– The Great Gatsby
What is infidelity?
When a couple chooses to be emotionally and sexually exclusive to one another, a violation of this arrangement by one or both partners amounts to infidelity. This includes not just penile/vaginal intercourse, oral sex or anal sex but may also include a partner engaging in nonsexual behaviors such as sharing intimate feelings, thoughts and time in secrecy with an extramarital same or opposite sex partner. More recently, this definition has included internet infidelity as well.
Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash
What are open marriages, swingers and polyamorous relationships?
An open marriage involves a willingness by both partners of a couple to engage in sexual relationships outside of their primary relationship with each other. There is a great deal of honesty of both partners about their outside relationships. A swinger lifestyle is one were couples jointly share partners with other couples, or in groups, solely for sexual purposes. Polyamorous relationships involve sexual and emotional involvement with more than one partner and is more often seen among a few members of the LGBTQ community. There is comparatively very little research done in this last category.
Are there couples who agree that sexual or nonsexual behaviors do not amount to infidelity?
Yes, Absolutely! The key phrase here is ‘open communication’ – If both partners in a couple have clear and considerate conversations about sharing a relationship with a partner outside of their primary relationship and if there is no ambiguity between them about what represents infidelity or constitutes an affair, then this can work.
When does a couple seek help?
When a partner witnesses or stumbles upon evidence of a relationship outside of the primary one and when such a relationship is unacceptable, then it may constitute a crisis for both partners especially if it stays unresolved. In some cases, when partners indulge in behaviours that are either one-sided or not fully thought-through, it can lead to a downward spiral in the partnership or marriage.
What happens during the first few therapy sessions for couples in such cases?
To begin with it is established if the couple wishes to salvage the relationship, to clarify the future of the relationship and the affair or is determined to end the relationship under the best possible terms, especially if there are children involved.
The learning curve
1. Partners must both agree on appropriate emotional, social, and sexual boundaries with others
2. Vexed partner must be keen on and able to forgive in order to rebuild the relationship. If this is not possible, then the goal for therapy should be a dignified separation.
3. The next step is for the partners to demonstrate a commitment in reconstructing the relationship. This is hard work and needs time along with the inclination.
4. There is an agreement on concrete and specific values that are to be exercised in the reconstructed relationship. Rebuilding of trust begins here.
5. If this attempt does not succeed, clients work on agreeing to separate respectfully. It is important to gain and understanding into what led to the breaking of the commitment to faithfulness, so as to gain closure.
Hertlein, K. M., Wetchler, J. L., & Piercy, F. P. (2005). Infidelity: An Overview. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 4 (2-3), 5-16.
O’Leary, K. D., Heyman, R. E., & Jongsma Jr, A. E. (2015). The Couples Psychotherapy Treatment Planner, with DSM-5 Updates. John Wiley & Sons.
Stefano, D., & Oala, M. (2008) . “Extramarital affairs: Basic considerations and essential tasks in clinical work.” The Family Journal, 16 (1), 13-19.