When an affair happens in a marriage, many people assume that is the end. Research indicates that as many as 50% of married women and 60% of married men cheat on their spouse. These numbers imply that having an affair is more common than not. Affairs happen for a variety of reasons, but most counselors would agree they are the symptom of an underlying problem within a relationship, rather than the problem itself. If a couple can work on the root issues, an affair doesn’t necessarily have to mean the end to the relationship.
This type of cheating involves sexting, phone affairs, private messaging, exchanging of pictures via social media, and continues to take time away from your marriage to communicate either sexually or emotionally with someone across a social media platform; Facebook, Instant Messenger apps, Video chat, texting, or other social media forums.
This is the type of cheating where a person may be exchanging flirtatious, suggestive, or personal information with another person that they might not otherwise be exchanging if their spouse were witnessing it. This type of cheating can begin innocent with a “friendship” and then start to become more intimate or personal.
This is the type of cheating where a person has crossed a physical boundary with another person in the way of an exchange that is sexual or suggestive in nature without the consent of their spouse.
This cheating is the type of cheating that a person engages in to excess or to a frequency that makes their spouse uncomfortable, has to be hidden, or detracts from the emotional or intimate connection with their partner.
This answer is no. If you are in a marriage or relationship and things are not working, cheating is never a solution. The act of cheating now adds infidelity, and lack of trust, to the already fractured marriage/relationship, and creates a new set of issues for the couple to face. Then how can an affair or cheating actually help save a marriage? When we view extramarital affairs or cheating as a symptom, rather than a problem, then we can understand that the cheating is not the cause of relationship issue. With that in mind, after a couple has unveiled an affair, and made the decision to keep their relationship or marriage together, they can make a decision to focus less on the act of cheating and more on why it happened in the first place.
All affairs usually happen as a result of an underlying problem within a relationship. Relationships that are thriving, happy, and mutually satisfying do not often allow much extra room for an affair to creep in. Relationships that are fractured and suffering become vulnerable, even with issues that are not obviously apparent. When a person’s needs are not being met within a relationship, this leaves opportunities for that person to begin searching for that elsewhere.
As human beings, we all have certain biological needs that we strive to meet. There are basic needs for comfort, affection, validation, security, emotional intimacy, and physical touch. These needs are biologically driven and are present from birth. When we seek companionship, we seek to satisfy these needs and in the beginning of most relationships, those needs are met daily. As time moves on, couples often find that things start to change. Over time, with influence from varying external sources (job schedules, child demands, health issues, etc), or internal sources (low self-esteem, depression, etc.), the frequency and ability to meet the needs of the relationship might suffer. This can begin to lead way to resentment, anger, and loneliness within the relationship.
This is the time that most couples could maximize their strength as a team and face the issues together to find a solution. Unfortunately, what we end up seeing happen all too often is that in an effort to feel a connection or satisfy an unmet need, one person or the other will reach out to get it somewhere else. More often than not, a person is not actually even looking for an affair. They usually stumble upon it without even knowing what is happening. That is because their intention was not to cheat. As they are exposed to the source that is satisfying their basic biological unmet needs, they begin to feel happier again, connected to someone, and thus the cheating/affair begins…continues…and is very hard to stop.
So how can the act of cheating actually help a wounded marriage? If the cheating partner comes to a decision that they are willing to end the affair, that the marriage is their priority, then the marriage can potentially be saved. If the partner who has been cheated on finds out about the affair and decides they want to forgive and put their relationship back together, then the marriage can potentially be saved. The couple now has new information that they can use to do that. They can re-examine where things began to go wrong, what were the underlying issues that led way to the vulnerability, and is the marriage/relationship still strong enough to recover. These questions do not have simple answers and are unique to all couples. Some partners can never forgive, and some relationships are too broken to be saved.
Someone who cheats is not a bad person and to condemn that person for the life of the marriage or relationship would not be productive or helpful to either spouse. There is a certain amount of repentance that is to be expected and there are levels of trust, security and fidelity that will need to be earned back. Individual or couples counseling can work on improving communication skills and identifying the areas of the relationship that were suffering before the affair occurred. A couples counselor can help the couple grieve the loss of the old relationship and embrace the beginning of a new one.
Heather Oller is a licensed Orlando therapist at Orlando Thrive Therapy, Coaching & Counseling who specializes in counseling Orlando couples, individuals, and families who are seeking changes in their lives. She has been a mental health professional for over 17 years and is a practicing Orlando counselor that specializes in conflict resolution for couples. You can contact her for an appointment or call 407-592-8997 for more information.