I’ve touched on this topic in my blogs by describing an affair as a theft, a criminal act. When you have a surreptitious affair while you’re still in a committed monogamous relationship, you have committed a crime against your personal integrity as well against your partner from whom you’ve stolen choices.
Most people committing adultery are still having sex and a relationship with their “committed” partner. Why? Because they are not willing to take the risk of being honest which could possibly result in losing both lovers. Most adulterers, be it a sexual affair or an affair of the heart, don’t want to leave their primary relationship.
Even though cheaters’ websites, such as Ashley Madison, specialize in setting up anonymous liaisons between married people, the majority of extramarital affairs are with people that the couple both know — in the same social circles in their neighborhood, school, work, or community.
So why do people have affairs?
In some of my classes, students have described that they just couldn’t resist the temptation of getting involved emotionally or sexually outside of their committed relationship, that they wanted to lose themselves in someone else, that they weren’t consciously looking for a tryst but the opportunity presented itself. My response is this — never lose your sense of self to anyone, to anything, and that includes your partner. You always have the power to say Yes and to say No; you are responsible for your actions at all times.
The modern tendency is to normalize affairs, to say that everyone is having them, so why don’t couples and society accept them? The issue at stake here is dishonesty, not morality, which is a disservice to yourself, your community, and your children.
Affairs affect more people than just your partner
Kids are left holding the bag of trauma when their parents split up. Kids are torn apart by the parent who is cheated on who clings and the parent who cheats who distances. Children are not developmentally able to understand adult issues, they are traumatized by them. Just because high-tech kids appear to be more sophisticated at an earlier age, don’t fool yourself into thinking they are any older than they are.
Among professionals there’s disagreement about when or if parents should tell their kids about their affairs. Even as an adult-child of an unfaithful parent, do you really want to know about the affairs of your parents? Probably not. Children, no matter the age, don’t want the fantasy destroyed of who their parents were or what they could have been, and kids desperately want to hold their parents in high esteem.
There are many different kinds of affairs — long-term mistresses, one-night stands, sleeping with your husband’s brother, having sex in your marital bed with someone other than our partner, cyberspace lovers, email trysts, serial lovers, etc. There are many degrees of adultery, some more serious than others.
The question to ask yourself is this — is it honorable to commit adultery, which by definition includes lying and duplicity? Honor isn’t a key component of our culture, at least not to the extent it was in the past; but psychologically, honor still plays a key role in how you think about who you are. You must honor yourself in order to love yourself.
Why do it?
The allure of an affair is that it is clandestine. If you enjoy sneaking around and living a dual existence, you’re not an emotionally mature adult, you’re not a fully integrated human being. If you can dissociate parts of yourself, you might need therapy to help bring your dysfunctional fragmented self into a functional whole. Cheating erodes your personal integrity. Don’t kid yourself that it doesn’t.
Is cheating ever justified?
No! If your relationship is intolerable, then have the courage to leave it before, not after an affair.
The impulse to have an affair can be a wake-up call. If you feel yourself being attracted to someone other than your partner and you can’t control your feelings about them, then distance yourself from those attractions and try to deepen the relationship with your committed partner. It’s natural to feel attracted to others, but it doesn’t mean you have to act on your impulsive desire. In fact, it’s very sane and rational to not do so.
Can couples survive an affair?
If you’re the one having an affair or you discover that your partner has been cheating on you, it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of a your committed relationship. Fifty percent of couples do recover and can become stronger than ever, but it takes time and effort to understand what has happened in your relationship. Couples do make mistakes and not all mistakes are irreparable.
Long-term relationships aren’t easy; they test every cell of who we are as human beings.