All the notes were taken directly from the source mentioned!
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Cheating is the only sin that gets two commandments in the Bible, one for doing it and one just for thinking about
Euripides, Ovid, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Proust, Flaubert, Stendhal, D. H. Lawrence, Austen, the Brontës, Atwood—countless literary giants have delved into the subject of infidelity.
Contemporary discourse about the topic can be summed up as follows: Infidelity must be a symptom of a relationship gone awry. If you have everything you need at home, there should be no reason to go elsewhere. Men cheat out of boredom and fear of intimacy; women cheat out of loneliness and hunger for intimacy. The faithful partner is the mature, committed, realistic one; the one who strays is selfish, immature, and lacks control. Affairs are always harmful and can never help a marriage or be accommodated. The only way to restore trust and intimacy is through truth-telling, repentance, and absolution. Last but not least, divorce affords more self-respect than forgiveness.
“If you cheat, it’s because you are a selfish, weak, untrustworthy person. But if I do it, it’s because of the situation I found myself in. For ourselves, we focus on the mitigating circumstances; for others, we blame character.
In a time when we depend on our partners emotionally for so much, never have affairs carried such a devastating charge. But in a culture that mandates individual fulfillment and lures us with the promise of being happier, never have we been more tempted to stray.
Understanding why the infidelity happened and what it signified is critical, both for couples who choose to end their relationship and for those who want to stay together, rebuild, and revitalize theirs.
What is Cheating?
What it did to one and what it meant to the other might be different.
Is chatting cheating? What about sexting, watching porn, joining a fetish community, remaining secretly active on dating apps, paying for sex, lap dances, massages with happy endings, girl-on-girl hookups, staying in touch with one’s ex?
Does feeling hurt entitle one to claim ownership over the definition?
Not all infidelities are created equal. In the end, these issues are personal and value-laden.
Affairs are an act of betrayal and they are also an expression of longing and loss. At the core of betrayal today is a violation of trust. Infidelity includes one or more of these three constitutive elements: secrecy, sexual alchemy, and emotional involvement.
I encourage you to consider what infidelity means to you, and how you feel about it—and to inquire openly about what it means to your partner. Our definitions of infidelity are inseparable from the stories we tell ourselves.
Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman writes, in modern life, “there is always a suspicion . . . that one is living a lie or a mistake; that something crucially important has been overlooked, missed, neglected, left untried, and unexplored; that a vital obligation to one’s own authentic self has not been met or that some chances of unknown happiness completely different from any happiness experienced before have not been taken up in time and are bound to be lost forever if they continue to be neglected.”
Today I am a woman torn between the terror that everything might change and the equal terror that everything might carry on exactly the same for the rest of my days. —Paulo Coelho, Adultery
History of Marriage
Matrimony was less a union of two individuals than a strategic partnership between two families that ensured their economic survival and promoted social cohesion.
“He works hard. He doesn’t drink. He provides for us.” “She’s a good cook. She’s given me many children. She keeps a tidy household.”
Both men and women were more likely to seek friendship and a shoulder to lean on in same-sex relationships. Men bonded over work and beer, women connected through motherhood and borrowing flour.
Bride’s virginity and a wife’s monogamy were critical for protecting his pride and his bloodline.
Marriage was still intended to last for life; women were economically and legally dependent on their husbands; religion defined morality and dictated the code of conduct; divorce was rare and a cause of great shame and ostracism.
Monogamy used to mean one person for life. Now monogamy means one person at a time. These days, most of us arrive at the altar after years of sexual nomadism.
Stephanie Coontz makes the intriguing point that when marriage was primarily an economic alliance, adultery was sometimes the space for love.
Once we strayed because marriage was not supposed to deliver love and passion. Today we stray because marriage fails to deliver the love, passion, and undivided attention it promised.
Emphasizing the “emotional” as infidelity never even occurred to earlier generations, whose concept of marriage was not organized around emotional exclusiveness.
Feminism, contraception, and abortion rights all empowered women to take control of their own loves and lives.
For the first time ever, we want sex with our spouses not just because we want six children to work on the farm (for which we need to have eight, since at least two might not make it)
In The Transformation of Intimacy, Anthony Giddens explains that when sex was decoupled from reproduction, it became no longer just a feature of our biology but a marker of our identity.
We fulfilled our conjugal responsibilities in return for a much-needed sense of security and belonging.
Marriages have always been strengthened when partners can vent to others or find multiple outlets for emotional connection.
