Marriage & Life Partners

Can Happily Married People Be Unfaithful?

There are obvious reasons why some affairs do stem from marital conflicts, especially sexual incompatibility and negative and/or inattentive behavior on the part of your spouse; still, the author says that surprisingly often “I find myself asking jilted lovers to consider a question that seems ludicrous to them: What if the affair had nothing to do with you?

This view can ease a lot of pain and help the betrayed understand her partner’s needs and development more—always a worthwhile goal in a marriage. While rapprochement is not easy, it can lay the groundwork for real progress. As she writes, “One of the most uncomfortable truths about an affair is that what for Partner A may be an agonizing betrayal may be transformative for Partner B. Extramarital adventures are painful and destabilizing, but they can also be liberating and empowering. Understanding both sides is crucial, whether a couple chooses to end the relationship or intends to stay together, to rebuild and revitalize.”

The long-held view of affairs in the general discourse in this country is that they are destructive and they cause a lot of damage. Many therapists approach treatment with only this idea in mind, and Perel says this can be limiting. While she is careful to point out that she is not advocating them, nor is naïve about the pain cheating can cause, she thinks it is helpful and necessary to take this broader view of extramarital affairs.

Cheating is shocking and traumatic in part because we have such an exalted idea of marital love. Our culture dictates that “infidelity today isn’t just a violation of trust; it’s a shattering of the grand ambition of romantic love.” If we were more realistic and educated about the limits and possibilities of marital passion, marriages might be stronger. They certainly might be more honest.

It is important to understand that while cheating can cause a lot of pain and difficulty when it is revealed, it doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. If the partners are willing to come to terms with their pain, it can be a period of growth for them. Perel says, “Often when a couple comes to me in the wake of an affair, it is clear to me that their first marriage is over. So I ask them: Would you like to create a second one together?”

“Strange as it may seem, affairs have a lot to teach us about marriage,” writes Perel. If you are willing to listen, they can teach you a lot not just about your marriage, but more important about your partner. And your relationship just might be even stronger in the end.


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  • Maggie q September 21, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    I don’t know if I agree. You can come up with a lot of scenarios. But should there be a higher norm? If you don’t meet the perfect that’s you, not what should be.