As a psychiatrist in the Brown University faculty, I’ve been researching men, women, marriage and relationships for more than a decade. In that time, I’ve come to discover that one of the greatest challenges to a committed relationship is when one partner goes outside the marriage to look for a connection, either physical and emotional.
When people find out about infidelity, they often make all kinds of assumptions about how and why people have affairs. We live in a hush-hush culture — when it comes to infidelity, there’s a lot of BS out there — and most of what you think is true just isn’t. Here are the nine most common misconceptions about infidelity, and the real take on what you need to know.
1. Once An Affair Is Out In The Open, A Couple Can Never Be Happy Again
Affairs happen, and people do recover — you hardly ever hear success stories because no one’s talking. Couples can learn to successfully rebuild their relationships, and many of my patients say their bonds are even stronger once they’ve worked things through.
Distinguishing infidelity fact from fiction can help you and your partner gain a better understanding of how an affair happens, what to expect if one does and what you can do to prevent infidelity. Truth is a powerful tool that can help you recover.
2. Infidelity Is Never About Sex; It’s About Other Marital Issues
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes extramarital “sex” is just about sex. For sure, some affairs are just about unmet emotional needs, but for some people — not the majority — an affair is just about going out and getting laid.
3. You Can’t Call It Cheating If Sex Wasn’t Involved
Many affairs happen without any sex at all. Is staying up half the night secretly texting an old classmate about your most intimate thoughts being unfaithful? The person doing it may not see it as cheating, but you can bet your partner sees it this way. When you give an emotional part of yourself to someone with whom you could potentially cheat one day, it’s cheating.
4. Affairs Are All About Sexual Attraction
Sure, yeah, some affairs are only about the sex, but lots of the time, affairs happen because of an emotional connection. Sometimes, hanging out together and sharing feelings is as far as the affair ever goes, although it’s true that the sense of emotional closeness often leads to sex.
5. Affairs Happen Because Of Problems In The Marriage
Here’s the truth: almost every marriage has problems. Affairs don’t happen because something’s wrong with the marriage; they happen, in part, because couples don’t know how to work together to solve the issues they have. Having problems in your relationship doesn’t justify cheating.
6. Once A Cheater, Always A Cheater
Yes, there are some real scumbags out there, but not everyone who cheats is evil incarnate. Many affairs are a one-and-done thing. What happens after the affair can set a marriage on a course for stability, or blow it out of the water. After ending the affair, for healing to take place, the cheater has to tell the whole truth about the affair. Knowing the truth is the first step toward healing.
7. After An Affair, Kiss Your Marriage Goodbye
Not so quick! Over half of marriages survive infidelity. Although the relationship may break up from other issues in the future, when couples are willing to work together, they’re surprised to find they can rebuild the trust. The most common reasons for marriage dissolution, at 53 to 55%, is “growing apart” and not being able to talk to each other.
8. Affairs Happen With People Much Younger Or More Attractive
OK, sometimes the 60-something corporate CEO might seek out younger playmates, but, typically, paramours are no younger, richer or more attractive than spouses — they’re just someone new.
9. Affairs Happen Because Guys Are On The Prowl
No — most of time, an affair happens to people who aren’t looking for it. This is particularly true in cases in which a partner has only cheated with one person. Affairs often begin as feeling really comfortable with someone, like the person in the cubicle next to you at work. That coziness is followed by sharing intimate secrets, which can then shift into an emotional connection that’s consummated with a full-blown tryst.