This generations has grown up in a wide-open sexual terrain that no previous generation has encountered—one with more opportunity, but also more ambiguity; fewer limits but few guidelines.
Sex, marriage, and parenthood used to be a package deal. No longer. The boomers separated sex from marriage and reproduction; their children are separating reproduction from sex.
When’s a Marriage really over?
“Well, when’s a marriage really over? Is it when you’re sleeping in separate bedrooms? Is it when you’ve made the public announcement to family and friends? Is it when you file for divorce?”
The rush to divorce makes no allowance for error, for human fragility. It also makes no allowance for repair, resilience, and recovery.
When the limbic system has been activated, short-term survival trumps well-thought-out decisions. As hard as it is to do in these moments, I often caution couples to separate their feelings about the affair from their decisions about the relationship.
Reputations, mental health, safety, children, livelihood, and so on, must all be taken into consideration.
We want our chosen one to offer stability, safety, predictability, and dependability—all the anchoring experiences. And we want that very same person to supply awe, mystery, adventure, and risk. Give me comfort and give me edge. Give me familiarity and give me novelty. Give me continuity and give me surprise.
Romantic love has become, as Jungian analyst Robert Johnson writes, “the single greatest energy system in the Western psyche. In our culture, it has supplanted religion as the arena in which men and women seek meaning, transcendence, wholeness, and ecstasy.”
Monogamy is the sacred cow of the romantic ideal, for it confirms our specialness. Infidelity says, You’re not so special after all. It shatters the grand ambition of love.
We know we have not been the only one, but we believe we are the one.
Bill Doherty observes, these kinds of statements about love apply the values of consumerism—“personal gain, low cost, entitlement, and hedging one’s bets”—to our romantic connections.
The Secret Relationship
The affair lives in the shadow of the marriage, but the marriage also lives in the center of the affair. Without its delicious illegitimacy, can the relationship with the lover remain enticing?
Such relationships have stable ambiguity: undefined status but well-established patterns, hard to break out of but just as hard to depend on. By remaining in a diffuse state, people avoid both loneliness and commitment.
Stages of Recovery
Perceived loss of value is what causes your pain—you feel less lovable
The field of trauma to explain the symptoms: obsessive rumination, hypervigilance, numbness and dissociation, inexplicable rages and uncontrollable panic.
Many of my patients describe swinging back and forth in a rapid succession of contradictory emotions. “I love you! I hate you! Hold me! Don’t touch me! Take your shit and get out! Don’t leave me! You scumbag! Do you still love me? Fuck you! Fuck me!”
The disclosure is a pivotal moment in the story of an affair and of a marriage.
Post-affair recovery into three phases: crisis, meaning making, and visioning.
What they don’t do at duress the crisis stage is just as critical as what they do. It’s a delicate moment, requiring a safe, nonjudgmental container for the intensity of emotions that are running wild inside and between them. At this point, they need calmness, clarity, and structure, as well as reassurance and hope. Later, in the meaning making phase, there will be time to delve into why the affair happened and what role each of them played in the story. And finally, in the visioning phase, we will ask what lies ahead for them, separately or together.
The acute trauma will give way to a process of recovery, however long it may take, either together or apart. Shock has a constricting effect, like a punch in the stomach. My task is to help couples catch their breath and relocate themselves in the bigger picture of their relationship, beyond the immediate ordeal. To begin, sometimes even in the first session, I will ask them to share with me how they met—their origin story.
Infidelity is a direct attack on one of our most important psychic structures: our memory of the past.
Repetition helps restore coherence and is intrinsic to healing; Only when the betrayed partner feels emotionally met will he or she be able to listen to explanations without hearing them as justifications. Holding space for her pain is important, and physically holding her is equally so.
Shame is a state of self-absorption, while guilt is an empathic, relational response, inspired by the hurt you have caused another. We know from trauma that healing begins when perpetrators acknowledge their wrongdoing. Often, when one partner insists that they don’t yet feel acknowledged, even as the one who hurt them insists they feel terrible, it is because the response is still more shame than guilt, and therefore self-focused.
Expressing guilt and empathy is crucial for the hurt but insufficient for healing damaged self-worth.
I assure him that his “cluelessness” is not something to be ashamed of.
They may not want to notify the entire village, but lifting the shame of silence matters a great deal.
Dress up, even if you don’t feel like it. Let your friends cook you a beautiful dinner. Take that painting class that you’ve been meaning to take for so long. Do things to take care of yourself, that make you feel good, to counter the humiliation and your urge to hide. Many people feel too much shame to do these things when they’ve been cast aside, but that’s exactly what I urge them to do.
