What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Infidelity: Part II
Pinnacle Counseling is pleased to share a four-part series, “What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk about When We Talk About Infidelity”, written by staff therapist, Devon Spencer, AMFT.
Be sure to check out part one, too.
I Don’t Know Who She Is Anymore
In a sense, no, you don’t. Hurt partners routinely feel stunned and blindsided by acts of infidelity, and question not only their partners’ motives and love for them, but also their characters. Cheating will transform an intimate other into a stranger, and call into question the moral fiber of an unfaithful partner. Again and again, clients express an abrupt sense of alienation from their partners, and this makes perfect sense; no one expects the person they trust most to inflict such a mortal wound. When this occurs, the injured party deduces that they either never knew their partner, or that the latter has changed fundamentally, and is no longer the person they fell in love with, or who they want to be with.
This assumption is not without merit. Most infidelities I see in couples therapy are not of the one-night-stand, drunk-and-uninhibited variety. More often, infidelity represents the climax of accumulating distress, longing, confusion, anger, or resentment. These feelings may compound upon one another for months, or even years, and culminate in a dissociative, desperate state of being. Without access to their partners’ interior experiences, hurt clients flounder to track the development from contentment to dissatisfaction. This bewilderment may arise because they were not as attuned to their partner as they believed, or because their partner failed to communicate their angst or unmet needs.
Still, uncovering a hidden facet in one’s experience does not strip that person of her other qualities; that conclusion is reductive, and incomplete. Infidelity is a “bad” act, in that it violates a contract most partners hold sacred, and upends the schema of what a relationship should be, and perhaps previously was. Yet, cheating is a behavior, separate from a person, and not reflective of her intrinsic self. People are fallible, and we make mistakes. Sometimes, those errors are egregious, and cause irreparable damage, as can be the case with infidelity. However, though unfaithful partners must live with the consequences of their actions, they should not be defined by them.
To say that humans are complex is a staggering understatement. We are comprised of thoughts, feelings, values, anxieties, intentions, hopes, and fears, and we do not always manifest the best parts of ourselves. Yet, those parts still exist, even when temporarily obscured by toxic behaviors. Your partner, though she has cheated, is still the woman who flew in your best friend for your birthday, moved across the country for your career, or fiercely defended you to your hyper-critical parents. Plausibly, her infidelity has shaped her in some way, but the person that existed before remains.
If you would like to learn more about how our therapists can help work with you around infidelity or to set up an appointment, contact us today.