I was wearing body-hugging red pants, an off-the-shoulder slinky black top, and a pair of sexy heels when I stepped off the plane in California. Three hours later I was in bed in the arms of my husband’s best friend. I was committing adultery.
How did this happen to me? What was going on? I considered myself the most unlikely person in the world to ever find herself in this situation. I was quaintly old-fashioned when it came to relationships, and firmly believed in one man/one woman till-death-do-them-part sort of thing. And I was passionately in love with my husband. What went wrong?
Before I go on with my tale of passion and woe, let me step back and talk a little bit about what I mean by infidelity, and the different forms it can take.
Wikipedia defines infidelity as “a violation of the mutually agreed-upon rules or boundaries of an intimate relationship.” While we can disagree about what exactly constitutes an intimate relationship, what comes to mind when we hear the word “infidelity” is cheating of some sort. Women might imagine their husband getting it on with the secretary, and men envision all sorts of improper behavior between their wives and the cable guys.
Infidelity is essentially about betrayal: betrayal by a loved one, often the most cherished one in our heart. The image that comes to my mind is of an axe cutting the love bond between two married people or two people committed romantically to one another.
However, besides infidelity in marriage---what is called adultery---and sexual infidelity of all kinds, there is also what I like to call emotional infidelity.
In cases of emotional infidelity, the pants and dresses stay on, and the only thing that gets bared is someone’s soul. It is a situation in which one or both of the partners of an intimate relationship goes outside of the couple for an emotional connection with someone else.
This isn’t to say that it is wrong to seek solace or advice from a friend who is not your partner. It is not only not wrong, but indeed can be quite necessary to maintain friends and confidantes while being involved in a close relationship.
When this sort of friendship becomes infidelity is hard to pin down, but when one partner is spending this emotionally close time with friends not to get advice or help in solving a problem, but rather using these people as an excuse to get away from a problem in the relationship, you can probably say that he or she is straying perilously close to the I-word.
Whether in the form of an online fantasy relationship or a real-life, flesh-and-blood one, such unfaithful disengagement from one’s partner can carry the same destructive energy as sexual betrayal. There is only so much emotional energy to go around in a relationship, and, when a large part of that is directed outside of the couple, at some point there are going to be very negative consequences. In the world of our emotions, the energy of infidelity, including feelings of treachery, and neglecting or abandoning one’s partner, can feel just as bad as actual adultery to the one(s) you have a love commitment.
Even if there are no overt signs of cheating or changes in behavior in a relationship, the energy itself of infidelity, especially marital infidelity, is so forceful that it inevitably affects the other partner; if they have children, the latter are not spared either. As the energy of one of the partners leaves the relationship, deadness sets in and the couple will gradually start falling apart.
Men seem to get caught cheating more often, but women do it as well. They are more used to repressing their sexuality, and are more often simply satisfied with the flirting attention of a man without going further. Women have traditionally been known to live in their dream world of fantasies, where they yearn for an imagined lover. Having fantasies in and of itself is not a problem, and nor is it exclusive to women. Today, with the spread of cyber-sex on the Net, I am meeting more and more married men and women who are simply addicted to cyber-sex. I mention the cyber-sex not to criticize people’s taste; what I am reacting to is the importance given to, and the amount of time spent on the computer with people who are not real or part of an artificial relationship.
The problem starts when the fantasy takes on a disproportionate size in one’s life, and where the real, present relationship is left behind, and neglected for the fantasy world. As I mentioned above, if you are involving too much of your energy in a delusion, it will become a concern for your romantic relationship or marriage. It distances you from your real relationship; the less desire and love you invest, the colder and more dead-like you will be with your significant other. In effect, that is what infidelity does to a couple: it divides heart, body and soul from what was created by you and your loved one.
Some of you may remember reading the French novel Madame Bovary in a high school or college Comp Lit class. The book tells the story, in splendid details, of Madame Bovary, the main character, who, bored out of her mind with her marriage and her life, spends her time daydreaming about that different husband and that different life that she could have had. To intensify her fantasy world, she voraciously reads all the romantic literature she can get her hands on, to the point where her mother-in-law has to cancel her subscription to the library. Her husband is a good man, a simple-minded but kind-hearted doctor. Although they have a daughter together, Madame Bovary is not attached to her family but rather lives dreaming of a more glamorous life elsewhere. At some point, she moves beyond the realm of fantasy to take a lover, and then, later, a second one. She eventually bankrupts her family through her extravagant spending, and ends up committing suicide to get away from her creditors. By the time she died, she had been absent in spirit and in heart for the better part of her marriage and family life, leaving a vacuum behind her.
So what is the point?
For me, the point is that infidelity is not a primary cause of the problems in any given relationship, but rather a symptom, and a very strong signal that something is drastically wrong in the couple.