Breathing exercises, soothing hot showers, bracing cold lakes, walks in nature, singing and dancing to music, and active sports can all be helpful. Stillness and movement can both be sources of relief.
Social isolation and silence are difficult, but so too is the advice of others. Friends are often all too quick to offer hasty judgments, simplistic solutions, and unsolicited rants on how “I never liked him/her anyway.”
When a second infidelity occurs, people are quick to say, “once a cheater, always a cheater,” as if it were confirmation of a character flaw. But sometimes a more accurate explanation is that the core issue was never worked through.
When withholders tell me how distraught they feel at a partner’s extramarital sex, I gently redirect their focus from what their partner has done to what they themselves have not.
Dealing with the Rage
The affair marks the passing of two innocent illusions—that your marriage is exceptional, and that you are unique or prized.”
When the perpetrator says it meant nothing… victim responds, ‘That’s supposed to make me feel better? That you would hurt me this much for something that meant nothing?’
Challenging the revisionism. The edited story of the relationship that he’s now telling leaves out much of the context for the decisions that both he and she made. It misses the fact that she once supported him through school, for instance, and myriad other shared responsibilities. As we deconstruct the one-sided view, we reveal the pain behind the rage.
Revenge can in fact keep the unpleasantness of an offense alive.
There is a big difference between saying, “That one person let me down and I’m hurt,” and saying, “I’ll never love again.”
There is no love without hate, and we must befriend our aggression, rather than eradicate it.
I encourage writing—in a diary, to me, or to each other—as a release valve. Journal writing provides a safe place to purge, unrestricted. Letter writing is a more deliberate, carefully edited process.
One means of doing this is to make space for the urge but not the action. I ask him to send me his list of “the worst things you want to do to her” for safe storage. The fantasy of reprisal can be extremely cathartic. Lodged within the sanctuary of our minds or written in a private journal, fantasies can be a way to purge the slanderous thoughts and the murderous rage that fill us up.
Let your imagination run wild. Buy a little notebook and label it “My Revenge,” and between its covers, do your worst. But give yourself a time limit. Seven minutes a day, max. And then when you put down your notebook, put aside the thoughts.
We all have a need for justice. However, it is important to distinguish between retributive justice and restorative justice. The former seeks only punishment; the latter engages in repair.
If in the process of getting even you end up hurting yourself more than you punish the other, you gain nothing. The art of restorative justice is to elevate yourself rather than simply denigrating those who hurt you.
Ask yourself, is it honest, is it helpful, and is it kind?
“Streetlight effect,” where the drunken man is searching for his missing keys not where he dropped them but where the light is. Human beings have a tendency to look for things in the places where it is easiest to search for them rather than in the places where the truth is more likely to be found.
Sometimes silence is caring. Before you unload your guilt onto an unsuspecting partner, consider, whose well-being are you really thinking of? Is your soul-cleansing as selfless as it appears? And what is your partner supposed to do with this information?
Respect is not necessarily about telling all, but about considering what it will be like for the other to receive the knowledge. Honesty and transparency should always be thought of in context. Is it even as true as he believes it to be? Or is this simply one of his rationalizations?
Sexual honesty isn’t just about divulging the details of your infidelities. It’s about communicating with your partner in an open and mature way—revealing core aspects of yourself through your sexuality.
“Yes, we value honesty and trust,” she says, “but we value the preservation of the family even more.”
I have often witnessed the tension between these two world views. One accuses the other of duplicity and lack of transparency. The other is repelled by the destructive spilling of secrets in the name of honesty.
“Yes, I may feel attractions, but because I love you and I respect you, and I don’t want to hurt you again, I will choose not to act on it.” That’s a more honest
Envy relates to something you want but do not have, whereas jealousy relates to something you have but are afraid of losing.
Jealousy is a natural response, not something to be ashamed of. To acknowledge jealousy is to admit love, competition, and comparison—all of which expose vulnerability.
“Sometimes when I see her with one of her other girlfriends, I do feel jealous,” Anna told me. “But I remind myself that these are my feelings and it’s up to me to deal with them. I don’t blame her for inciting them, nor do I give myself license to act on them in a way that restricts her freedom. I know she’s careful not to intentionally trigger those responses in me, and I do the same for her, but we’re not responsible for each other’s feelings.”
