You’ve all known someone who has been cheated on – a colleague, a friend, family member, perhaps even yourself or your partner.
The betrayal from an extra marital encounter is so intensely personal and one of the most devastating emotions one can experience, yet the question remains: have we ever really attempted to understand infidelity? Maggie May speaks candidly about adultery and how your long-term relationship has the potential to actually benefit from betraying your partner.
Standing at the altar, all dew-eyed and hopeful, I uttered the same words as many of you did I’m sure. I spoke of my unyielding support, my exclusive unwavering loyalty, through the good and the bad. And yet, within a year I was in the arms of another man.
Leila Collins, a prolific UK psychologist, will have you believe that this makes me a bad person for she has stated: “A good person doesn’t betray their loved ones”. But I ask you; how many women and men out there can truly say that they have never betrayed their partner, never let them down? Does this necessarily make them ‘bad’?
As difficult as the following words may be for you to read, and for me to type, it is paramount that we as a society start to look at infidelity without judgement, for it is only then that we may learn a little bit more about it and perhaps even learn a little from it including its potential to benefit a long-term relationship. Yes, benefit.
First thing’s first – is monogamy even natural?
The importance of being monogamous seems to have been yet another creed put on to society by mainstream religious leaders. Ancient peoples and native tribes very seldom believed in monogamous relationships, with many native women and men around the world being allowed the honour of promiscuity. Certain Native American tribes, for example, believed in monogamous marriage but should adulterous encounters have occurred (and they did) no punishment nor judgement was passed by the community. But then again these are ‘savages’ who believed that simultaneous orgasm by both partners was required during sex and that it was essential for a healthy pregnancy. How backward of them! Such sexual immorality was frowned upon by the Euro-American missionaries who dealt with infidelity in a slightly different manner – whilst Native Americans were encouraging polygamy, their civilized European counterparts were stoning their adulterous women. Geez! To this day the LDS Church considers sexual transgressions as second only to murder in seriousness.
One can see the appeal of monogamy in the olden days – it is easier to manage as far as the state is concerned, far tidier as far as tax and land ownership is concerned, not to mention how much more straightforward it is for the church to control a classic nuclear family unit. Don’t get me wrong – I believe monogamy has many virtues and positive facets especially for the family, but one does wonder how natural it is and whilst it works for society and everyone else – does it really work for the individual? Does it really work for all individuals?
Since the days of yore, humans have analysed, dissected and defined extramarital affairs and packaged them in a rather neat little box. We’ve used words such as “victim” and “perpetrator”, terms such as “right” and “wrong”, throw in the church’s dogmatic view on the importance of being faithful to one person for the rest of your life and you have yourself a rather unpalatable picture. Yet the only “wrong” thing here is our understanding of it – or rather lack thereof. How do I know we’ve missed the point? Because no matter how many ‘Affair Proof Your Marriage’ articles you may read, infidelity still keeps happening all around you. Life, it seems, is not so orderly and the answer hardly ever so transparent.
Psychologists, therapists and all other ‘ists’ have categorised affairs into many different types: the It’s Only Sex Affair, the Emotional Affair, the It’s Not Really an Affair Affair, the Revenge Affair and so on. Even the evildoers get stamped with fancy name tags such as Adventurists, Opportunists and Adrenaline Seekers. This is why we are often aghast when we find that our mousey accountant brother in law cheated on his pants wearing wife. Gasp!’
These terms psychologists dish out are clumsy, lewd, painless and frankly an insult – but they ‘work’ because they are painless. A quick fix for all parties involved: the sorrowful victim gets to understand why their partner cheated on them, the sinful cheater gets to blame it on the personality trait which is now neatly written on the box they are in and the psychologist gets to earn his questionable fee by fixing this rather messy quandary with questions such as “And how do you think this makes your partner feel? I’m sorry, but that’s all the time we have for today.”
There is also the ambiguous matter of what does cheating entail? When you are confiding your emotional self to someone other than your significant partner, are you cheating? Is a flirty WhatsApp message adultery? A coffee with a member of the opposite sex (if you’re heterosexual)? Watching porn? Getting a massage with a happy ending? This is highly subjective and varies from one person to another.
So, if monogamy isn’t natural, what is?
Promiscuity and polygamy date back to many ancient societies including the Chinese, Greeks, Hebrew, Native Americans and Indians, to name just a few. The motivation behind polygamy seems to be closely related to human nature but also to survival – tribal Polynesian warriors often had a wife at home and another wife when they were ‘on the road’ as it was more practical.
