“I love my wife/husband; we are best friends and happy together, but I am having an affair.”
This is what renowned psychotherapist Esther Perel has heard over the years from the couples she has closely worked with.
It appears to me that infidelity isn’t only associated with bad relationships. As Perel has witnessed, happy relationships and marriages are also vulnerable to disloyalty.
Betrayal hurts badly, whether it happens in a happy relationship or an unhappy one. And though reasons differ, we can’t possibly delineate the real motives behind why people cheat; everyone is different. Add to that, modern technology has made cheating easier than ever before through swift communication and easy pursuit.
I’ve personally pondered this topic a multitude of times. I know people who have betrayed their partners and others who have been betrayed. I myself have suffered the consequences of infidelity when I was in a relationship with someone who betrayed me multiple times. That said, I know how tough it is to seek an answer, and sadly, the only answer that the betrayed one comes up with is that they’re the problem.
I lost count of the times I blamed myself whenever my former partner strayed. It eventually lowered my self-esteem and kept me away from relationships for three consecutive years.
Unfulfilled relationships and personal problems might lead people to betray their lovers. However, a new reason emerged when I recently watched a TED talk by Esther Perel, the therapist who has worked with multiple couples who have experienced the cost of infidelity.
While we think that infidelity might be the end-product of a bad relationship or a bad partner, Perel offers a theory that shatters all our preconceived notions.
What Perel explains is that affairs are neither about the betrayed one nor their relationship. Rather, it’s about the person who’s having them. She articulates it this way: “Sometimes when we seek the gaze of another, it’s not our partner we are turning away from, but the person we have become.”
For Perel, it is not a new lover that people seek in affairs, rather a new self. As she explains, “Affairs are a form of self-discovery, a quest for a new (or lost) identity. They involve growth, exploration, and transformation.”
What Perel also offers is an explanation to why people cheat in happy relationships. Oftentimes, a good partner and a happy home don’t live up to what we desire. Infidelity gives people the chance to redefine themselves and find the reality they subconsciously seek. Affairs are simply a haven to the identity that the new lover awakens.
Perel’s notion of infidelity has certainly untangled some mysteries of my previous experiences of betrayal. In addition, it has taught me a few valuable lessons about relationships and the essentials that might keep partners from straying.
Perel suggests bringing into our relationships the boldness and playfulness we would bring into our affairs. You see, relationships are susceptible to falling into a rut. Any object, person, or situation that we grow to know so well may become less interesting or monotonous with time. The “new” is always more exciting and more capable of transforming us.
As human beings, our purpose on Earth is to evolve, grow, and transform. That’s why affairs are sometimes the doors that lead us to an unexplored self. Nonetheless, if we are aware and willing, we can bring about our unexplored selves while in a relationship with our current partner.
How do we perceive our current relationship? Our perspective highly affects our actions and character. If we perceive our relationship as dull, our actions with our partner will automatically become dull and negatively shape the relationship.
I know it’s tough, but if we perceive our long-term partner as a new lover, playfulness and boldness will inevitably fall into place in the relationship.
You see, the notion of love has drastically changed over the centuries. In old times, finding a good spouse was “good enough.” Now, thanks to the fast pace of technology and the media, we’re learning more and seeing more which has resulted in wanting more. A good spouse is no longer enough. It is no surprise that love has become so conditional and challenging over the years.
Perel humorously puts it this way: “Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children and social status and succession and companionship. But now we want our partner to still give us all these things, but in addition, I want you to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot. And we live twice as long.”
When our demands magnify, love naturally declines. However, we don’t ask for much from new lovers, do we? Affairs are prone to be more adventurous, less demanding, and maybe it’s because we know they don’t last forever. So we enjoy them in the present moment and relish the glory of the new self that a new lover awakens within us.
But what would happen if we pretended our current partner was a new lover? If we relaxed and perceived our relationship as impermanent as a new affair, a new adventurous chapter might come into play.
Furthermore, if affairs bring about an unexplored self within us, it only means that we have lost an important part of ourselves in our current relationship. We might want to reflect on this fact and investigate the reasons why our identity has vanished.
You may want to discuss the things that trouble you with your partner, or give more attention to yourself and your personal growth. Instead of seeking an affair to discover new parts within ourselves, we can spend more time on our own without our partner so we can maintain our individuality and personal independence—without feeling the need to cheat.