Our romantic relationships can be a great source of joy and fulfillment, but they can also be the cause of deep pain and hurt. Perhaps one of the main reasons for the latter is when couples experience infidelity.
Infidelity happens when one partner crosses the boundary within the intimate relationship. Boundaries are subjective to every relationship. For this reason, it is close to impossible to come to a commonly-agreed upon definition of what constitutes cheating. However, what is agreed upon is that cheating, in whatever form, shape and order, is universally forbidden, though universally practiced! Esther Perel, a psychotherapist who has done extensive research on infidelity amongst couples, estimates that between 26 to 75% of couples experience infidelity at some point or another. The range is wide because of the different definitions of cheating.
The fact that so many couples experience infidelity means that this is something that can happen to anyone. Relate, a UK counselling service, states how a happy, fulfilling relationship is not insurance policy against infidelity – at best, it is a helpful deterrent. All relationships are vulnerable to infidelity.
However, rather than allowing such stark reality to shock or depress us, we should embrace it and use such knowledge to create more healthy relationships. For starters, we could be proactive and instead of avoiding topics of conversation about cheating, we create opportunities to talk about the possibility of infidelity, what it would mean to us and to our relationship, how it would affect us and how we think it could change us and our relationship. Allowing ourselves to go into what could happen, may heighten our awareness of what we have now, what we do not wish to have and thus, strengthen our resolve to take care of our relationship more.
Furthermore, such conversation also needs to take place when we are still at the stage of choosing whom to develop an intimate relationship with. If we value fidelity over freedom, for example, it helps to choose a partner who shares our values and views.
Finally, intimate relationships tend to make us very demanding on our respective partners. Once in a relationship, we tend to expect our partner to fulfill each and every need that we have, whether it’s physical, social, emotional or spiritual. Besides being unrealistic in our expectations of our partner, we fail or forget to realise that no one person is more responsible for meeting such needs, than ourselves. It is not our partner’s responsibility to have all our needs met, but purely ours. At best, all our partner can do is compliment us. This requires a certain level of self-awareness and a commitment for each partner to keep on working on their own self-development and growth.
However, despite our best efforts, we need to be realistic and know that affairs may still happen. Knowing what we think about them and imagining ourselves in a position where we may have to deal with it, may put us in a stronger psychological position to handle them, should we ever experience them.
(A sequence to this blog, Can we heal from infidelity? provides some tips on dealing with infidelity.)
Stephanie Caruana is a counsellor at Willingness. She offers counselling services to adolescents and adults experiencing some form of distress. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.