Saving a marriage

Infidelity is growing more common in our community, and it can be a huge challenge for couples to try and work through. Around 25% of couples will experience infidelity, emotional or otherwise, at some point in their relationship.


It is a relatively common experience among couples, but there is a perception it is mostly men that cheat. In truth, a significant percentage of women are unfaithful, particularly today with social media.


While infidelity is an equal problem for men and women, the pathway to the unfaithfulness is usually dependent on gender. Male infidelity can often be quite physical from the beginning, but for women, an emotional intimacy can exist.


Interestingly, when there is infidelity, men will often ask their unfaithful wives: what did you do with that person? Whereas women will often ask their adulterous husbands: How did you feel about that person?


This general discrepancy illustrates that not only are the pathways into intimacy different, but the impact for the aggrieved party is also experienced differently.


Infidelity can occur for many different reasons. For some, it is a type of revenge for a perceived wrong. Sometimes sex addiction can be a driving factor, but for most, infidelity can develop without any clear intent.


A good rule of thumb to avoid slipping towards cheating on your partner is the following maxim: If I’m communicating something with anyone on any level that I feel that my partner would not be comfortable with me sharing, I’m probably crossing a line.                    


In understanding the various ways people can progress towards infidelity, it is clear that there is a spectrum of behaviour that can be defined as unfaithfulness in a relationship, and it isn’t as simple as drawing a line at physical intimacy.


We can be unfaithful when we put social media before our partner, and we spend more time online and updating our Facebook profiles than we do connecting with the person with whom we are in a relationship. This is not to say that all acts of betrayal are of equal weight. But recognising these violations when they occur and correcting them accordingly can help protect the relationship. 


In the cases of physical and emotional infidelity, it can be so traumatic that the path to forgiveness is far more complex. However, there are many things you can do to make amends. If you really want to save your marriage you must take care when discussing the situation with others. Most couples will talk to friends and family or work colleagues.


If you need the emotional support of family or friends, they can help you more if you make it clear you need them to back your marriage. An experienced couple’s therapist can contribute greatly to relationships moving forward to a healthy resolution. A good counsellor will help to cut through the issues without taking sides.


To get the most out of a counsellor you will need to communicate to them that your relationship Is important. The first thing to recognise is that when infidelity is discovered there is a massive imbalance between the two individuals in the relationship.


The person who has been unfaithful has known this was coming for a long time and is more mentally prepared for the uncomfortable and difficult conversations that will follow. But for the other person this is a bomb that’s gone off unexpectedly.


They are processing strong and conflicting feelings: anger, bitterness, sadness, grief, stupidity and insecurity. These are painful and intense emotions. For the partner who has committed the infidelity, it is crucial that they be patient, gentle and honest with their spouse. Infidelity can be so wounding that the other partner may not want to discuss it all.


For a marriage to recover, forgiveness is necessary, but that does not mean it should be something that’s given lightly. An apology is only sincere when it captures the gravity of what’s been done. Forgiveness is a process that takes time and in allowing that time and being patient with that process, there is hope that couples can work through it and have a marriage and a relationship they never thought possible.


This is an edited version of a Figuring out Families podcast with marriage counsellor Derek Boylen titled Infidelity. Another podcast of interest with Derek is titled Is it Over? They can be accessed at:


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