As a couples therapist and relationship specialist, I spend a fair amount of time talking about infidelity with people. When does it happen? Why does it happen? How often does it happen? Will it happen to me?
The research is a bit confusing on the subject…we know that between 20 and 70% of married couples admit to having affairs. This ranges from sexual involvement with someone other than their spouse to romantic flirting (nonsexual) with someone other than their spouse. And…this is all by self-report so you can see how the data is rather murky.
I looked up the word “infidelity” in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary today and read this: “a breach of trust or disloyal act”. The root of the word is ‘infidel’ which means, among other things: “manifesting unbelief”. Manifesting unbelief.
One of the things that I love about my work is spending time rooting around our belief systems — about ourselves, our family, our culture and our world. Our beliefs have an ENORMOUS influence on everything that we do. So the idea of “manifesting unbelief” caught my attention as it relates to our relationships.
If I am going to be in a healthy and honest relationship with another, I must first be in a healthy and honest relationship with myself. But, what if I am “manifesting unbelief” with myself? What if I don’t believe in myself…if I am looking for someone else to believe in me because I don’t have that belief myself? What if it feels too hard to be with my own challenging parts so I am unfaithful to my own heart and stray into another relationship that offers me a new distraction?
In my experience, it takes just two elements for an individual to engage in an affair: 1) lack of emotional connection to their spouse/partner and 2) the opportunity to connect with another. Most of us, can look over the course of our relationship and see vividly when those two elements have been present…and for most, these two elements are often present.
In this period of disconnection with our partner, we can see how we begin to manifest unbelief…unbelief in our relationship succeeding or getting past this particular tough patch…unbelief in our own capacity to navigate this intense period in our partnership. It is hard to believe that we can do something to manifest change if we’ve never done it before. It is hard to believe that we can create something new, healthy, and different when what is in front of us in the moment is raw and painful.
All of us, at one time or another, don’t believe in ourselves (and hence our relationships) — whether we choose to have an affair or not. We manifest unbelief which can quickly become a gaping sore in our marriage. When that unbelief begins, it is vital that we first recognize it and second, begin to talk about it with our partners. Not always an easy task but an incredible invitation to returning to being faithful to your own heart, your own feelings, and manifesting belief in your own life.