OF ALL THE problems that present in the counselling rooms at Relationships Ireland the issue of infidelity/affairs is probably the most difficult. The intensity of the emotions felt by the betrayed person can be almost overwhelming for everyone in the room.
The betrayal may be of a short duration or could have lasted many years. Over the last 20 years I have had less than five clients present with their partner who revealed, voluntarily, that they have been unfaithful. Interestingly, those few clients were all women. I have never had a male client voluntarily admit to an affair. All the male clients have been ‘found out’. When asked: ‘If she hadn’t found out would you have revealed that you have been unfaithful?’ They all answer ‘No’!
An affair shatters unconditional trust
Most females will say that they cannot believe they are in the room wanting to save the relationship as they always said that if this happened to them they would leave. When asked: ‘why don’t you leave’? they answer, ‘because I still love him’. What has been destroyed is the unconditional trust that once existed between this couple. Some level of trust still exists, but that special, intimate loving trust they once enjoyed has been shattered.
The incidence of affairs and various types of infidelity is on the increase. Depending on which research you wish to believe betrayal of all kinds range from 40-70 per cent in committed relationships. Can we forgive and forget? That depends on the individual circumstances of the couple. In general the longer the betrayal the more difficult it is to forgive. We will never completely forget.
All relationships go through very tough and challenging times. We all get sexually frustrated. None of us get our needs met all the time. We are fooled into believing that Shangri-La exists in the arms of a new (sometimes illicit) relationship. This new person offers us undivided attention, lots of sex, and removes us from the mundane responsibilities of household duties and children. But, like the emperor’s new clothes, it is all an illusion.
Betrayal is complex – you can’t anticipate your reaction
So why does someone stay after being betrayed, ridiculed and humiliated? This is where a lot of people who have not experienced this problem will say ‘I would walk out straight away’. When we find ourselves in this position of being betrayed, and are faced with the complexity of the betrayal (it is always complex by the way), our decisions are not quite so cut-and-dried.
Many couples will have been together for many years and will have invested a lot financially and emotionally in the relationship. They will also be desperately worried about the effect breaking up would have on the children. So, not only do we need to look at the past we need to look at the present and the future.
At Relationships Ireland we will see a good number of couples who would have been together for many years when the infidelity comes to light. They may have grandchildren. If the betrayal has been ongoing for many years the other party may feel their marriage has been a waste and a lie. Premeditated and systematic betrayal and humiliation of one’s partner is obscene, and I use that word advisedly. If the other person didn’t know she/he was being betrayed, it doesn’t make it ok.
The older couple may stay together but agree to live separate lives under one roof – to save face. There may also be health and financial issues that prevent them breaking up and starting again. What is most distressing is that the betrayed person realises that their marriage has been a sham.
When a couple or even one party comes along to us they carry with them their personal and couple history. They will review their life that they believed, overall, was going well. The obscene part in all this is that this person when looking back at photographs or family videos is looking at a lie. When the betrayer is smiling and playing ‘happy families’, he/she is actually wishing they were somewhere else and with someone else. The betrayer has a secret life. He/she is a liar and usually a good one because premeditated and repeated infidelity and betrayal requires planning in a most ruthless, cold and calculating way.
We live in an increasingly disposable world
The definition of betrayal has expanded over the years. Nowadays with so many opportunities to ‘play away’, via the internet or in person, fidelity/monogamy is becoming something of a rarity. Hence the popularity of some commentators, be they psychiatrists, psychologists, politicians, philosophers or social scientists in re-examining whether to demand fidelity for 50+ years is achievable.
We may hold to the desire to find true and genuine love but can we expect that love to survive with all the challenges facing us now and in the future? We live in an increasingly disposable world. Like it or not we are changing in how we think of our relationships. Relationships are becoming ‘disposable’.
When a relationship ends our friends and family, with the best of intentions, encourage us to ‘move on’. In other words ‘get over it’ and get someone else. But if we have been betrayed in the most grievous way the path to forgiveness, and then trusting someone else can be a long and tortuous one.
Tony Moore is a counsellor for Relationships Ireland. Relationships Ireland provides affordable confidential counselling and support services that offer you the opportunity to understand and resolve difficulties in your relationship. For more information or to book a consultation you can contact 1890 380 380 or firstname.lastname@example.org.