Can infidelity ever be positive? Isnt cheating by its nature a poison to relationships, a betrayal that cuts to the core, and breaks up even the strongest marriages?
For some, that may be true. Affairs can be devastating and harmful to everyone involved. Sometimes they end relationships and cause upheaval to families and everyone around them.
And sometimes an affair can be a wakeup call for a couple. Coming to terms with the problems in a marriage prior to an affair can be difficult when the focus of the current crisis is infidelity. Yet when couples can move beyond this most recent injury and look deeper at the fundamental roots of their relationship, they may see that infidelity can be a paradigm shift in the relationship. Affairs can be a way to change the dynamic of a marriage, shaking it to its core. Couples may view their relationship from a new perspective. Each partner may become aware that they played a part in the current crisis.
Sometimes affairs can be a way to establish health and stability in relationships. When couples spend too much time apart, drifting on parallel tracks, wandering away from each other and living separate lives within a marriage, an affair can shock them back on track. They suddenly realize
Hey, wait a minute, what happened? How did we get this far apart? This is not what either of us intended.
And if the intention to be reconnected is still there, an affair is not necessarily a death sentence for the primary relationship. Other marriages grow so merged and codependent that individuals lose their identity and struggle to remember who they were before they lost themselves. An affair can be a way for both partners to reestablish their autonomy and become individuals. Perhaps there are other ways each spouse could find to assert their independence without having an affair, but cheating serves the purpose here. Once an affair has been disclosed and the partners choose to stay together, they can work on creating a new partnership that includes the parts of themselves that they found in the outside relationship. If they dont, then eventually they will stray again. But if they can do it, each partner will be happier and will be more satisfied with the marriage as well. Our earliest expected roles are learned in childhood, reflected in family values and personal morals. But sometimes partners will start to break away from the rules imposed in their own marriage. All partners have expectations about monogamy, but most dont talk about them directly. Talking about monogamy might include questions such as: Is it ok to have friends of the opposite sex, is it ok to send emails to colleagues outside of work, is it acceptable if we dance with other people, can we go out for dinner when we travel for work?
These questions are hard to bring up. Sometimes they are never discussed. But after an affair conversations are more direct, more negotiated and clearer. This can benefit the future of the marriage, and make the monogamy agreements more concrete, creating less confusion and frustrated expectations. Its easier to be faithful if you know what the rules are. An affair doesnt have to mean the end. More couples are choosing to stay together and are working on their marriage after infidelity. As partners age the impetus to trade in for someone new decreases. But making a marriage work takes effort and communication. An affair doesnt change that, but ironically, it can make it easier. After an affair partners feel that it is finally clear what there is to work on in the marriage. There is a well defined path and a common goal in the couple. Sharing a vision of a new future together can be a great motivator for a new marriage to each other. Dont let an affair get in the way of what you want for your future. If you need help from a licensed relationship counselor, find one in your area. An affair may be good for your marriage, if you can get beyond it, together. Dr Tammy Nelson is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of Getting the Sex You Want; Shed Your Inhibitions and Reach New Heights of Passion Together