“8 ways to keep a man”, “How to keep a marriage” – trainings and seminars on similar topics are often based on the idea of control in relationships. Many believe that it is within our power to control the “quality of the relationship” and that it depends primarily on us whether the partner will cheat. In my opinion, this belief is based on three myths. More precisely, these are not entirely myths, sometimes they turn out to be true, but they become a problem when we consider each betrayal through their prism. Human experience is much more diverse than our perceptions of it.
Myth # 1: “Cheating happens because of relationship problems”
And really, can there be a place for betrayal in a happy marriage? And doesn’t the fact of infidelity automatically mean a failed marriage? Sometimes not. Often, the wrong partner is not going to destroy the relationship, moreover, they are dear to him. In our culture, it is very difficult to accept the idea that cheating happens in marriages that do not have major problems. Actually, there is no relationship without problems. Take a closer look at the union, which seemed strong yesterday, but today cracked, and there will certainly be some explanation.
Cheated because she is older than him. Or he earns little. Or they have different social status. Probably, she (he) needed to suppress emotions less. The list is endless. The partner begins to plunge into the abyss of guilt, even if until that moment he did not consider these circumstances a problem. And soon he is already asking questions: what was it all these years? Is it just an illusion? And there was no happy marriage?
The modern concept of relationships suggests that we must find everything in one person: emotions, reliability, and sexuality.
And although cheating is what a person seems to do in relation to his partner, in fact, this act is not always about a partner. Sometimes this is a way out of a very deep personal conflict. Since childhood, each of us has a dilemma every now and then – choose the safety of a mother’s embrace or a risky exploration of the world.
The ancient Greeks saw this splitting of needs in the images of Apollo (as a rational part) and Dionysus (sensual). The Belgian sexologist and psychotherapist Esther Perel, in her book The State of Affair: Rethinking Infidelity, addresses this dilemma in the context of partnerships. We can simultaneously strive for both novelty and stability. We value reliable relationships, the rear, which does not prevent us from striving to learn something new.
Our inner Apollo – a rational, judicious beginning – requires constancy, and our inner Dionysus – the acuteness and variety of experiences, sensuality. The modern concept of relationships assumes that in one person we are obliged to find everything – emotions, and reliability, and sexuality, and intimacy – if only because we, more than ever, are free to start novels and complete them. But this is, of course, an illusion.
Different parts of our “I” cannot be simultaneously satisfied in marriage – at least not automatically. It hurts to realize, but this is the reality of life. Some people try to solve this dilemma in a polygamous relationship, but there are many pitfalls to such a compromise. And by the way, keep in mind: “I’m polygamous, but my wife doesn’t know” – this is not an open marriage. As soon as it becomes known about infidelity, a personal conflict instantly turns into an interpersonal one, and then the question “what is wrong between us” comes to the fore. Although until the moment the accidental SMS or someone else’s thing was found in the spouse’s car, this was an internal conflict of one person, in fact, very indirectly related to the partner.
From this myth follows the second, which can become destructive for the one who was cheated on.
Myth number 2: “The partner is being cheated because something is missing in him”
Remember the anecdote about a man who lost his keys in the forest, but was looking for them under the light of a lantern on the street, because it is brighter there? This is often done by a person who has learned about a partner’s infidelity. First of all, he begins to delve into himself: “I spent little time”, “I got older”, “I do not satisfy him (her) in bed.”
The bitter truth is that a person sometimes enters into a relationship on the side, unconsciously rebelling against what he values most in his partner. Imagine a woman who has a wonderful husband, two children, this friendly family has gone through a lot of good and difficult things together. This woman greatly appreciates the care and attention of her partner. And at the same time, this helpfulness and well-organized structure suppresses it. A woman falls in love with some gouging locksmith who does not have a permanent job and the wind walks in his head.
Each of our friends, lovers reflects something special in us. Sometimes something that we did not know about
She, of course, feels great guilt, but at the same time an incredible uplift: this novel helped her again feel that she is alive! She discovered something new in herself, she never thought that she was capable of it. But at the same time, she really really appreciates what is in marriage. He is incredibly important to her. It’s just that some part of her “I” could not prove itself in this stable relationship.
Each of our friends, lovers reflects something special in us. Sometimes something that we did not even suspect. It is difficult to come to terms with the idea that some other, outsider discovered in a partner what you yourself could not open. This is a painful experience, especially for men who suddenly realize: “I thought she didn’t want sex, but it turned out that she didn’t want sex with me.”
And it happens that a person “goes to the side” not because he cannot find a home, but because he does not want to find a home. For example, a man does not want certain emotions in the family because of the fear that they (emotions) will destroy this couple – a couple that he values so much. You can love to stay in hotels and not want to live there at all. You can cherish a partner in whom everything is fine, but at the same time have a different relationship.
Myth number 3: “Male and female infidelities are different in essence”
Men do it easily and for the sake of drive, and women only when they feel an emotional connection, the social stereotype tells us. In fact, both men and women have emotional and sexual needs.
But society, as we know, looks rather condescendingly at how a man satisfies both of them – having a reliable rear in the form of a family and sexual adventures on the side. But a woman is required to sacrifice her sexual interests for the sake of her family.
In fact, the role of a caring mother, which a woman most often chooses, turns out to be a real anti-aphrodisiac in partnership, but one way or another, when choosing between emotional adventure and reliability, a woman makes a choice not in favor of Dionysus. Taking responsibility for others prevents her from focusing on her desires. Endless responsibilities and schedules are not the habitat of Eros. This is neither good nor bad, it just is, is it good or bad that fish cannot live on land?
Reconciling eroticism with home security and comfort is not a problem to be solved, it is a paradox to be dealt with somehow. And how exactly – in the form of refusal or limitation of one’s desires, polygamous relationships, open marriage – it is up to everyone to decide for himself. And no one can decide it for another.
About the expert
Julia Lapina – clinical psychologist, author of The Body, Food, Sex and Anxiety. What worries a modern woman ”(Alpina non-fiction, 2018).