Type of Questions
Investigative questions recognize that the truth often lies beyond the facts. They include: Help me understand what the affair has meant for you. Were you looking for it, or did it just happen? Why now? What was it like when you would come home? What did you experience there that you don’t have with me? Did you feel entitled to your affair? Did you want me to find out? Would you have ended it if I hadn’t found out? Are you relieved it’s all in the open, or would you have preferred if it stayed hush-hush? Were you trying to leave me? Do you think that you should be forgiven? Would you respect me less if I were to forgive you? Did you hope I would leave so you wouldn’t have to feel responsible for breaking up the family? The investigative approach asks more enlightening questions that probe the meaning of the affair, and focuses on analysis rather than facts.
Sometimes we ask one question while the real question hides behind it. “What kind of sex did you have with him?” is often a stand-in for “Don’t you like the sex we have?” What you want to know is legitimate, but how you go about asking it makes all the difference to your peace of mind. If I knew all the answers to all my questions, what would that do for me?
The “Symptom” Theory
An affair simply alerts us to a preexisting condition, either a troubled relationship or a troubled person. And in many cases, this holds true. Plenty of relationships culminate in an affair to compensate for a lack, to fill a void, or to set up an exit. Insecure attachment, conflict avoidance, prolonged lack of sex, loneliness, or just years of being stuck rehashing the same old arguments—many adulterers are motivated by marital dysfunction.
The clinical literature is rife with typologies for cheaters—as if character always trumps circumstance.
What else could explain it?
I was seeing countless others who kept telling me, “We love each other very much. We have a great relationship. Except for the fact that we have no sex.” session after session, I meet people who assure me, “I love my wife/my husband. We are best friends and happy together. But I am having an affair.”
I am not the moral police. I want to understand what the affairs mean for them and what it represents in the fuller context of his life. Why did you do it? Why him? Why her? Why now? Was this the first time? Did you initiate? Did you try to resist? How did it feel? Were you looking for something? What did you find? All of these questions help me to probe the meanings and motives for the infidelities.
Some have affairs as a form of self-discovery, a quest for a new (or a lost) identity.
“Self-discovery, my ass! Sure, that sounds better than screwing around in a highway motel. Cheating is cheating, whatever fancy new age labels you want to put on it! It’s cruel, it’s selfish, it’s dishonest, and it’s abusive.” Indeed, to the one who was betrayed, it can be all of these things. But what did it mean to the other?
We are not looking for another lover so much as another version of ourselves.
My point here is not to transfer the blame, but to highlight the multiple dynamics of power and powerlessness that permeate relationships. “Who betrayed whom first?”
Taking responsibility for creating conditions that may have contributed to the affair is very different from blaming oneself for the affair.
The victim of the affair is not always the victim of the marriage.
Marital sadism—neglect, indifference, intimidation, contempt, rejection, and disdain—infidelity may be an expression of self-preservation and self-determination.
Why is one form of diverted attention an indisputable violation of trust, while another gets couched in nicer words? While it appears that each of these seekers was looking for sex, they were also looking for depth, appreciation, lingering gazes—all the other forms of penetration that don’t involve physical intercourse. Call it intimacy, call it human connection—it’s what makes us feel that we matter.
When one partner unilaterally decides there will be no (or very little) sex, that is not monogamy—it’s enforced celibacy. when sex is woefully lacking, and not by mutual agreement, it can leave a gap in an otherwise satisfying relationship that is unbearable. And when we haven’t been touched in years, we are more vulnerable to the kindness of strangers.
A more honest conversation must include all sides of the story. Infidelity needs to be seen not simply as a pathology or a dysfunction.
We’re quick to blame infidelity for the breakdown of relationships, but perhaps the more destructive factor in many cases is a dogged insistence on sexual exclusivity at all costs. Maybe some of these couples would still be together had they been willing to address their different sexual needs and what these might mean for the structure of their marriage.
We seek connection, predictability, and dependability to root us firmly in place. But we also have a need for change, for the unexpected, for transcendence.
A marriage adds things to your life, and it also takes things away. Constancy kills joy; joy kills security; security kills desire; desire kills stability; stability kills lust. Something gives; some part of you recedes. It’s something you can live without, or it’s not. And maybe it’s hard to know before the marriage which part of the self is expendable . . . and which is part of your spirit.
The minute we get what we want, our expectations and desires tend to rise, and we end up not feeling any happier.
Reconciling the erotic and the domestic is not a problem to solve; it is a paradox to manage. In The Erotic Mind, sexologist Jack Morin identifies the “Four Cornerstones of Eroticism.” Longing—the desire for what is not present—is number one.