A fascinating present-day society, that not only accepts but expects promiscuity, is the French. Most French people prefer to avoid divorce by finding extra curriculum activities outside of their marriage. Interestingly enough, their divorce rates are amongst the lowest in Europe and Western nations including our very own. The golden rule of a smoothly operating promiscuous marriage lies in the importance the French place on privacy and on being discreet about the extra marital encounter. Covering one’s tracks and making up in silence is the number one rule for the open minded French; if your partner is lying to you about their peccadillo then know that they still wish to be married to you. Sounds ironic to most Australian ears I’m sure!
People love lists so…
Often a cheating partner will say “I don’t know how it happened”, yet affairs never occur ‘suddenly’; it takes time in the making. Let’s look at one of those ‘Reasons for Cheating’ lists everyone loves. It is crucial to note that all of these are mere reasons with one reason being as good as another and whilst reasons may change the betrayal that is felt is destructive just the same. So why do people cheat?
- The need to feel alive/desired/validated;
- Flattered by the attention;
- Craving emotional bonding;
- Sexual needs;
- Mismatched libido with partner;
- Midlife crisis;
- An incapacitated partner;
- Selfish personality traits;
- DNA; and
- Deep connection with a significant other which cannot be denied.
When the glitches in a marriage are felt and the “happily ever after” is merely a lonely phrase uttered at an expensive venue some time ago, it is quite natural for people to innocently flirt with the pretty girl in the office or the cute guy at the yoga studio often searching for that fulfillment and intimacy once obtained from their primary partner. And before they know it, someone has somehow crossed the line. The very line they drew in the sand. At home you have disappointment, unspoken resentment and unmet longings. With the new person you have intensity of new sexual chemistry, some sort of physical/emotional connection and the delectable sweetness of secrecy. Do the math.
The harsh reality most humans are never taught is that all long-term relationships face the same fate – monotony. I don’t care if you and your spouse are the most exciting ‘It’ couple on Instagram or so banal that you make Queen Elizabeth appear electrifying, you’re all headed down the colourless road of monotony. Don’t get your whisky bottle out just yet – this is actually an empowering article, I promise.
Happily married and cheating?
But what of those who are happy in their relationships and still cheat? This is where I come in. I was married happily for a decade and cheated almost instantly after uttering my vowels. So why is that, you ask? I could blame it on my DNA. It is becoming more recognized that we not only inherit physiological traits from our parents and those that came before them, but also behavioural ones. Alcoholism, depression and infidelity are amongst many of the attributes our gene pool determines for us. Notwithstanding, I believe we still have a conscious choice. So, I won’t let myself off the hook so easily with this one; we can attribute DNA factors for 10%, but what of the other 90%?
The harsh and seemingly ugly truth is that, like many in my shoes, I needed more. And my ex-husband couldn’t be that more. Not because he chose not to be, but rather because it is actually impossible for one man, or woman, to be all those things. And simultaneously. You see I wanted the stability that he brought but I also wanted the spontaneity we once had. I wanted the softness, but I also craved the roughness. I wanted a man who would make love to me and also a man who would fu*k me. I wanted a partner who was sensitive but also assertive. An alpha male one day and a beta another. A good listener and not a Mr. Fix It – except on the days I needed him to fix it, of course. I desired the romance and safety of the monogamous marriage, but I also desired to have the kind of mystery and fun only a new connection can offer. Yes, I wanted to have my cake and eat it too. Men and women alike crave the excitement of a new love, but they also cherish the comfortability of a long term relationship. So how can one man or woman be all that? They can’t. Throw in a few screaming kids, bills, chores, crazy work life responsibilities and the impossible becomes even more inconceivable.
Esther Perez, an influential relationship psychologist, couldn’t have put it better “We have conjured up a new Olympus, where love will remain unconditional, intimacy enthralling and sex oh so exciting, with one person, for the long haul. And the long haul keeps getting longer”.
Just what the doctor ordered!
I started this article off by stating that an affair has the potential to be a remedial treatment for a long-term relationship. What on earth did I mean?
Living in a dead-beat marriage marked with daily rejection and conflict can damage one’s physical and emotional health. In such circumstances, an affair has the potential to provide feelings of affirmation restoring one’s vitality and potentially cultivating courage and self-awareness to leave the bitter marriage.
