Surviving: Staying or leaving & the many losses after betrayal
Again, and again I come to the same conclusion: To understand we must read all and listen and really get it and not assuming anything about affairs and the aftermath. In too many cases, there is judgment and it is neither justified nor is it ever helpful.
There is a lot to read and most of what is popular has good as well as less helpful parts. Some “information” is excruciating painful to work through. When reading interviews done with Esther Perel it is hard to remain neutral. I agree that 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. Other messages however, are not helpful and I wonder where the idea comes from that Europeans are so different from Americans when it comes to infidelity.
Yeah, yeah the notion that biologically and evolutionary it made sense to have more than one sexual partner at the time, might have had some merit in the past, but that this needed to be achieved by adultery is not just a stretch, but makes no sense in our current time and age of family planning and birth control. Do those who cheat do it to obtain some foreign DNA in their offspring? No, they don’t, so just stop talking about this!
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 incredibly hurtful. It damages trust in any relationship and 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 is not a created nor new concept. It is the shared experience of those who experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
What is often misunderstood or simply not given the attention it deserves by people who stress how common infidelity is, and who therefore think that we all have to “suck it up” and move forward, is what becomes enlighteningly obvious when reading about “open relationships” and those who write about creating and sustaining ethically polyamorous relationships. What Tristan Taormino and Franklin Veaux & Eve Rickert understand is that every relationship is based on respect and trust and there is no room for infidelity as these behaviours are based on deception and betrayal, which is as described above the most painful experience of humans leaving lifelong scars.
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, don’t 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 relationship outside the marriage!
What is well-known is that hose having affairs expose their spouse to psychological/emotional harm. Less often discussed are the effects of affairs on the spouse’s physical and sexual health. Here again, the most honest information can be found in literature on open relationships. In particular the books by Taormino and Veaux & Rickert provide solid and straight forward information on the practice of safer sex.
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. The other one for which there is no cure is HSV 1 and HSV 2 (Herpes) and the third one is 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 a Pap smear test. 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 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 adultery 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 and it means that the betrayed partner choses to stay married, very likely based on the belief that the relationship has the potential to survive the affair. If the betraying partner does not show genuine remorse and is not doing the work, the relationship is doomed and will not survive. It is not helpful to state that those who chose to stay are stupid or dumb and of course it is not helpful to state that those who chose a divorce “take the easy way out”. Nothing is ever easy after betrayal and there are many shared losses either way.
PS: for Factors to consider when contemplating staying or leaving, see POST 58.