While more than 90% of Americans believe that infidelity is wrong, 30-40% of them engage in it. This number could be construed as a conservative one, if you were to include dating apps, online chat, and porn as potential routes to infidelity. The common perception of infidelity is bleakley accusatory: the person who cheated does not love their partner; or that they are outright horny and wickedly unprincipled pricks. Nevertheless, with the simplicity and prevalence of divorces and breakups nowadays, one naturally wonders: why didn’t the cheaters end the relationship when they ‘stopped’ loving—or worse, never loved—their partner.
Given that infidelity has existed since the advent of marriage, and given that it’s a catastrophic destruction to lives built carefully and intimately, it’s worthwhile to dig a bit deeper to find potential roots for this devastating transgression. A root that is invariably overlooked, albeit one that exists in virtually all people, is one that could potentially lead to infidelity: people stray not because they want to connect with another person but to discover and connect with a lost part of themselves.
As Alain de Botton,and a sizable portion of psychologists, observed, every intimate relationship is comprised of two salient, yet often ignored, ingredients: the need for closeness (affection) and the need for distance (independence). On the one hand, a person may need a certain amount of coziness, care, warmth, devotion, and intimacy. On the other hand, that same person requires an adequate amount of independence, separateness, individualism, and autonomy. The tragedy, however, lies in the fact that different people have different needs for the two, closeness and distance.
A man could, for instance, have a high need for reassurance,for intimacy; he will invariably seeks physical and emotional closeness. He demands, sometimes in a seemingly nagging manner,cuddling, kisses, and holding hands. In the same token, he yearns for constant reassurance and intimacy. His partner, on the other hand, could also very well be a woman who requires and implicitly demands less closeness and more distance. She values and takes pride in her autonomy; her independence is a characteristic well entrenched in her psyche. She doesn’t like holding hands, cuddling, and showing constant affection. Her parents were cold with her—hence she has come to associate love with coldness and separateness.
An affair would always be lurking at the corner of many relationships where the needs for closeness and coldness are drastically and markedly different. Let’s take an example of young woman called Eva; she’s a 31 year old business woman. Since a very young age, she exhibited signs of strong independence. She doesn’t yearn for affection from her parents, and most importantly, nor from her new husband. Her husband, however, is the polar opposite: he’s touchingly affectionate and caring. He calls his recent wife a couple of times everyday to ask about her wellbeing, and to reassure himself that she still loves him. When she’s home, he incessantly asks for cuddles and kisses. Consequently, a critical conflict arises: Eva has high need for coldness (independence) and her husband has high needs for closeness (affection). Eva now feels she lost salient part of herself-- the sheer independence she takes pride in. Eva then, although happy in her relationship, had a casual one night stand affair with her coworker. She, although unaware of it, had the affair not seeking connect with her coworker, but precisely to connect with and reclaim a salient part of her identity: her independence and autonomy that she feels is dissolving in the relationship. Through the affair, Eva has come to see herself as someone who is capable of being completely autonomous, who can make decisions that are not completely contingent upon another person.
Similarly, yet for different reasons, her husband was (before he knew about his wife’s infidelity) tormented by the urge to have an affair. His wife’s refusal to reciprocate the preponderance of affection and care was construed as constant rejection. He no longer feels lovable. He could be accused of not loving his partner enough for searching for an affair, when it is ironically and precisely because he loved her too much that resulted in his search for infidelity, which stemmed from the reason of wanting to escape not his partner-- but the unlovable person they have become.
Of course, not condemning the act of infidelity is not the same as condoning it. And this is one reason out of many reasons that could lead to infidelity, many of which are unjustifiable. The article attempts to advance the notion that infidelity is not only the result of misplaced horniness, or sheer betrayal and selfishness, but a result of a vulnerable psychological wound. The cheater is longing for connection with a lost part of themselves. This should raise awareness around the critical importance of conversations. Partners should, on a constant basis, express their frustration around their unmet needs; they should invariably relate their needs for affection and distance, and have reasonable expectations from their partners. To avoid this catastrophic transgression, compassion and conversation are vital to the survival of any intimate relationship. Self exploration will then occur within the relationship, as opposed to outside of it, and hence the relationship will thrive and be maintained.