Desire is rooted in absence and longing. Many affairs are less about sex than about desire: the desire to feel desired, to feel special, to be seen and connected, to compel attention.
Desire needs a certain degree of aggression—not violence, but an assertive, striving energy.
Priya often feels like she’s a walking contradiction: alternately dismayed by her reckless behavior, enchanted by her daredevil attitude, tormented by fear of discovery, and unable (or unwilling) to put a stop to it.
Neuroscientists would no doubt explain that in her everyday life, she is following the rational commands of her frontal cortex, while in her affair, her limbic system is firmly in charge.
From a psychological perspective, our relationship to the forbidden sheds a light on the darker and less straightforward aspects of our humanity. Transgression is at the heart of human nature. Moreover, as many of us remember from our childhood, there is a thrill in hiding, sneaking, being bad, being afraid of being discovered, and getting away with it. As adults, we can find this a powerful aphrodisiac. The risk of being caught doing something naughty or dirty, the breaking of taboos, the pushing of boundaries—all of these are titillating experiences.
What she is telling me, in effect, is: I need to end this, but I don’t want to. What I can see, and she has not yet grasped, is that the thing she is really afraid to lose is not him—it’s the part of herself that he awakened. I tell her. “You reconnected with an energy, a youthfulness. I know that it feels as if in leaving him, you are severing a lifeline to all of that, but I want you to know that over time you will find that some of this also lives inside of you.”
As sexologist Jack Morin observes, most of us retain an urge from childhood to demonstrate our superiority over the rules. “Perhaps,” he suggests, “this is why encounters and fantasies with a flavor of violation so often leave the violators with a sense of self-validation or even pride.” Morin’s now-famous “erotic equation” states that “attraction plus obstacles equal excitement.” We are most intensely excited when we are a little off-balance, uncertain, “poised on the perilous edge between ecstasy and disaster.”
Priya’s parallel universe transported her to the teenager she never was. Others find themselves drawn by the memory of the person they once were. As children we have the opportunity to play at other roles; as adults we often find ourselves confined by the ones we’ve been assigned or the ones we have chosen.
We all want to be able to look in the mirror and feel good about the person we see, he explains, but we also want to do things that we know aren’t quite honest. So we internally rationalize our various forms of cheating in order to maintain a positive self-image
Men are socialized to boast, exaggerate, and overrepresent their sexual exploits, while women minimize, deny, and underrepresent theirs.
In the transition to marriage, too many women experience their sexuality as shifting from desire to duty. When it becomes something she should do, it no longer is something she wants to do. By contrast, when a woman has an affair, she brings a self-determination to her pleasure.
Being responsible for others makes it harder for women to focus on their own needs, to feel spontaneous, sexually expressive, and carefree.
Sexual desire is killed by the institutionalization of relationships—a passage from freedom and independence to commitment and responsibility. Second, the overfamiliarity that develops when intimacy and closeness replace individuality and mystery. And lastly, the desexualizing nature of certain roles—mother, wife, and house manager all promote the de-eroticization of the self.
We begin with the more common causes that can underlie sexual shutdown—parental violence, early sexual abuse, racism, poverty, illness, loss, unemployment, and so on. These multiple disempowerments leave people feeling that they live in a world where trust and pleasure are too dangerous.
“Tell me how you were loved and I will know a lot about how you make love” is one of my guiding questions.
I teach them how to turn their criticisms into requests and their frustrations into feedback, and to be open and vulnerable with each other.
Consensual nonmonogamy means that both partners have equal say in the decision to take unfulfilled hankerings elsewhere. In contrast, infidelity is a unilateral decision, in which one person secretly negotiates the best deal for themselves.
I’m not suggesting that dissolving monogamy is the answer for everyone. But it is obvious that the current model is hardly a universal fit. What if we were to consider fidelity as a relational constancy that encompasses respect, loyalty, and emotional intimacy?
Philosopher Aaron Ben-Ze’ev makes a distinction between two relationship models, one defined by exclusiveness, the other by uniqueness. The first one focuses on what is forbidden with another, whereas the second one centers on what is special about the beloved.
Tristan Taormino calls the “myth of equality”—the common assumption in conventional relationships that each partner has the same needs and desires.
Nonmonogamists don’t just indulge in a sexual free-for-all. Rather, many create explicit relational agreements with as much precision as a legal document. Common features include stipulations around honesty and transparency; where and how often liaisons with other lovers can take place; who those lovers can be and which specific sex acts can and cannot be shared with them; degrees of emotional involvement; and of course, rules about protection. These new contracts, symmetry is not required; agreement is.
