What is Cheating? The Two Kinds of Infidelity in Relationships
Have you correctly recognized that your spouse or significant other is unfaithful? Do you know the four steps to effectively dealing with cheating?
There are two kinds of cheating or "infidelity."
These two kinds of cheating (infidelity, or unfaithfulness) can occur separately or together.
1. Sexual infidelity is when both of the following statements are true:
Does your partner participate in any kind of sexual behavior with someone other than you?
Does that behavior conflict with an agreed on or understood expectation that you both have for your relationship?
2. Emotional infidelity is when both of the following statements are true:
Does your partner share intimate feelings and thoughts with someone other than you?
Does this sharing involve secrecy that conflicts with an agreed on or understood expectation that you both have for your relationship?
Example of emotional infidelity: Secretly spending a lot of time with someone other than you, in intimate and romantic conversation.
These definitions of infidelity allow for vast differences in religious, moral, and cultural values. For example, in some religions and cultures, it is acceptable to have more than one wife.
Either of these types of cheating or infidelity should be taken seriously and be dealt with as soon as possible.
They are a source of damage that is being done to your relationship (or that has already been done to your relationship). They are not indications that your partner no longer wants to have a relationship with you. On the contrary. Because of their secretive nature, they indicate that your partner is trying to preserve the relationship, at least for the time being. What it does indicate is that the benefits of the affair are perceived to outweigh the risks to your relationship. This means that your partner has come to see your relationship as less valuable than before.
The four components of intervention for cheating or infidelity
It is important to manage this situation in a way that stops the cheating, rebuilds respect for you, rebuilds your trust in your partner, and increases the value of the relationship for both of you.
Stopping the cheating
If your partner is cheating, your first thing to deal with is your emotional reaction. It is tempting to just rush in with accusations or proof in an attempt to beat a confession out of your partner and to take out your anger. Although that would be justifiable, it would not be the most helpful thing to do if you are interested in saving your relationship. So, before you do anything, you need to take time to be calm and consider whether you want to save your relationship. It is not a question that I can answer for you. If you want to save your relationship, then I recommend getting help for yourself right from this point. Clients who come to me at this point need help knowing how to confront their partner in a way which is strong, yet allows for the possibility of rebuilding the relationship. They also need a lot of support. Many times friends and family (if they are aware of the situation) will encourage a vengeful response, but they are not the ones who are in the relationship.
Rebuilding respect for you
Although it is tempting to just try to talk things out, you are unlikely to get the honest and sincere talking about your relationship that is needed if you don't have your partner's respect. Instead, you will get defensiveness and accusations. You are likely to be blamed for your partner's affair. Earning respect in this case has to do with two things: boundaries that you set in place regarding your partner's infidelity, and the way you handle your partner's response to your confrontation about the affair. In particular, refusing to either argue or be intimidated, as well as being assertive and loving in your responses, will both get you respect and make you appear much more mature than your partner. Also, you will feel better about yourself. What is an example of an assertive and loving response? "I want to have a good relationship with you, but I can't as long as this is going on." It may sound a little soft, but the idea here is to stop the behavior and rebuild the relationship, not injure your partner for injuring you. Your words, combined with your actions, will create a very firm message.
Rebuilding trust after the cheating is done
After your partner has expressed his or her desire to have a better relationship with you, then comes the process of apology, forgiveness, and rebuilding trust. These are processes, not just decisions. It is at this point that most couples come to me for help. That is appropriate, since there is a need to stay focused and not let communication degrade into conflict. Also, there are a number of specific tasks that we need to do. Regardless of how bad the relationship was prior to the infidelity, it does not justify the betrayal of trust. Both apology and confession about the infidelity is needed. Partners often need help at this time discussing these things without defensiveness and also need help really hearing each other. We need to get to the point where each person recognizes his and her responsibility for working to meet each other's needs and to rebuild the relationship. We usually need to take time to talk about the process of forgiveness and how to forgive for something that we will never be able to forget. Without forgiveness, there could be no reconciliation.
Increasing the value of your relationship
Cheating is selfish, but it is nonetheless an attempt to cope with or compensate for an internal need and desire. Those needs and desires need to be expressed and met within your relationship. If there has been cheating in your relationship, then both you and your partner will have unmet needs and desires, although only one person may have chosen to deal with that via infidelity (although occasionally, both partners have cheated). This is a time for openness and honesty about what each person wants for the future. Although couples have been hesitant to express this in the past because of their belief that it was not possible to have those things with their partner, very often couples are willing to help each other. This happens because they start to see past their own needs, often for the first time.
Recovering from cheating or infidelity is far more than stopping an affair
It is a process of rediscovering the person you are committed to. It can be a time of sharing and feeling like you are both on the same side. Maybe for the first time. It is even possible to get to the point where you are glad the affair happened, because of the changes it brought about in your relationship. Understandably, the closer you are to the beginning of things, the harder that is to see.