In my example above, Madame Bovary’s actual sexual infidelity came long after she had already emotionally distanced herself from her husband and family. It is fairly clear from the story that she shouldn’t have gotten involved in the marriage to begin with, because she wanted something her husband could not offer. However, once she, or we, discover that there is a problem with the relationship, the appropriate thing to do is to identify the problem, acknowledge it, and then take corrective action. Running away into a world of fantasy may temporarily hide the problem and the pain, but it is clearly not a healthy long-term fix, and will not resolve any of the difficulties. It is a high, a short-term fix, but does nothing to change the fundamental issues affecting the relationship, and is only bound to make them worse.
At the end of the day, our boredom and our dissatisfaction are not our partner’s fault, but our responsibility. We are the ones with these feelings, and living with that reality.
It is up to us to choose the path that will yield life affirming, long-term changes. Infidelity is simply an illusion of change, but it does not resolve the heart of the matter, which led us to lie, cheat, and discredit ourselves in the first place.
In short, if you want to change your partner, or simply to put an end to your relationship, and you have examined your decision deeply, there is no need to add more pain to your situation. You are better off taking the time that you need to get ready to tell the truth to your significant other, than going behind his/her back, and compounding an already difficult decision with infidelity. By lying and cheating, you will add so much unnecessary suffering into your life and your companion’s life, and you will greatly prolong the making-peace- with-the-past process for yourself. Trust me; I am speaking from experience here!
Adultery could easily have been avoided in my relationship if my husband would have been truthful with what was going on inside of him, not been hateful in his reactions to me, and if I would not have been so vengeful. We both had the knowledge and tools to help ourselves and prevent our drifting apart, but we had to push for adultery to happen with the resulting major heartbreak in order to start understanding the value of our love for one another.
We had been going through months of heated arguments, where I felt regularly targeted by his masked hatred of me and victimized by his ignoring the emotional issues we had or blaming me for them. On his side, he felt that I was no longer fulfilling my role as a wife, in that I was too involved in my self-healing process and with the group of people I knew who claimed to follow the same course; he also felt persecuted by my screaming rage in our fights and my over-reactive nature. Eventually, these fights became common practice, almost second nature in our marriage.
What wasn’t so common was that my husband would go on and on about not caring if I slept around, and that I should have sex with his friend in question. He would not let go of this topic; it was becoming quite offensive as I prided myself on my loyalty and monogamy. In the meantime, as our fighting was getting worse, the other guy had started to email me, and I responded. It must be noted that my husband’s best friend was not nearly as busy as my husband was, and had the time, the energy, and the ear to give me. My husband was always working, and, when home, it was often hell between us.
One thing led to another, and we started to have a flirting connection online. I did share all this with my husband, who pretended not to care, just as I also shared my truth with his friend. The latter lied to me about being truthful in his communications with my husband, as I was to find out later. He never once told my husband anything about his online affair with me, or our plans to meet in California. It was a pure betrayal on this man’s part, while I comforted myself or found solace in the fact that I had been honest with my husband the whole time, even as he was pushing me to commit adultery. This is why I call it “open adultery”, but, open or not, it was a revenge on my part. I was to realize not too far down the road, how revenge, however seemingly justified, can kill the trust and the heart in a love relationship.
“Revenge is not always sweet, once it is consummated we feel inferior to our victim.” Emil Cioran
The last two weeks before I flew out West and slept with my husband’s best friend, our marriage was literally falling apart. My partner had gone to a prostitute without telling me or trying to work it out with me. His friend told me that my husband did not care about me, and was going to throw me out of the house; this guy was manipulating me as I found out later. And I felt intensely suicidal during the last big fight we had, where I was verbally kicked-out of the house, thereby triggering one of my oldest and most painful patterns and fears that I have no home or family. My pain was replaced by an intense rage in me, especially after the prostitute incident and being the dumping ground for my partner’s on-going hatred and attempts to break me. I wanted to feel power again inside of me, to feel my power, and go out of this marriage with a bang.
I no longer could stand the person that I had been for the most part in my marriage: someone who was trying to heal problems and communicate fairly. All I was seeing was denial, mediocrity, loathing and treachery around me, and it was time I responded in kind. I did not become conscious of a desire for vengeance per se, though I was foaming at the mouth from the amount of rage oozing out of me… I was roaring, and my husband was going to hear me!
So I put those clothes on and got on the plane and slept with his friend, on his dime, literally and figuratively. I had responded to my legitimate rage’s goal, yet I had not processed it and expressed it enough by myself to balance the emotion in question and come up with a better, healthier solution to the problem than adultery; I had acted out on my repressed, uncirculating rage. I had showed my power, and crushed my husband and whoever else in my path at that moment with my fire. However, by the second and last night I spent with my partner’s friend, when my husband called me at 3am at the house I was staying at, my sensitive side started to see what I had done in a more complete way.
