July 06 2016
I recently conducted an initial interview with a young woman whose ten year relationship had just ended. She had learned that her boyfriend had had sex with another woman and was devastated. We very quickly moved into talking loss and abandonment and fear of the unknown. We discussed the fact that he had been her only lover and that the thought of sex with another man was very frightening to her. We talked about grief and sadness.
Betrayal in a relationship is shattering. The person you counted on chooses to break the bond and experiment with sexual/emotional immersion elsewhere. In healthy relationships, we are dependent on our partners to love us, take care of us, be present in the good and bad moments. We count on the power of sex to cement the commitment and care. We learn to trust that we can count on our partner’s consistency. We all have moments of temptation but handle sexual fantasy with private grace and pleasure, not with intention of acting on it.
Once the rules are broken, anything goes. The couple may choose to seek counseling to examine the cause of the affair; they may choose to break up with finality; they may take a period of time away from each other in order to re-group and consider options; each partner may want some time to deal with the pain and upset of what has occurred; each my be ambivalent about contact versus separation.
The young woman i saw fell into the latter camp: she decided to take a month away with no contact, move into a new apartment, date a sprinkling of men, cry herself to sleep for a number of nights. I advised her to stay busy, distract herself as much as possible and lean on her family who were very supportive. I also suggested that she make no drastic decision: an affair is as often a catalyst for change in a relationship as a signal that a relationship has to end. Many couples find that an affair leads to a healthy assessment of the relationship and, once the issue of trust is dealt with (which takes a long time), there is a renewal. Usually, I instruct the partner who has strayed to “take his/her medicine,” i.e., allow the partner who was betrayed to freely express rage for a period of time. After this initial venting comes the work of facing the cracks in the relationship and repairing them
There is no right or wrong. Rupture can take people in a number of directions. Most important is to feel sad, sit tight for awhile, make wise decisions.