Dear Neil: Please discuss the issue of infidelity within a committed relationship. Why do people do it, why is it often more men that do it than women, and can a pattern of repeat infidelity be broken?
Curious in Wellington, New Zealand
Dear Curious: Researchers don’t have reliable statistics on how many women are unfaithful, but it is a good guess that there are just as many unfaithful women as there are men. One new book that explores that very subject is Undressing Infidelity: Why More Wives Are Unfaithful (Adams Media) by Diane Shader Smith.
Of course, some people don’t believe in monogamy and marital fidelity, and require a steady change of sexual partners. But that’s not most people. Most people in a committed long-term relationship watch their love and attachment grow deeper, albeit far less exciting than the initial infatuation they once had with each other.
Most people who are unfaithful in a committed relationship are—knowingly or not—attempting to create distance in their relationship. It may be because they find the intimacy and closeness too uncomfortable and constricting. It could be because they don’t know how to be in a trusting, loving relationship, or it might be because they have poor intimacy skills and don’t know how to resolve differences, or negotiate and compromise effectively. An affair is one way of keeping yourself from feeling too close, controlled, smothered or overwhelmed by the other person.
There are other reasons for infidelity—boredom, curiosity, anger, a longing for greater romance and passion, a craving for more excitement and adventure, no longer viewing your mate as attractive, an outlet for self-sabotaging or self-defeating behavior, a way of attempting to correct a power imbalance, an ego boost, the desire to be desired by new people—to name a few. But other than violence, infidelity is widely acknowledged as the single most destructive way of communicating to another person that you’re unhappy—or that you want some changes made in your relationship.
If you are wishing to break a pattern of repeated infidelity, look carefully at how your relationship has grown distant. Be sure to include all aspects of the relationship, such as communication, free time, finances, sex, children, family, personal habits, fun, play, affection, romance, conflicts and differences, and any other issues important to you.
Then address with each other your thoughts, feelings and desires on the above subjects, and explore what must occur for the relationship to be at the intimacy level that both of you desire. How would each of you like your relationship with each other to be different? What’s preventing the two of you from taking action to improve the relationship?
You may need to build up the romance, the intimacy, the quality time in your relationship, or the two of you may need to relearn how to play together and have fun with each other again. One of you may need to lose a few pounds, or tone up, and the other person may need to be more communicative, kinder and accommodating.
To change infidelity requires more than just stopping extracurricular sex. It means living by a different code of honesty, communication, heart, connection, commitment to stay together and desire to make your relationship the best it can be.