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Sexual Betrayal Within a Relationship And Marital Affairs and Infidelity

Many relationships and marriages are put into crisis by one or both partners embarking on an affair  or sexual encounter at one time or another. The betrayal occurs because there is in place prior to the betrayal either an explicit or implicit agreement or pact of monogamy and dedication to the partner at an emotional, spiritual, mental and physical level.

A couple may not be married or have undergone some formal ceremony or ritual of connection. It may be purely a couple who have started going out and have made an agreement to each other that they are not interested in seeing other persons.

Often each wants to make a mutually binding commitment to each other with boundaries and expectations that preclude any third party involvement. An affair may be defined as a sexual involvement outside a committed relationship in whatever form that the couple has intended.

The key to affairs are the betrayal of that commitment and the usual act of secrecy in doing so. Betrayal need not be physical as it may be a relationship carried out on the internet, over the phone, via letters, or even as a fantasy in one’s head, but this last category usually only becomes a problem where an obsession with the fantasised person starts to affect the holder of the obsession.

Given this wider definition of what constitutes an affair or sexual betrayal, this wide scope is thought to capture up to 50 to 60% of couples throughout the duration of whatever form of committed relationship they pursue.  An affair or sexual betrayal does not have to mean the end of that committed relationship as there are some key differences in what typically drives some people to commit a number of forms of sexual betrayal against their partners.

There are some individual issues that come into play with affair and sexual acting out dynamics. For instance a sex addict may use pornography, prostitutes, or seek multiple sex partners over time outside the marriage.

Any of these actions constitutes a sexual betrayal at one or more levels but the behaviour is not typically undertaken against or because of the partner, but is an illness that takes the individual to conduct themselves in unhealthy way against themself and their partner and family.

One key difference in men and women relates to the basis for seeking solace outside a committed relationship. Men who have a brain system which typically operates in the left pre-frontal cortex, have more fixed and localised brain areas which process information.

Men are also very stimulated from visual images due to the way their Visual Cortex and Motoric Cortex parts of the brain works. It is said that many men will act on visual stimulus and ego and not act from embodied feelings when it comes to sexual impulses.

Women have a brain system which typically operates across both right and left pre-frontal cortex, have more flexible and emotional brain areas which contribute to the processing of information.

Couple this with a thick Corpus Callosum which acts as an effective information channel or switch between the rational-logical left frontal brain and the right brain equivalent. This combination in women will often process two problems in parallel, and restrain in reacting to impulses with the emotional and intuitive right brain system.

Women are more likely to act out an affair from emotional dissatisfaction and disappointment in their relationships. There are also differing cultural mores around sexual betrayal, affairs, and the use of mistresses and prostitutes.

Cultural and personal attitudes, beliefs, and values are also significant influences in promoting the option of having an affair, especially for men. Affairs can usefully be broken down into types that reflect the underlying issues in the relationship, and also say something about the way the partners interact.

The commonly identified types of affairs include:

  • Opportunistic or Boundary Violation affairs are essentially where an existing friendship or non-intimate friendship starts to lose its boundaries over time and the 2 persons start to relate more intimately over time. For example a work colleague may be a water cooler chat friend only to begin with.

Then the slide starts as they start to discuss their problems and more intimate issues in life and relationships, then there may be a touch of concern, a hug, then going outside the office for lunch, then weekend coffee catchups without partners present, then a kiss, then sexual relations.

There may not have been a pre-meditated thought to have an affair or act out when the first few steps occurred but there exist boundary issues in one or both persons, and there will usually be home-partner communication, intimacy and dissatisfaction issues present which are not being dealt with. There may be unresolved resentments and problems in one or both marriages, or the couple don't know how to deal with difficulties constructively.

At some stage normally one of the parties who end up in bed wake up to their predicament and feels guilt and bewilderment. They know the affair is wrong and feel genuine remorse and puzzlement at how they let themselves get to this place.

The affair stops, usually there is disclosure and help is sought.

  • Substitution or Cry-for-help affairs are essentially those where the original relationship is dysfunctional in terms of intimacy, communication, conflict and the settling of conflict between the couple. In this scenario the level of betrayal may start with a phone chat buddy, internet chat-room person, or office colleague, where one seeks a meaningful person to talk to.

There is a conscious switching of intimate discussion away from the relationship partner and towards the external 3rd party. These dynamics may lead to either a full-blown sexual affair, or effectively a triangle and splitting of the acting out person.

In this non-sexual form, the relationship partner gets the “head” of the betrayer(logical, rational, practical self), and either the sexuality of their partner or this may be shutdown to everyone. The outside 3rd party is the substitution and gets the heart of the betrayer, and possibly over time the sexuality as well if this dynamic drags on uninterrupted.

