What is helpful after a relationship break-down?
Again, and again I come to the same conclusion: To understand in-depth what is going on in intimate relationships, we must read all and listen and really get it and not assume anything. In too many cases, there is judgment and it is neither justified nor is it ever helpful.
There is a lot on the Internet about this topic and most of what is popular has good as well as less helpful parts. It is essential that therapists who work with couples include talking about sex during sessions. It is crucial that couples talk with each other about sexual desires, expectations and fantasies. Communicating about love, lust, and intimacy makes a relationship stronger.
Acts of betrayal in intimate relationships are incredibly hurtful.
In my opinion there is nothing inherently wrong with having more than one sexual partner, but BETRAYAL is wrong simply because it is disrespectful and damages trust in any relationship. It takes years and a lot of effort to build up trust. It is a shared and common experience to still hurt years after betrayal. Experiencing symptoms of trauma after betrayal in a marriage is not a created nor new concept.
What is often misunderstood or simply not given the attention it deserves by people who stress how common Extra Dyadic Sex (EDS) (sex outside a marital relationship) is, becomes enlighteningly obvious when reading about “open relationships” and those who write about creating and sustaining ethically polyamorous relationships. What Tristan Taormino (2008) and Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert (2014) understand is that every relationship is based on respect and trust and therefore there is no room for infidelity.
There is nothing wrong with monogamy, in fact probably the far majority of people wants to have only one sexual partner at the time. Others do not and feel that they can love and be intimate with more than one. What is crucially different from having affairs is that in open relationships people talk about their desire to include others or to be with another person. Those who want to open-up their relationship are more than perfectly OK with their partner also to have an intimate relationship with another person. It is very hard to do this right and it requires many hours of open and honest communication.
Affairs, on the other hand, involve going outside the relationship while lying about it and therefore, it is not consensual (someone is invited in without your consent). The person having the affair, wants to have the experience for themselves. More likely than not the one having the affair would not agree with their partner having a sexual relationship outside the marriage!
What is well-known is that those having affairs expose their spouse to psychological and emotional harm. Less often discussed are the effects of affairs on the spouse’s physical and sexual health.
All sexual practices with another person other than one’s spouse in a monogamous relationship carry risks. In particular those Sexual Transmitted Infections (STIs) for which there is NO cure have exposed spouses to risks to their sexual health. One of them is HPV, the human papillomavirus which is associated with cervical cancer and genital warts as well as throat and rectal cancer.
There is NO reliable test for HPV and some infections can linger causing cancer years after exposure. Others for which there is no cure are HSV 1 and HSV 2 (Herpes), and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Those in open relationships are advised to tell their doctors, and doctors who are aware of patients who have multiple sexual partners will e.g. request shorter intervals between Pap smear tests. Needless to state that females unknowingly exposed to any of the very common HPV strains are not getting such care.
As said before, many articles on infidelity are helpful, and helpful to different groups of people. What is not helpful is the disdain expressed to those who chose different solutions to dealing with the pain of betrayal in marriages. That there is immense pain as a result of infidelity is a given. It is present whether partners stay together and try to make their relationship a better one, or whether partners seek a divorce.
Working on a relationship means that the partner who had the affair does “the work” and does show genuine remorse. Failing to do so means the end of the relationship. Therapists can help.
The spouse needs nonjudgmental support. Even if the partner who had the affair does the work, it does not mean that a relationship will survive.
Some of the unhelpful sentiments floating on the Internet suggest that those who chose to stay are “weak’ and others perceive divorce as an easy way out. Nothing is ever easy after betrayal as there are many shared losses either way. Healing after infidelity involves hard work individually and if a couple wants to create a new and better relationship, together.
Taormino T. (2008). Opening up. San Francisco, CA: Cleis Press Inc.
Veaux, F.& Ricket E. (2014). More than two. Portland, OR: Thorntree Press.