These diversified lovers are seeking a new sense of collectivity, belonging, and identity.
Marriage without virginity was once inconceivable. So, too, sex without marriage. We are touching the new frontier, where sex outside can live within a marriage.
Ending a Marriage
I came to see that staying together at any cost was the wrong goal. Our culture views divorce as a failure. Divorce is not the end of a family; it’s a reorganization
Rituals facilitate transitions. They also honor what was.
Just because he fell in love with another woman doesn’t mean their entire past together was a fraud.
We need a concept of a terminated marriage that doesn’t damn it—one that helps to create emotional coherence and narrative continuity.
I invite couples to write goodbye letters to each other. Letters that capture what they’ll miss, what they cherish, what they take responsibility for, and what they wish for each other. This allows them to honor the riches of their relationship, to mourn the pain of its loss, and to mark its legacy.
It doesn’t always involve forgiveness, it makes room for anger, but hopefully it is an anger that mobilizes rather than keeps them trapped in bitterness. We need to go on with life—hope again, love again, and trust again.
It’s often hard for new partners to accept that missing the past relationship does not necessarily equate to wanting to return to it.
For couples who choose to stay together: those who get stuck in the past (the sufferers); those who pull themselves up by the bootstraps and let it go (the builders); and those who rise above the ashes and create a better union (the explorers).
In some marriages, the affair is not a transitional crisis, but a black hole ensnaring both parties in an endless round of bitterness, revenge, and self-pity. These couples endlessly gnaw at the same bone, circle and recircle the same grievances, reiterate the same mutual recriminations, and blame each other for their agony. They are sharing a cell in marital prison. Such couples keep score with moral superiority; no amount of remorse is ever enough.
The Builders is a second pattern is found in couples who remain together because they value commitment and the life they’ve created. They care about each other and want to preserve the family and the community.
An affair reveals a lot about a relationship. It sheds a stark light on its constructs—the cracks, the imbalances, the dry rot, the subsidence, but also the strong foundations, the solid walls, and the cozy corners. an affair reveals a lot about a relationship. It sheds a stark light on its constructs—the cracks, the imbalances, the dry rot, the subsidence, but also the strong foundations, the solid walls, and the cozy corners. The builders focus on these structural strengths. They are not looking for massive renovations; they simply want to come back to the home they know and the pillow they can rest on. Doing what’s right restores a sense of wholeness that is worth far more to them than any extramarital enticements. To the builders, commitment stands for something greater than themselves.
Are those for whom the affair becomes a catalyst for transformation. These explorers come to see the infidelity as an event that, though insanely painful, contained the seeds of something positive. They more readily distinguish wrong from hurtful, paving a smoother road for clemency. When they speak about the affair, it is clear that they identify it as one event—not the definitive event—in their long history together. Shifting from “you” and “me” to “our,” Madison does not talk about “When you did this to me.” Rather, they both talk about “When we had our crisis,”
Reflecting about Affairs
What can you learn from affairs without necessarily having to go through one? What can we learn from looking at the affair in retrospect?
It comes down to two questions: How can we better fortify our relationship against infidelity? And how can we bring some of the erotic vitality of illicit love into our authorized unions?
Katherine Frank argues persuasively that the “marital safety narrative” creates its own demise. When a couple tries to safeguard their relationship through various forms of surveillance and self-policing, they risk setting themselves up for the exact opposite: the “enhanced eroticization of transgressions.”
Couples who feel free to talk honestly about their desires, even when they are not directed at each other, paradoxically become closer. When we validate each other’s freedom within the relationship, we may be less inclined to go looking for it elsewhere. Having feelings and desires for others is natural, and we have a choice whether to act on them or not.
If we accept that the certainty we long for is something we may never truly have, we can reframe the notion of trust. Yes, trust is built and strengthened by actions over time, but by the same token, trust is also a leap of faith. We also learn from affairs that for most, the forbidden will always hold an allure.
Often say to my patients that if they could bring into their relationships even a tenth of the boldness, the playfulness, and the verve that they bring to their affairs, their home life would feel quite different. Our creative imagination seems to be richer when it comes to our transgressions than to our commitments.
At their peak, affairs rarely lack imagination. Nor do they lack desire, abundance of attention, romance, and playfulness. Shared dreams, affection, passion, and endless curiosity—all these are natural ingredients found in the adulterous plot. They are also the ingredients of thriving relationships.
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