Typically the couple in relationship are passive-aggressive towards each other, and eventually the betrayer will disclose the betrayal to punish the other person or to bring the relationship crisis to a head and be taken seriously.

These types of scenarios can develop early in the marriage as the Honeymoon phase ends and disillusionment sets in due to the intimacy, communication and conflict issues that emerge. The betrayer often discloses to their partner due to their guilt and shame.

They typically admit it was wrong. Some passive-aggressive  partners may upon the disclosure just seek to minimize the impact and significance of the affair to the marriage and never discuss it again. This is due to their conflict avoidance issues they have not dealt with.

  • Revenge or Retaliatory affairs are essentially those where there has been a major conflict, a non-sexual betrayal or a sexual betrayal by the other partner, leading to a normally impulsive, short-lived affair or sexual acting out which is motivated by revenge. The affair is an attempt to regain power, punish the other person, and is driven by anger and not self-gratification.

The idea that this act will “settle the score” does not work, and often leads to much guilt and regret on the person undertaking this action. As disclosure is normally part of this revenge, the affair becomes known and normally deepens and complicates the already divisive state of the original relationship.

This action often leads to separation of couples. The original relationship is normally already dysfunctional in terms of intimacy, communication, conflict and the settling of conflict between the couple. The better way forward is to get professional help, and try to enact some compassion and forgiveness on the original transgressing party, instead of acting out revenge.

An act of forgiveness will mean that you can expect the same forgiveness when in future your own human failings show up in the relationship.

  • Sexual addiction/Acting out affairs are not true affairs in the general sense.  A sex addict may use pornography, prostitutes, or seek multiple sex partners over time outside the marriage.

Any of these actions constitutes a sexual betrayal at one or more levels but the behaviour is not typically undertaken against or because of the partner, but is an illness that takes the individual to conduct themselves in unhealthy way against themself and their partner and family.

Addictions of any sort are about filling an inner emptiness and the process followed is a means to an end. Like many addictions there is an impulsive, thoughtless, reckless quality about this activity.

Sex addicts may have a trauma, abuse or Oral Attachment Deficiency history, and often will have a partner who is in denial or who turns a blind eye in order to preserve the relationship.

  • Self-Medicating affairs are essentially those where the original relationship has gone “stale” and the couple are trapped by duty or cultural values, religious beliefs, or the opinions of views of family, church, peers, work, or the public if the couple include a “public figure”.

The relationship eros has evaporated and the couple now function as “brother and sister”, or “sister and sister”, or “brother and brother”, and they feel trapped, in limbo, listless, and without any hope that things are going to get better in the future.

There may not be any “issue” apart from a lack of a sex life amongst the couple, and no real conflict to pin blame on when one partner just started another sexual relationship whilst continuing the relationship. The pattern of dysfunctional  behaviour in terms of intimacy, communication, conflict and the settling of conflict between the couple has been normalised or instead an absence of engagement replaces meaningful contact.

The issues between the couple are entrenched to the point of them giving up trying to resolve them. In this scenario the affair can be long standing and ongoing and is withheld from a passive aggressive stance towards the other person.

The affair is often about missing love and a want of a deeper connection. The appearance of a good relationship such as a marriage ticks the boxes of family and societal stereotypes but it may hide a lack of serious emotional bonding.

There may be no resolution to this type of affair as neither can shift from their resigned place in the relationship, unless professional help causes them to face buried issues and binding loyalties. The revelation of the affair will devastate the relationship which is often built around satisfying others and the stereotypes of what constitutes a “perfect couple”.

  • Narcissistic affairs are essentially those where there is an unhealed Narcissist in the relationship. These types of personalities typically seek out a “trophy” partner who fulfils part of their projected idealised image of who they want the world to believe they are.

The beautiful partner is put into a “Madonna-Whore” dynamic where in public they are the wholesome Madonna who serves to reinforce the Narcissists public image. At home they initially are then placed into the “whore” role where the aggressive and dark sexual identity is revealed and the partner is expected to follow suit.

If the couple become committed and married then the eros will quickly fade and the Narcissist will instead become disinterested, critical, mean, paranoid, punishing in private, and still portray this person as the “Madonna” in public. The dissatisfaction of the Narcissist  means they will tend to then look for a “Whore” outside the relationship where they will use prostitutes, casual affairs, and act out their sexual power and conquest with a self belief of they are entitled to have this behaviour.

