Infidelity appears to be the topic of the year.
Q: What is the infidelity?
A: The infidelity is that you took something that was supposed to be mine, which is sexual or emotionalintimacy, and you gave it to somebody else. I thought that we had a special relationship, and now youhave contaminated it; it doesn’t feel special any more, because you shared something that was veryprecious to us with someone else. There are gender differences. Men feel more betrayed by their wiveshaving sex with someone else; women feel more betrayed by their husbands being emotionally involvedwith someone else. What really tears men apart is to visualize their partner being sexual with somebodyelse. Women certainly don’t want their husbands having sex with somebody else, but if it’s an impersonalone-night fling, they may be able to deal with that better than if their husband was involved in a long-term relationship sharing all kinds of loving ways with somebody else
Q: And it is deeply traumatic.
A: It’s terrible—unless you cheated on each other during your engagement, or you or your partner camefrom a family where everybody cheated on everybody, or you come from certain cultures where thewomen don’t take it that much to heart, because that’s the way men are thought to be. The woundingresults because —and I’ve heard this so many times—I finally thought I met somebody I could trust.
Q: It violates that hope or expectation that you can be who you really are with anotherperson?
A: Yes. Affairs really aren’t about sex; they’re about betrayal. Imagine if you were married to somebodyvery patriotic and then found out your partner is a Russian spy. Someone having a long-term affair isleading a double life. Then you find out all that was going on in your partner’s life that you knew nothingabout: Gifts that were exchanged, poems and letters that were written, trips you thought were taken fora specific reason were actually taken to meet the affair partner. To find out about all the intrigue anddeception that occurred while you were operating under a different assumption is totally shattering anddisorienting. That’s why people then have to get out their calendars and go back over the dates to put allthe missing pieces together: when you were going to the drugstore that night and you said your carbroke down and you didn’t come home for three hours, what was really happening?
Q: This is necessary?
A: In order to heal. Because any time somebody suffers from a trauma, part of the recovery is telling thestory. The tornado victim will go over and over the story—"when the storm came I was in my room…"—trying to understand what happened, and how it happened. Didn’t we see the black clouds? How comewe didn’t know?"
Q: And so they repeat the story until it no longer creates an unmanageable level of arousal.
A: Yes. In fact, sometimes people are more devastated if everything was wonderful before they foundout. When a betrayed spouse who suspected something says, "I don’t know if I can ever trust my partneragain," it is reassuring is to tell them that they can trust their own instincts the next time they have thosestorm warnings. When things feel okay, they can trust that things are okay. But if somebody thoughteverything was wonderful, how would they ever know if it happened again? It’s frightening.
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