What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Infidelity: Part I

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.

Everyone has an opinion about infidelity. Societally, we condemn it, and for good reason; a betrayal of that nature wreaks strife and suffering on a relationship, and the individuals involved. That said, our comprehension of it is lacking, and informed by black and white thinking, misconceptions, and stigmas. When we choose to address an infidelity, rather than end the relationship, such fallacies in our understanding can sabotage the repair process.

Through my clinical work with infidelity, patterns in misapprehension emerge. This blog is the first in a series that will attempt to illuminate several such examples.

Infidelity only happens in toxic relationships

Infidelity is far more common than anyone realizes. The statistics of its incidence vary widely (26-70% of women, and 33-75% of men, according to Esther Perel), not only due to its fluidly subjective definition, but perhaps also because of the stigma in experiencing it, let alone reporting it. Regardless of the explanation, it seems unlikely that 26-75% of partnerships are “broken,” and my clinical experience supports a more nuanced hypothesis.

Kind, successful, beautiful people come into my office -hurt and unfaithful partners alike - struggling with infidelity. Hurt partners devolve into self-critical spirals, questioning what they did to deserve such deception, and at a loss for an answer, because they “didn’t do anything horrible.” Most often, they are correct, in that their failings as a partner are not observably destructive; they have not abused their partner, developed a substance abuse problem, or driven the couple to financial ruin.

Yet, they may have harmed their partner in other, more subtle ways, perhaps unbeknownst even to them. For years, they may have withheld affection or affirmation, prioritized their career over their family, invalidated their partner’s ambitions, or criticized their character openly and often. When patterned, these behaviors will erode connection over time.

On the other hand, often hurt parties have done their best to show up for their partner in a healthy, affirming manner, and the catalyst for infidelity lies more within the unfaithful partner. When, for a long period of time, someone feels lost, lacking in self worth, left behind, desperate, depressed, or lonely, the compounded weight of such heavy feelings can shape how she perceives her relationship, and her partner. Prolonged saturation in this impoverished sense of self can warp the logic, and anticipation of consequences, we usually employ when making decisions about our actions.

Seldom do hurt partners relate to this interpretation, yet nearly every unfaithful client I have worked with reports a similar, internal experience. It is not to suggest that this excuses behavior, but rather that it is a significant, explanatory factor. If we cheat because we are in personal crisis, rather than because our partners have irrevocably wronged us, we can unburden the hurt partner of his shame, and direct the repair process more effectively.

Part II will discuss the next common misconception, “I don’t know her anymore”— check back soon!

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.

Natalie Underway