The Heart of the Matter: Unraveling the Lies Behind Infidelity

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The Heart of the Matter: Unraveling the Lies Behind Infidelity

By Adam Nisenson, LAMFT, CSAT-C

The Heart of the Matter: Unraveling the Lies Behind Infidelity

By Adam Nisenson, LAMFT, CSAT-C

“There are times when I doubt everything. When I regret everything you’ve taken from me, everything I’ve given you, and the waste of all the time I’ve spent on us.” –David Leviathan, The Lover’s Dictionary

When Time Magazine announced The Silence Breakers as their choice for 2017’s person of the year, it brought into sharp focus a long-neglected whirlwind of sexual harassment and appalling behavior from men in positions of power everywhere from Hollywood to Washington D.C. But while the world focused on the fallout, few paid attention to the other victims in these appalling, often criminal cases of sexual misconduct and abuse. Many of these men were married or attached, leaving their spouses to pick-up the pieces of a shattered relationship. 

Infidelity’s short and long-term consequences are vast and far-reaching, oftentimes devastating for everyone involved.  

Most people know someone who’s cheated. Maybe it’s something you’re not particularly proud of having done yourself. Strictly speaking, men are more likely than women to stray—though that’s not to say that cheating is strictly for the guys. For many, it is far too easy to justify. My needs aren’t being met at home; they reason with themselves. It’s just this once.  

Despite the assuring siren song of justification, infidelity doesn’t soothe loneliness or fill the void of self-acceptance. What it does do, however, is go far beyond irreparably damaging a marriage and personal relationships. An affair can often snake out into all aspects of your life, affecting you psychologically, emotionally, and financially.

Why We Hurt The Ones We Love: The Reasons Men Cheat

Infidelity—extra dyadic involvement as it’s so callously termed—is consistently looked down upon across cultures, literature, and religions. It is also universally prevalent and persistent. 

Cheating comes with huge, often devastating consequences. In addition to being the number one statistical reason for divorce across races and age groups, infidelity can lead to everything from stress and anxiety to STDs, professional and social distress, and even violence (Wang, W., 2018). Yet, even with everything that hangs in the balance, some people still choose to look the big lie of infidelity in the face. Why?

By the numbers, men are more likely to be unfaithful—roughly 20% of men admitted to having an affair in a 2018 study, compared to 13% of women (Wang, W., 2018). More importantly, though, men and women often stray for different reasons. For most men, no single factor will be a driving force behind infidelity, and sometimes the circumstances and reasoning for cheating will change as time goes on. Regardless, and while it’s essential to remember that cheating is always a choice, it can help the healing process to understand some of the common reasons why men in particular feel compelled to cheat.

In Search of an Ego Boost

One of the foremost reasons cited for having an extramarital affair by men is that their emotional needs aren’t being met by their current partner. Often, this translates into using infidelity as a means of escapism and avoidance instead of tackling the actual issues in yourself or relationship.

Immaturity

Sometimes, a man simply doesn’t have the experience or maturity level to fully commit to a monogamous relationship. He may be unwilling or incapable of accepting that his actions have consequences that branch out to those around him, and still sees the bonds of trust and commitment as flexible, bending to his ever-changing moral barometer. 

Anger/Vengeance

A surprising number of men think that infidelity will somehow heal a wounded ego after a big fight or in retribution for being cheated on first. It’s understandable— anger is a heated, relatable emotion. But fighting this kind of fire with fire only makes the waters of hurt, resentment, and contempt even murkier.

Sometimes It’s Not About Sex…

Insecurity is a huge factor when it comes to male infidelity. The “mid-life crisis” trope didn’t get to be cliché because it’s untrue. Someone who is suddenly looking in the mirror and seeing much more hairline—and waistline—than ever before, or maybe finds themselves struggling along on a career or life path that isn’t what the 20 year old version of themselves would have envisioned, then other areas of their life can become shaky as well. Regardless of whether an existing relationship is still healthy, men in this situation find themselves cheating simply to check the dipstick on their virility—a search for validation. 