The relegated and often traumatised partner may themselves then eventually embark on an “Intimacy Avoidance“ type of affair to experience the lover as providing the love and understanding now missing from the often abusive relationship they suffer with a narcissist.

Narcissists resist therapy as they are in denial that they have ever done anything wrong, and use lying and the truth depending on whichever gives them the best outcome. When found out and confronted they typically blame their partner, and then promise to change but don’t.

Partners of Narcissists often end up suffering some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or breakdown from living with these personalities and a separation is often the best outcome for this type of dynamic.

  • Intimacy avoidance or Tripod affairs occur in relationships where there are great stresses, intense and ongoing criticism and conflict. There are real conflict and intimacy issues, and possibly a person in the relationship is unstable or has a Personality Disorder.

The other person who struggles with the intensity of the original relationship, commences an affair to spread the load of their pain by escaping into the arms of a third person. The affair is used to avoid intimacy, because the triangulated nature of the relationship allows partners who are afraid of the vulnerability and exposure implicit in being in a fully committed and emotionally available relationship, to split their heart and sexuality.

The original relationship may involve power and control issues, and so both persons are good at fighting, and both may have affairs for different reasons. One person often acts out their power and anger via a sexual conquest or affair to humiliate the other.

They are normally in denial of their feeling self, and live from the ego, and ignore the others affair when it occurs. The other person often experiences their lover as providing the love and understanding missing from the original relationship.

The affair will often be intense but acknowledge that the original relationship and its prior commitments are not being given up.

Instead in this place of solace which is denoted by intense sex, fantasy life, and a refuge from the stresses and demands of everyday life, the affair is allowed to continue as it often provides emotional connection and allows romantic fantasy to replace the real intimacy that the original couple are not able to generate with each other.

Both affair partners may be in committed relationships and the infidelity becomes a settled part of their life, yet they will not leave their original relationship. These types of affairs normally cease due to the primary relationship collapsing due to other abuse, violence or addiction issues, which often exist in the original relationship.

These types of affairs are often hard to work through without there being a strong commitment of both parties to the original relationship dealing with deeper underlying issues driving the relationship.

  • Sexual Exploration affairs  These are about the exploration of sexual curiosity and desire to experience sexual contact with other cultures, body types, sexes or ages. These are often casual one-off affairs to satisfy a particular fantasy image or curiosity that their otherwise stable original relationship partner cannot provide.

The couple may have a limited or routine sexual play and one partner may have already strayed into curiosity via pornography or have a fantasy they feel they cannot talk to their partner about. The 3rd party will be reduced to a sexual object in this type of acting out.

The perpetrator is acting out fantasies and fantasy images and is not seeking an emotional connection or other unmet needs. The original relationship may have sexual intimacy, communication, and honesty issues that need to be dealt with.

If the acting out behaviour is exposed the 'wronged' partner is likely to be both devastated, angry and self-blaming. Therapy is normally effective with these types of affairs.

  • Exit affairs may be driven from two different dynamics. The first type is where one partner has already emotionally left the relationship and does not know how to communicate this or end the relationship with dignity.

This partner sends a clear message to the other partner through the affair that their relationship is over. This behaviour is dramatic, immature and often driven by unresolved anger towards the other partner, but not always so. Often they had a parent who had affairs in their marriage.

The second type of Exit affair is from an insecure and co-dependent place where one partner has also emotionally left the relationship, but has a fear of being abandoned and instead abandons the other person first. They do this by developing a new relationship whilst still in the first one, and when the second one is secure enough, abandons the first relationship suddenly for the second, often with little warning.

This type of affair is sometimes described as the finding of a new partner while forgetting to leave the previous one. This proposition is usually a mask as there will be found clear intent and pre-meditation to control the original relationship outcome via the use of the affair.

The often confused cheated partner ends the relationship and attributes the affair as the cause of the relationship breakdown, but they may not realise they were controlled and manipulated by which the exiting partner who gets the betrayed party to make the decision to end the relationship.

The betrayer has controlled the exit process to their own insecure ends, rather than take the responsibility for appropriately communicating the relationship abandonment and end with the partner directly themselves.

A proper ending, and the pain that it entails, is avoided. The betrayer is living from an abandonment wound which across a number of relationships may manifest with them constantly abandoning the other person, or swinging between them abandoning and being abandoned themselves.

When the real issues in any relationship breakdown are not dealt with it usually means that the follow-up relationships will be likely to fail also. This dynamic is common in many people who abandon their relationships and their partners once the “honeymoon” phase of the relationship is over, and the couple start to move into the more struggle-prone and les idealised second phase of romantic relationships.

Copyright 2015 Richard Boyd

Psychotherapy & Counselling

Private Therapy