We all know what it means to be unfaithful in our marriage right? Wrong! Different people have different ideas about exactly what infidelity is. Even when both partners are on the same page, the causes or drivers of infidelity are not 100% clear. Understanding what infidelity is and how it happens is key to a successful partnership and marriage.
Infidelity is when one person has a relationship of some kind that the other person considers a form of unfaithfulness. The relationship is viewed and/or experienced as a breach of the marital contract. This can be devastating for the recipient of the infidelity and often ends in the dissolution of the marriage. Marriages can come back from infidelity. Couples can work on it on their own, or they can get the help of a professional who knows the roadmap for recovering from this kind of breach of trust.
What Exactly Is Infidelity?
Understanding what infidelity is and how it happens is key to a successful partnership and marriage. Couples often do not agree on what exactly infidelity is. Most agree that having sexual relations with another person when in a monogamous relationship is a form of infidelity. How about thinking of having sex with another person? What about pornography? Many people feel having an intimate but non-sexual relationship is a form of infidelity and the evidence is that this can actually be more damaging than a sexual relationship. These are known as “emotional affairs”, and can mean that the partner is no longer invested in the marriage. Being on the same page about what it means to be faithful is an important first step to having a strong working partnership.
Causes of Infidelity
In successful relationships, both partners feel secure and stable. Statistics show that 20% of all marriages are plagued with physical infidelity. This would indicate that at least one in five marriages are unstable. The true statistic of marital stability may be much higher.
Understanding what infidelity is and how it happens is key to a successful partnership and marriage. Marital stability is built on intimacy. Intimacy can be physical but first, it is emotional. The basis of intimacy is concernful communication, trust, and mutual empathy. When any one of these things is missing in a relationship, the marriage is opened up to the possibility of some form of infidelity. When these things are present, both partners will communicate about what is not working in their lives. They will turn to one another for support and reassurance. When they are not, partners are more likely to look for fulfillment elsewhere. To be clear, both partners have responsibility for maintaining intimacy and therefore both partners have some responsibility when infidelity occurs.
Kinds of Infidelity
Though we have alluded to some of these, here is a more complete list of the types of infidelity:
- Emotional Affair- emotional affairs are when we are attached to and sharing intimate details that normally we might share with our partner.
- Virtual Affair-this is the realm of sexting and chats. It’s engaging in sex via the internet without actually being physically in one anothers presence. Some consider pornography to be part of this realm.
- Object Affair- Far more common, this is where we neglect our relationship in the pursuit of an “object” ; this could be our work, a car, a hobby.
- Sexual Affair- Clear cut having a sucal relationship with another human being outside of our marriage.
Consequences of infidelity are two fold, unconscious and conscious. On the unconscious level, the more that one person pursues emotional and/or physical fulfillment outside of the relationship, the more unconscious damage this does to the relationship. The damage is that every day, you grow further apart. The person with the outside interest is clearly giving more and more of their attention to an outside interest. The other partner is also checking out emotionally. They are experiencing their partner as less and less available. They may be noticing the shift and are actively concerned. More likely, they are wrapped up in other concerns as well.
When infidelity becomes conscious, the consequences are more pronounced. The obvious consequence is anger and outrage. The unexpected consequences can be that the partner sees themselves as a victim and acts out. This can show up as:
- Destructive behavior.
- Trashing the “cheater” to friends, family and neighbors.
- Engaging in unprotected sex to get back at the partner.
- Spending heavily with credit cards or shared funds.
- Overeating,Undereating, Over exercising.
- Drinking, drugging, gambling.
Who is At Risk?
Understanding what infidelity is and how it happens is key to a successful partnership and marriage. Studies show that people in cities are 50% more likely to engage in infidelity than folks in smaller communities. Age is also a factor. If you are 18-30 you are twice as likely to cheat. If you are a man, you are 80% more likely to commit adultery. People over 50 are far less likely to have this problem.
These are just statistics, however. Women cheat. People over 50 have affairs. Plenty of people in the 18-30 range stay true. Being in a category does not mean you are going to have infidelity in your marriage or that you are immune.