfaithful, admit guilt and act authentically. If your partner was unfaithful, once you are ready, forgive your partner.

Be clear on what you want from your newfound relationship with your partner. If the relationship is reparable, this can be an opportunity to re-grow your relationship with understanding, trust and open communication. Make sure you aren’t bringing forward any resentments and negativity as you move on. This process will need commitment and hard work from both sides.


What happens when you have kids?

You might be wondering after one of you has had an affair what you should be telling your kids? What you say, or not say, needs to be carefully considered as this will definitely have impact on the child.

When something is going on at home children often sense it. Most parents tend to either not tell their children at all or the hurt party will disclose details in a negative way to the children to shame the unfaithful partner. A healthy balance is recommended here by approaching the situation in a measured and honest way, whilst dealing with pain and anger. The information you share with your kids should be age appropriate. If your kids are several years apart, it might be worth having separate conversations with each child. You don’t need to share intimate details of your sex life, just that something has gone awry in your relationship. This will explain the tension in the household so that the child doesn’t think it’s their fault.

If you are having difficulty with agreeing on how to approach telling your children, seek advice from a couple’s therapist. No matter how angry you are, you must try to present a united front when communicating with your children to protect and nurture them as you navigate this difficult period.

Older kids may have been inadvertently been exposed to specific details of the affair and may ask questions. They may have found sexts or have walked in on their parent in the act. Expect that the child will be in distress and likely angry with the situation and will need to process what they have witnessed. In this situation it is best to be honest that there has been infidelity but there is no need to go into the specifics. Despite your anger towards your cheating partner, we suggest avoiding putting them down when speaking with the child.


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