Research estimates that about 25 percent of committed monogamous relationships face infidelity at some point in the relationship. After infidelity, many women make misguided assumptions about themselves, the relationship, and their partner based on myths that permeate our culture. The first part of this two-part series focused on the myth that the relationship is over and myths that the infidelity happened because the unfaithful partner fell out of love or attraction or because of their narcissism. This second part of this series will uncover myths #5 through #7 of the most common myths believed by cheating partners.
Myth #5: “If only I had been less needy…they wouldn’t have cheated”
Women who have discovered their partner’s betrayal often tearfully exclaim, “I expressed my insecurity and pushed her away!” It’s important to distinguish between expressing one’s needs and “needing.” All people have needs, and communicating one’s needs and wants is a cornerstone of any good relationship. Since most people don’t enter a relationship with the ability to ask for what they need in a way that resonates with their partner, another cornerstone is how to set expectations and boundaries. If the cheating partner/spouse has been feeling overwhelmed or distressed by their wife or girlfriend’s language or their anxious attachment style, it is their responsibility to set clear expectations about how they can or cannot support them.
As my colleague Esther Perel said of recent expectations of marriage in The State of Affairs, “So we come to a person, and we’re basically asking them to give us what used to be a whole village provided.” The weight and the responsibility of helping someone you love through negative emotions can be overwhelming. It can create negative relationship cycles, reducing both emotional and physical attraction between partners over time. In post-infidelity couples therapy, I encourage each partner in a couple to thoroughly examine their needs, relearn how to express those needs to their partner, and learn to accept that their partner may not be able to everything to keep their needs. In cheating wives coaching groups, clients are encouraged to support each other as they review what they were looking for from their partner, why they may have grown up expecting certain psychological support, how they communicated those needs, and if their partner ready for what you need.
Myth #6: “I should have known”
Cheating partners often fall for the “I should have known” idea. They beat themselves up because they don’t know their partner is having an emotional or physical affair. In the Buddhist tradition, this type of emotional self-flagellation is called the second arrow of suffering, and it amplifies the pain itself. In most cases, the revelation of infidelity comes out of the blue. In others, betrayed women had an intuition or gut feeling about the infidelity, but their partner lied and gassed them with such skill that they ignored that intuition or gut feeling.
Years of clinical experience have shown me that after the infidelity is discovered, most injured partners experience a loss of trust in themselves in addition to a loss of trust in their partner. They stop trusting their perception, their gut feeling, and their ability to judge people’s character. Part of the healing process is rebuilding and regaining trust in one’s authentic self and fighting back against the harsh inner critic — the inner voice that whispers insidiously, “I should have known.”
Myth #7: “I’ll never find another partner again”
Almost all of my clients who identify as women who are facing the possible end of their marriage or relationship after infidelity fear that they will never find another partner. This catastrophic thinking can prevent someone from ending their monogamous arrangement even when they know it is the best choice for them. According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 54 percent of divorced women remarry within five years and 75 percent of divorced women within 10 years.
When a woman’s relationship ends, individual or group coaching supports her growth as she gains a deeper understanding and healing of the family of origin wounds that both she and her partner brought into the relationship. She can learn skills to calm her intrusive thoughts, mourn the loss of the relationship, develop more communication skills to articulate her own wants and needs, expand the village of people she can count on for those needs, and regain the confidence in yourself to make strong, reasoned decisions about future relationships—and ultimately build a stronger, more fulfilling relationship. It takes a village to raise a child, and it certainly takes a village to help a woman recover from her partner’s betrayal.
The goal of sex therapists when working with cheating partners, whether in individual therapy, couples therapy, or in a women’s group, is to create a safe space to grieve the loss of it, to dispel cultural myths surrounding infidelity, and to explore the deeper meaning about it the failure of the relationship. Through this work, they can emerge with a deeper knowledge of what kind of life they want for themselves, whether they are building a stronger, wiser second iteration of the relationship with the partner who betrayed their monogamous agreement, or whether they are choosing to move forward with a new life as a stronger, supported single woman.