Esther Perel’s brilliant TED talk about infidelity challenges our preconceived ideas on the subject and allow us to better understand what are some of the root causes of infidelity. She confirms that while an affair can be the end of a relationship, it does not have to be. On the contrary, if a couple is committed to their relationship, an affair can be the catalyst to a new way of relating. When the person who betrayed the trust shows genuine remorse and is wiling to do all that must be done to help heal the rupture in trust, IN TIME, an affair can take the relationship to a deeper level of commitment and individuation.
We live in an age where potential romantic and sexual encounters are constantly tempting us. In many instances, their availability is literally a few clicks or swipes away. In order not to…
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… fall “victim” of the countless alluring temptations awaiting us out there, it behooves us to be honest with ourselves, and our partner. For our primary intimate relationship to remain vibrant and strong, we must muster the courage to talk about our desires and fantasies, what we want and need, what works and doesn’t work, and what is not negotiable. And as we’ve seen in Esther’s talk, all of these conversations do not necessarily gravitate around sex. They often don’t. If we are truly invested in keeping our primary relationship solid and exciting, we must have an open line of communication with our partner. If we hold back from being lovingly honest, if our couple dynamic doesn’t allow for caring transparency with each other, we set ourselves up to eventually act-out our fantasies, desires and needs outside of our relationship.
By pretending that our challenges with our partner are “no big deal” or “not worth bringing up because they will upset our partner”, we feed the ghosts of what can’t be said and shared, namely our lies and omissions. Our acting-outs become the expressions of our disowned shadow(s) and of our avoided difficult conversation. The safest medicine to prevent the deeply harmful effects of betraying our partner and our relationship is to be crystal clear about what are our mutual agreements, as we honor them in the process. I grant you, for many couples, this is easier said than done. Couples who have created a culture which doesn’t allow for divergent point of views, needs and desires are at greater risks of finding themselves in the throws of hurtful awakenings.
When a couple learns to bring up difficult conversations in the spirit of finding win-win solutions, it reinforces its commitment to remain vibrant and honest in the foxhole together. This can only be done when partners steer clear of shaming and blaming each other; also, this vibrancy comes when they respect individual boundaries, needs and differences. In matters of the heart and emotional attachment, feeling secure is a must. In order to honestly share the complexity of whom we are and of what moves us inside, it is important that couples honor the inherent vulnerability of such conversations. Creating a non-judgmental atmosphere where safety and trust prevails allows for these very intimate conversations to transform into sacred gift partners give themselves, and the relationship.
When a couple remains open and curious–instead of judgmental– as to what their partner’s fantasies, desires, wants and needs represent, and what fuels them, the curiosity unfolds to a new, complex and mysterious world of intimacy. The partner we thought we knew so well becomes–as s/he once was when we began dating him/her–an intrigue and a mystery. As we remain curious of whom “The Other” truly is, instead of pretending to know all there is to know about him/her, we cultivate the tension between knowing, and not knowing each other. This is the field where Eros lives!
Affairs create profound wounds. It is truly important to understand that being betrayed by a partner who cheated on us can throw us into PTSD mode. For most of us, affairs are profoundly traumatic. It is true, many affairs will lead to the end of the relationship. Maybe the relationship was truly abusive and the affair is a way to damage it beyond repair? Maybe the person who cheated is incapable of genuine remorse and is unwilling to take responsibility to help heal the broken trust? Maybe the person who was cheated on was truly abusive, or avoidant for years prior to the affair, and the perpetrator of the affair acted-out his/her anger towards his/her partner? None of these potential scenarios are an excuse to having an affair. They are just a few of the countless ways couples find themselves in the throws of such a painful experience.
However, many affairs can be –if handled with care and understanding, and given enough time to heal– the catalyst which will transform a less effective way of mating into a more vibrant and authentic form of being in an intimate and committed relationship.
If you are a couple who is suffering from the aftermath of an affair and are ill-equipped to heal and redefine the next chapter of your relationship, please give yourself the gift of working with a trained professional. None of us would try to heal a broken bone on our own. We all know that avoiding proper care would be plain stupid and would have devastating consequences. Like a broken bone that heals properly becomes stronger, so can a relationship devastated by an affair, when the will to do so is present, and proper care is provided. As Esther Perel ends her TED Talk: “Today, in the West, most of us will have two or three relationships or marriages, and some of us will have them with the same person. If you suffer from betrayal, your first marriage –or relationship– is over. Would you like to create a second one with the same person?“
C. Nathan Bergeron, LMFT, L.Ac. ©