Infidelity is a sensitive subject, and most couples find it difficult to talk about. There are many unspoken assumptions and implications when discussing cheating in a relationship that we often just expect our partners to already understand. In many marriages, infidelity is not really discussed until after it has already happened. Though the best time to discuss expectations for what constitutes faithfulness versus cheating is before there is a problem (and again periodically throughout a relationship), many couples operate as though they believe, “If we remain faithful, then we don’t have anything to talk about.”
Unfortunately, when couples don’t discuss cheating before it occurs, each person’s implicit expectations and assumptions often don’t line up, often leading to ambiguity and confusion when one partner believes the other has been unfaithful. What if “technically, nothing happened?” Is it really cheating if we both believe monogamy is unrealistic? Is there such thing as an “emotional affair,” and what would that look like? Many couples never discuss where “the line” is and how to avoid crossing it until after they think it’s already been crossed.
In couples therapy, I help couples tackle these questions by providing a framework in which they can make some sense of the topic of infidelity. Once we identify and define the different aspects of infidelity, we can begin to see our own insecurities more clearly so that we can effectively communicate our ideas and expectations to our partners. This helps to eliminate the ambiguity regarding what constitutes cheating (and what they don’t consider cheating) by making a taboo subject easier to talk about.
Identifying our individual hang-ups about infidelity can also help us better recognize when our current ideas are no longer sufficient. For example, when we set our expectations for what is or is not cheating and one partner does something that makes the other uncomfortable (though it may not technically be “cheating”), it becomes easier to communicate the problem and propose a solution if the framework is already in place. If a couple waits until they have experienced a cheating crisis to discuss infidelity, then the process is complicated by additional issues like questions of identity, trust, and loss. In these cases, the crisis must be handled separately before it would be helpful to clarify expectations.
If you are in a relationship and would like to better communicate your assumptions and expectations regarding remaining faithful to each other, call me today or make an appointment online! It’s never too early to begin working on your relationship.