“Is infidelity good for a relationship?”
We were stopped in our tracks when we read this question on a website recently. If you interviewed people on the street and relationship experts in their offices, they’d probably say that, without a doubt, infidelity is NOT a good thing for a love relationship or marriage.
If you’ve ever been with a partner who lied to you and cheated, you would likely take no time at all in answering this question with a resounding “NO!”
It’s clear that when a couple has an agreement to be monogamous and one person (or both) breaks that agreement by having an affair, a lot of other things get broken too…
- Even love.
So much damage can result from an affair.
Look at what happened in Jennifer’s relationship. She says…
My husband, Chris, went to Las Vegas for a “boys weekend” with some of his buddies from college. I wasn’t a bit worried about what would happen because Chris has always been so trustworthy. When he came back from his trip, he sat me down and admitted that he had sex with a woman he met at a wild, drunken party in their hotel. He apologized over and over again and has been trying to make it up to me ever since.
I can see how he’s trying, but I am having a really difficult time forgiving him and letting this go. The confidence I used to have in him (and our relationship) has been shattered. Every time I look at him, I think about what he did. I don’t know how I can move past this.
In some ways, it doesn’t matter if the affair was a “one-time thing,” long-term, online, emotional or some other form of cheating, the effect is the same: destruction. The relationship gets rocked to its core and everything is questioned– including whether or not the couple should stay together.
So, the negative effects of cheating are established. But, could there be positives?
Infidelity can be a good thing for a relationship if…
#1: You take your share of responsibility for the disconnection.
In order for a relationship to survive and end up better off after an affair, it’s essential for responsibility to be taken appropriately.
This does NOT mean that, if your partner cheated, you take the blame for “not keeping him or her satisfied in bed.” It DOES mean that your partner takes responsibility for choosing to cheat and you take responsibility for habits you have that may have contributed to disconnection in your relationship.
Our advice to couples is to take no more and no less than your share of responsibility for what happened that drove you two apart.
#2: You’re willing to learn from what happened.
In order to take responsibility for your share, it’s important to look beyond the affair itself.
Yes, without question, infidelity is a damaging act. That needs to be acknowledged and addressed. But, go further back to the time before the affair. This is a place where you can really start to learn from what happened.
What are the habits that you and your partner had fallen into before the affair? What are the resentments that one (or both) of you harbored? What are the ways that you two stopped nurturing and caring for your relationship?
It’s not comfortable to do this kind of exploration, but this is the way to help your relationship survive an affair.
#3: You’re willing to make real and lasting changes.
Once you’ve identified some habits that may have played a role leading up to the affair, now it’s time to commit to change.
This is most effective if both you and your partner are making substantive changes that will benefit your relationship. But, improvements can result if only one of you is actively making changes. Keep watching the changes (or lack of changes) happening and remember that you get to decide if you will stay in or leave the relationship.
If your partner is willing to work with you to rebuild trust and connection after infidelity, create agreements. Be clear and specific and make sure you come up with agreements that will help reverse things like distance, unhealthy communication, jealousy, flirting, secretiveness and other habits that can tear you two apart.
#4: You’re able to live in the present moment.
How willing are you to focus in on what’s happening now in your relationship? Like Jennifer in our example above, it’s easy to let the affair itself overshadow everything else– even if it’s over and done with.
Keep bringing yourself back to the present moment and look for observable and verifiable facts to support that your partner really is trustable. Proving trustability is a process and can take some time.
But, if you are only re-living your partner’s affair again and again in your mind, he or she has no chance to show you that changes actually are happening and that a new chance for connection and trust is here now.
Ultimately, a love relationship or marriage is going to be better off if monogamy agreements are kept, there is not cheating and trust is allowed to grow and thrive. But, if an affair does happen, there can be positive effects– especially if both in the relationship are willing to learn from what happened and make meaningful changes.