During that phone call, my loved one was breaking apart, and although I presented my anger about the recent past and his behaviour, his heartbreak still hit home. I ended the fling right there, and returned home shortly afterward. In my rage, I had not foreseen the impact of such infidelity on my heart, and the heart in my relationship; even his children had been affected by the high emotions and instability that hit the home front overnight. It never occurred to me, trapped as I was in my own world, to expect my husband to react with such grief, with even his children affected. I truly had often felt like an unwanted person at best, and garbage at worse, in my own home.
Feeling and seeing my husband’s heartbreak reactivated mine in no time, as we both felt the depth of the impact of my infidelity. It took a long time for a real, felt recognition on my husband’s part about his responsibility in the adulterous affair I had had, and not just mine and the disloyal role his former best-friend had played. It took an even longer time to recover from this adultery, individually and as a couple.
The adultery hung like a disgrace, a stain, a giant mark on our love, especially for me and my vision of love: the way I had wanted our love story to unfold. My husband’s big lesson was to recognize how he could create certain self-destructive situations that his shadowy unconscious side wanted, and start to heal his former addiction to both work and having me to blame for all the ills of his world. On my part, I gradually realized what it meant to have my power in a balanced way, and how sexual rage worked in me. Vengeance was no longer a path I would resort to; it was a path to transcend in a healing way. I thought I would get back my power that I had “lost” throughout the past emotional abuse perpetrated by my husband, and while I felt “powerful” in an intoxicating way for less than 48 hrs in the arms of another, it was not a real, grounded power; it backfired on me, for it backfired on my heart.
Recovery from infidelity
When you first find out that your loved one has cheated on you, or worse if you catch them in the act, the heartbreak that comes up is one of the most difficult emotional pains you will ever feel in your life. It is vital that you isolate yourself until some of the grief and sorrow coming up inside of your body subside. You may feel as if you are dying, and that there is no hope or love for you.Please understand that the death of your heart needs to be processed as it comes up, with its tears, screams and other sounds, but know that this is “only” your heartbreak’s reality, not your truth, nor is it universal truth; you are not cursed or unworthy of love. Be in the moment with your heartache, and it will pass; the sun will shine in your life again. One of the big barriers to healing from infidelity is that we are conditioned to believe that it is an unforgivable wrong. To make healing infidelity even more challenging, there is a belief buried in the collective unconscious that a love relationship can never really recover from such disloyalty. This is not true in my experience. You can recover from anything, if you really want to, and clean the slate to start over in a conscious way. The difference with infidelity is that the two of you need to take responsibility for your parts in the incident, and the two of you have to want to heal it, for yourselves and your union, if you wish your relationship to recover from the unfaithfulness in question.Moreover, forgiving infidelity is not a decision you make from your mind; rather it is a decision you come to as you are recovering from infidelity. You cannot truly recover from infidelity by forgiving and letting go without processing your pain first and foremost. I must bring up this topic of forgiveness since I have met many people, especially women, who think that they can decide to forgive their spouse or boyfriend. Women generally have a tendency to project and expect a loving performance on their part. There is also legitimate fear of losing security and the stability of the established relationship. Either way, one needs to heal one’s own emotional pain throughout the ordeal, in order to feel compassion for one’s trauma; compassion for oneself is a form of self-forgiveness. It is only then that you will be able to feel real compassion for your spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, for you will have enough Light of true consciousness inside of you.You also need to be able to confront your cheating partner, ideally before the cheating but definitely after the cheating. It is important to be able to put them back in their place, and call them on their issues for what they are, without mincing words. One cannot evolve in a relationship without being able to reflect the plain truth to the other. This helps them and you, and helps forgiveness to become real and palpable.It is true that if the emotional pain is not thoroughly dealt with, it will come back to haunt you until it is; the longer you wait, the more potent and harder to confront the pain will be. This is true for any suffering, not just dealing with infidelity. You can generally recover from most of the trauma fairly quickly if you want to heal, and focus on healing the betrayal. However, there will be some remaining warped energy that will come up from time to time in your relationship. It is not a reason to panic or judge that you have not really recovered. It is generally part of the healing process, which comes in layers, like peeling an onion. As the two of you are moving forward in your healing process, the residual energy will slowly vanish.In my case, it has been 10 years since the adultery happened, and we can now talk about it with a healthy perspective. We both see our participation, and we do not blame the other for the past infidelity. It is not a pleasant, funny topic, but nor does it bring tears. It is what it is, and we now know why it happened and we are able to accept it consciously.