However not all cheaters live in a lifeless marriage beyond repair. Some still love their partners and don’t wish to break up the marriage or family unit. An affair can bring back the spark in such fizzled-out marriages. Feeling sexy and confident once more will make you more alive, reinvigorating your marriage with a new energy – with your marriage reaping the benefits of having a virile dynamic you.
Partners who feel dissatisfied with their sex life at home, often report becoming happier and less critical of their spouses once they fulfill their sexual needs in the arms of another person. This married philanderer often comes home feeling guilty after meeting with their lover and is a profoundly more loving and caring spouse. And more importantly they have had a healthy release of the sexual tension which was stored in their body (no, masturbation doesn’t do the same job and we all know that). Quite often they learn to appreciate their partner more especially once the adulterous honeymoon period is over. They are reminded, once more, of the traits they once adored in their husband/wife.
Now let’s get real
I am not advocating affairs, nor am I seeking your sympathy! Cheating on one’s spouse is hardly a graceful act worthy of praise, however the truth is that most people who engage in extra marital affairs are not bad, sleazy or sex addicts. If you’re having an affair, you are probably doing so because you are missing something in your primary relationship. An affair can be the perfect jolt to get you out of the passivity of your life – the life you have settled into and accepted without even knowing when and how you did so. Affairs can often bring deep insight into ourselves and what we truly want out of life, for knowing and declaring to the world what we want can at times be challenging. I hear you ‘player haters’- yes, I agree communication is the key to any healthy relationship, ending one liaison before embarking on another is ideal yet not always possible or plausible.
One size fits all
Human psychology, and especially sexuality and relationships, is a complex topic riddled with subjectivity and perplexity. Love isn’t easy and infidelity even less so. To say that one way is right at all times for everyone, until death do you part, is foolish.
The self-aware individual and couple know that consciously creating spunk and intimacy in a long-term relationship is the only way to keep it alive. Accepting that your partner cannot be everything for you, as you cannot be everything for them, is a vital starting point. Having a greater emphasis on sexuality and seduction as central to life’s pleasures, learning the art of tantra and other forms of deep intimacy and true bonding will most definitely help ‘affair proof’ your marriage as much as possible. After all it is as Proust said: “It is our imagination that is responsible for love and not the other person.”
Looking internally for what is missing, rather than seeking for it in external factors, is the lesson I took home from my cheating days. Oh, and that when you think you’ll never get caught and that you have it all under control – think again! Yes, affairs have the potential to save a marriage, the unexpected benefit of rekindling spouses who have become mere roommates – but they also have some pretty dire consequences.And in those dire consequences lie lessons of growth and discovery. And I am grateful for mine.
Perhaps it’s unfathomable for our social environment to be as tolerant and permissive as that of France, but if John Lennon can dream about world peace then I can dream about living in a more progressive society. The French understand that infidelity doesn’t mean you no longer love your partner, nor does it mean the fling with your lover is worth risking the breakup of your marriage and family. The reason it is not perceived as a “risk” is because they go into the affair with no intention of making the affair too permanent. It doesn’t serve to break up the marriage but rather to spice it up. The attraction you have with your spouse is that you have built a life together, whilst the attraction to another man or woman is rather different. One is a moment’s satisfaction, the other is an existence you have built with your Significant Other.
Whether you like it or not…
Affairs are here to stay! As you are reading this, they are happening all around you: in your neighbourhood, workplace, perhaps even in your very own home. Despite of all the rules, obstacles and strategies we’ve put in place to prevent this ‘monstrosity’ from ever happening again, an interesting fact to reflect upon is that extra marital affairs may be happening because they may just be a part of human nature. Our puritan approach has turned many marriages into prisons by insisting absolute sexual fidelity, but if we are to honestly look at adultery with a liberal mind then we must redefine our marriages, our vowels and really ourselves. I find it intriguing that the very same societies who frown upon promiscuity and attribute it for breaking up families, are the ones who have a higher divorce rate and yet the same infidelity rate as the more permissible nations (such as France and Italy). Rather paradoxical, don’t you think?
Now it’s your turn! Does love require complete sexual fidelity? Can transitory infidelities strengthen long term love? Tell me below!
Next blog – The Different Reasons Why Men and Women Cheat.
Written by Maggie May
Maggie May is a sexologist and a writer. She is a lover of all things sensual and sexual.