Whether you are the one doing it or you are the partner who’s been lied to, infidelity is one behavior that can bring the toughest person to their knees. For the partner who it was “done to,” the painful combination of rejection, betrayal, confusion, guilt, a desire for vengeance and a desire to know details, can at times become unbearable or obsessively distracting.
For the partner who did the cheating, there is also competing and complex feelings. Guilt, shame, remorse, as well as continued desire for the “other” person, desire to leave the primary relationship or a feeling of love for both partners, can all be present at once.
There are lots of theories on why infidelity happens, such as, it is a manifestation of something that’s been wrong in the primary relationship, an acting out of anger by someone who can’t verbalize it in the primary relationship, an acting out of family of origin issues, an indicator that the primary relationship was weak foundationally, a communication that sexual desire isn’t being fulfilled in the primary relationship or simply, that there was an exciting opportunity and it was taken.
Whatever the reason, the person to whom it was “done to,” typically craves to know why. The “why” helps a chaotic situation make sense and gives some feeling of control, and helps them that decide what’s next.
In my experience, the partner that was “doing it” is often less interested in the “why,” at least at the moment of impact. They are often reeling from a different set of emotions. They are often confused by the intent of their actions and feel shame, embarrassment and remorse at that moment, concentrating on their guilt and feeling bad that they hurt their partner so deeply. Sometimes this focus on guilt and desire for forgiveness actually can block the necessary exploration of the root problems.
When couples bring all of this confusion and emotional turmoil to therapy in a timely manner, many times the relationship can be saved. If that’s not appropriate or desired, therapy can also help guide partners to prepare an exit strategy in which both partners are well cared for, shown respect and learn more about themselves and their relationship.
For this process to work, however, it requires commitment and patience for both partners, as well as a tolerance to both articulate one’s own anger and hear their partners without turning away. For those couples who are up to this task, and do the work to stay together, they almost unanimously say the “new” relationship they built is the ideal and much better than the one prior to the affair.