We live in a world saturated with infidelity. For months we’ve endured the details of Tiger Woods’ sex life and Sandra Bullock’s humiliations. Prior to Mr. Woods’ and Ms. Bullock’s revelations, it was the sexual details of married politicians that were thrust in our face.
What we don’t have is enough information about what constitutes infidelity, what impact it has on relationships and the options available to those who it affects.
So let’s start with some basic facts about infidelity:
- There are 2 types of infidelity. The first is emotional infidelity. The second is sexual infidelity.
- Emotional infidelity occurs when one party in a committed relationship finds romantic intimacy with a person outside of that relationship. Sexual infidelity occurs when one party in a committed relationship has sex outside that relationship. Researchers have found that 25% of heterosexual marriages and 82% of gay male couples are impacted by sexual infidelity.
- Without a doubt, the Internet has made both emotional and sexual infidelity easier to engage in through chat rooms, social networking sites and sites specifically devoted to sexual encounters.
Basically what you need to know about both types of infidelity is that they occur in the context of a committed relationship that is based on an understanding of monogamy. Infidelity arises when one person to the relationship acts outside of that understanding without informing the other person of his or her intentions. The result of this is a breach of trust and a corrosion of the relationship’s integrity. In short, infidelity destructs a relationship by creating mistrust, shame, feelings of worthlessness and betrayal.
But just because infidelity happens, let’s not assume it automatically kills a relationship. If the relationship was worth getting into, it’s definitely worth investing time and effort exploring what went wrong.
Through open and honest communication with your partner, you have the power to explore the following options:
- Ignoring the infidelity and pretending nothing happened (not recommended)
- Terminating the relationship (not always necessary)
- Taking some “time out” from the relationship by agreeing to a separation for a fixed period of time (i.e. 12 months). During this time you can sort out your feelings and seek assistance from a professional (recommended)
- Staying in the relationship and exploring the reasons why the infidelity occurred, setting new boundaries around future behavior and remaining open to new possibilities (recommended)
What’s important to remember is that you have options. Through these options you have the power to change. Yes, infidelity is destructive. It’s shameful and unpleasant. But like most things that challenge our sense of self and our present reality, it also presents new possibilities for healing and growth.