What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Infidelity: Part III
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.
They Don’t Want To Be With Me Anymore
It’s true that some clients perpetrate infidelities because they want to leave the relationship -I use the metaphor, “death by cop”- but frequently they operate with different motives. What I’ve observed makes no logical sense to some, at least initially, or to those hemmed in by black and white thinking about infidelity. However, as previously mentioned, the complex nature of cheating requires a more creative approach in comprehension. Sometimes, people cheat because they want to stay.
Imagine the very best long-term relationship you’ve ever had. Your partner likely embodied a multitude of positive traits, and the relationship left you feeling mostly good, most of the time. Now, remember all the occasions that partner forgot to call when they were out too late, or lied about a credit card bill, or teetered on the edge of substance abuse after losing a job. A great many of us would not leave, in spite of emerging constraints, because staying adds more value to our lives than it does strife. Rather than thinking about infidelity as spawned from an already vanquished love, clients who cheat might instead feel like they are trying to claw their way back to that same “very best relationship” you recalled a moment ago.
The first question I expect in response to the above theory is, “If they want to be with me, why wouldn’t they say so? Why wouldn’t they give me a chance to help make this better?” A number of reasons exist why one does not, or cannot, turn to their primary relationship to fill the void. One example is the client who insists they were transparent about their experience in the relationship, but were conditioned by a negligent or invalidating partner to believe they would never get what they asked for. Another example is the client who struggles with emotional expression, or communication in general, and lacks the tools to translate their interior world to another person.
Yet, overwhelmingly, clients lament that they did not turn to their partner because they did not themselves understand what they were needing, or why. Sometimes, they go on to describe an almost dissociative state, in which they cannot logically explain, or defend, their infidelity. When asked why they did not consider the consequences, they are unable to articulate the feeling of living in a sort of vacuum, radically in the present. It is only through hindsight that they weave together the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that led to infidelity, and achieve self-comprehension.
Though they may desperately want to stay in the relationship, the client who cheats usually does want something to change. The early phase of repair is not the time to have this conversation, and to the contrary, requires the unfaithful partner to subvert certain needs to demonstrate commitment, priorities, and selflessness. However, in order for the relationship to continue, it must grow into an entity capable of meeting both partners needs. At some point, when the unfaithful partner begins to succeed in re-establishing a sense of safety for the hurt partner, negotiations about the relationship’s future must gradually take on more balance.
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.