Looking At Infidelity Through A Systemic Lens

Posted On: Sunday, July 10, 2016

Anthropologist and author Helen Fisher suggests that approximately 85 percent of Americans will marry at least one time by age 49.

At the same time, Fisher points out that 20 to 40 percent of married men and 20 to 25 percent of married women will have an affair during their lifetime. Some studies place the percentage even higher.

What do these statistics suggest? How is it that individuals seek the safety and comfort of monogamy and yet stray into the arms of another? In couple’s therapy, I’m often asked … “How could he really love me if he was able to do that? Why would she want to stay if she was able to experience the love of another?”

There are no simple answers to these questions.

Infidelity is a complex phenomenon. It is a conflict between values and behaviors, loss and desire, fear and isolation, confusion and curiosity. Infidelity suggests that when closeness and connection wane, emptiness and detachment create loneliness and despair. The overwhelming desire to feel valued and desired once again begins to outweigh the reality that if one seeks the arms or heart of another, he or she risks losing everything.

Infidelity, is by far the most painfully destructive experience that can befall a couple -- and make no mistake, both partners suffer. It’s traumatic, and for those who are unable to come back from it, it leaves behind a legacy of failure, mistrust, and inadequacy.

On the other hand, for those who are willing to explore the conflict and contradiction of love and desire and be brave enough to examine each other and the relationship on the deepest of levels, the rewards can far outweigh the risk to try.

Alexandre Dumas once said, “The bonds of wedlock are so heavy that it takes two to carry and sometimes three.” Affairs are about longing and loss and the yearning for love and closeness. Exploring the hurt and pain that both partners are experiencing can provide an opportunity … an opportunity to grow and develop individually and as a couple. It’s difficult to imagine that from the depths of hurt and pain, a more meaningful, novel, exciting and satisfying relationship can be formed.

Dr. Laura Richter is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist who works with individuals, couples, and families. Her specialties include: surviving infidelity, improving communication, beginning again after divorce and effective co-parenting after divorce. She is also a trained mediator, qualified parenting coordinator and collaborative law mental health professional. For more information, please call or text us today at 561-715-6404 to schedule a consultation to see how we can help.