In (And Out Of) Fidelity

Nayla and Jad have been married for 7 years. He works as a consultant, she’s a stay-at-home mom. On a Thursday afternoon, Jad’s work meeting got rescheduled because his client called in sick. He rushes home to surprise his wife, but finds her on the phone talking to another man. Is Nayla cheating on Jad?

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. I don’t know!

For most, the answer might seem obvious, less so for others. The latter group would argue that, like virginity, infidelity is a complex, multifaceted concept that could mean different things to different people. Whether Nayla was cheating or not depends on the couple’s own dynamic, their values, their beliefs, and what they consider to be cheating.

Is it just about the physical act of being sexually involved with someone else? Does it include an emotional connection with another person, whether explored or not? Does cheating have to include a third person in the first place, or is watching pornography also considered cheating? What about virtual strangers meeting on chat rooms that never make it into their real lives? 

Infidelity is the mother of relationship-enders. Did you know that it is the number one cause of divorce in the United States? What is even more surprising, though, is that according to a recent study conducted in Canada, 70% of people reported not discussing what counts as cheating with their partner. Since the definition of infidelity varies from person to person, it becomes all the more crucial for couples to predefine ground rules, set such boundaries early on in the relationship, and discuss what behaviors are accepted by each partner. 

What most people would agree upon however, is the element of secrecy that envelops affairs. Cheating, like all behaviors in and outside relationships, has a specific function. It is but a symptom of what is actually going on between two people, or inside a person’s mind.

So why do some people have a tendency to cheat? That too depends on different factors. Sometimes, a relationship might lack something. Sexual dissatisfaction of course, but also the need to be better understood / more appreciated that can lead one to build an emotional connection with another person. And sometimes, reasons for cheating might not be situational or dependent on the relationship itself, but rather personal or psychological such as commitment issues or the need for validation.

There is no universal answer when it comes to infidelity, but rather many opinions and lived experiences. We invite each and every one to think about these questions and find what works for them and their partner, in order to go about, define, understand, and deal with infidelity. Here are a few things that could be helpful:

  1. Communicate with your partner as to what counts as cheating

Our perception of things depends on our culture, values, upbringing, our own biases, expectations, lived experiences, among many other things. Hence, what you might consider to be cheating might not necessarily resonate with your partner. Communicate, try to discuss what infidelity means to you and if your definitions diverge, work on finding a common ground by coming up with a unified one. This will allow you to address things from the start and possibly avoid realizing you weren’t on the same wavelength all along. 

  1. Ask yourself why

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you feel tempted to cheat on your partner, ask yourself why. Practice introspection by trying to understand what it is that’s attracting you to that other person. Are you seeking the adventurous part of yourself that you have been longing for? Is it something that’s missing in your current relationship? Giving meaning to your desires might help you understand your behaviors, better communicate with your partner, and possibly avoid cheating.

  1. Take responsibility should you cheat on your partner

Predefining what cheating means to you and your partner can prevent misunderstandings and misinterpretations. However, it does not prevent cheating itself. If you cheat on your partner, it’s important to take responsibility for your actions and admit your mistakes, as hard as it is, regardless of the outcome. 

  1. Mend the relationship 

Forgiving a cheating partner is a personal choice. However, if both you and your partner have the intention of mending things, discuss the incident in depth, without dwelling on the details of the act itself, in order to understand what went wrong, and what you would need to work on. Define what kind of infidelity it was, whether sexual, emotional, or other. Understanding the reasons behind the infidelity can allow you to better understand your and your partner’s needs and what is possibly lacking in the relationship.

  1. Understand that it won’t get better overnight

If infidelity occurs, acknowledge what you and your partner are feeling. Whether it’s guilt, anger, or sadness, try not to disregard your emotions or those of your partner. Acknowledging your feelings is crucial, whether for repair or closure. But also, try to counter-balance your negative emotions and engage in activities that usually make you happy, whether it’s a night out with your friends, or going for a run. 

Infidelity has the power to change a relationship. While it can mean the end of a story for some, it can often be used as an opportunity to help improve a relationship, when couples decide to put in the work. Consulting a couples’ therapist could be helpful in dealing with such situations. Seeking professional help can provide couples with a safe space to openly discuss their views, values and beliefs, whether to prevent it or to recover from it.

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