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Some researchers have estimated that approximately 2.3% of married women and 4.3% of married men cheat, while other studies suggest that as many as 25% of men and 11% of women will, at some point in their lives, end up in bed with someone other than their partner. I suspect the numbers are even higher.
Recent research strongly suggests that, despite cultural and religious assumptions and demands, humans are not actually wired for monogamy. That being said, infidelity is the number-one reason couples come to me for counseling. They are desperate to stay together and sincerely want to work through the pain and betrayal, which can hurt almost as much as the pain we experience when someone we know has died. That’s because, in many ways, the marriage has died, but that doesn’t mean a new one can’t be born.
In fact, when a relationship does survive an affair and the couple makes it to the healing on the other side, their connection typically becomes better than ever. But that doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work and many difficult conversations along the way.
Here are four essential things that must be in place for a marriage to survive cheating and come out of the experience stronger than ever.
People cheat for many reasons. Some of my clients have told me they cheated because they were too afraid or ashamed to talk to their partner about their sexual preferences or fantasies. They may have cautiously suggested a sexual practice that was met with disbelief, disgust, or accusations of perversion, and vowed never again to raise the subject.
However, suppression of a fantasy or desire, as the majority of therapists will acknowledge, does not rid a person of the desire. In most cases, it simply shoves it into the unconscious, where it will eventually come out in inopportune, inappropriate, and destructive ways.
Some men, rather than bringing up such a subject, feel so much shame that they automatically assume their wife will freak out. They then project their own shame upon their partner, often unjustly. Even if the wife initially isn’t open to such experimentation, the man’s desire for it isn’t likely to go away, and he may seek out a different avenue with which to vent it. Similarly, a husband’s unwillingness to be more romantic doesn’t mean his wife’s desire for it will go away, either.
These couples need to learn how to have honest, open, and extended conversations about such things, to see each other’s different points of views, to give each other the chance to feel empathy and compassion toward each other, and, perhaps, to be willing to experiment.