Affairs in a marriage are all too common. Studies have found that up to 25% of men and 15% of women report having sex outside their marriage (Lauman, Gagnon, Michael, & Michaels, 1994). Infidelity in marriage is the most frequent reason that couples give for divorcing each other and marriages where an affair has taken place are twice as likely to end in divorce (Amato & Rogers, 1997; Atkins, Baucom, & Jacobson, 2001).
If you are reading this you might be in a marriage plagued with the disease of infidelity. If you come to couples therapy you will be among the 1/3 of couples who do so because of an affair (Whisman, Dixon, & Jonson, 1997).
Many professionals conceptualize and treat injured partners (the partner who has been cheated on) as trauma victims. An affair is a traumatic event and the way the injured partner reacts can be similar to someone who has gone through a war or terrifying event. They have many behaviors consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. They feel a loss of control and safety in their relationship. They might have feelings of anxiety, depression, anger, confusion, betrayal, hurt and shame.
With the advancement of technology, infidelity has adopted many forms that were not possible in our parent’s generation. Researchers have found that in the case of online infidelity close to 25% of these couples divorced and nearly 66% of the injured partners lost interest in sex with their partner (Schneider, 2002).
As a marriage therapist over the years, I have worked with couples who have experienced many types of infidelity. Interestingly enough, everyone’s reactions to infidelity differ based on their assumptions about their marriage and their individual capacity to deal with difficult emotions. What might be devastating to one injured partner, is not as damaging to another.
Several factors help in the recovery of infidelity. The more the participating partner (the one who participated in the affair) can be honest and open about what happened the better. Talking openly and freely about the infidelity will help the injured partner start to recover. However, speaking openly in this manner without remorse or guilt seems to do more harm than good. A nondefensive approach by the participating partner can open doors to the possibility of the injured partner healing and moving forward.
I have found that happy, successful couples share two common characteristics: humility and commitment. When working with a couple who has suffered from an affair, I assess these characteristics and help each of them build more of it. It sounds simple, but can be difficult.
Dr. Triston Morgan, LMFT
Amato, P. R., & Rogers, S. J. (1997). A longitudinal study of marital problems and subsequent divorce. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 59, 612-624.
Atkins, D.C., Baucom, D.H., & Jacobson, N.S. (2001). Understanding infidelity: Correlates in a national random sample. Journal of Family Psychology, 15, 735-749.
Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J.H., Michael, R. T., & Michaels, S. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Whisman, M. A., DIxon, A. E., & Johnson, B. (1997). Therapists’ perspectives of couple problems and treatment issues in couple therapy. Journal of Family Psychology, 11, 361-366.