… And Sometimes it is

More than women, men will cheat opportunistically. Escorts, one-night stands, casual office sex, an out of town fling during a conference. This kind of infidelity often happens because a man is desirous of some novelty, and it just happens to be easily available. A man with a higher sex drive than his partner or in the midst of other stressors in his life might feed himself enough Big Lies to justify this type of behavior.  

Drawing the Lines: What’s Cheating?

Further complicating the issue is the fact that there are no clearly defined boundaries as to what constitutes cheating in the first place. Sure, we can all mostly agree that extra-dyadic intercourse is definitely being unfaithful, but when it comes to things like pornography, webcams, sexing, flirting… infidelity is quite often in the eyes of the betrayed. 

The Emotional Affair Explained

Sex is far from the only form of intimacy humans share. A relationship is made up of meaningful connections. Unless you’re in an open or polyamorous relationship where the parameters have been discussed and communication flows freely, it’s reasonable to expect that all your spouse or partner’s physical, verbal, and emotional intimacy will remain exclusive between the two of you. When the sanctity of that connection is violated—even if no physical contact ever occurs—then the intimate foundation of a relationship has been rocked to its very core. 

While the old definition of infidelity was a fairly narrow scope, recent years have seen the concept of cheating broadened and redefined. 

The primary difference between a traditional affair and an emotional one comes down to physical contact. During an emotional affair, the clandestine “meetings” normally associated with infidelity will often occur online, over the phone, or via text. Additionally, there may be in-person dates—but the affair stops short of physical or sexual interaction.  

While it’s normal and healthy for individuals to maintain friendships and social circles outside of their romantic relationship, emotional infidelity is poison to a marriage. A genuinely healthy friendship will enrich your relationship, never threaten it. When a seemingly harmless crush or attraction crosses emotional boundaries, it can often be even worse than a physical affair for several reasons, including:

They often lead to physical affairs

It’s easy to justify the harmlessness of an emotional affair because it’s “not real.” The reality is that communication is an intimate act in and of itself and putting that kind of emotional investment into someone that isn’t your partner is just as bad as traditional cheating. More, once you’ve connected emotionally with someone outside of your marriage, it’s that much easier to take the next step towards the physical infidelity as well. 

They’re an indicator of deeper relationship problems

Emotional cheating is just as likely to lead to divorce or separation as a physical affair (Meyer, C., 2019). An unsurprising factor, despite the lack of sexual infidelity. If one partner is seeking trust or validation outside of the marriage, it certainly could point something vital missing or wounded within the relationship. 

They require affection

As horrible as it would be to find out the person you love had a drunken one night stand, there is something decidedly even more devastating about discovering that they’d violated your emotional intimacy and trust by sharing their love and affection with someone else. 

They’re too easy

A physical affair requires two people to be in the same physical space. Today, the Internet makes it possible for any two people in the world to connect with each other at any time. This is wonderful for keeping people connected. It also makes it easier than ever to experience some type of infidelity.

Is it Infidelity? Recognizing the Signs

Hollywood would have us believe that the mark of a cheater is obvious—lipstick on a collar, cheap perfume in the car, glitter everywhere. The reality is that it isn’t always easy to know when things are amiss. If you suspect your spouse or partner might be unfaithful, consider some of the most common signs:

  • Secretive or unusual phone or computer use

  • Password protecting all of their electronics

  • Significantly less, more, or different sex within your relationship

  • Drastic changes in their appearance or grooming habits

  • Long periods where they’re unreachable

  • An altered schedule 

  • Unexplained expenses

  • Emotional distance or lack of conversation

Infidelity’s Ripple Effect

It’s one of the most insidious aspects of the Big Lie. Cheating doesn’t just affect your marriage—it can have a deep-seeded psychological impact on you, alter your health, your relationships going forward, even things like your career and social circle. No matter what, infidelity is devastating to deal with. Reaching out for support, therapy, and taking the time to process and heal are all essential tools to help reclaim your life after cheating has touched it. 

 
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Adam Nisenson is a therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah where he specializes in men’s issues and sex addiction. He is certified co-leader in the ManKind Project and is also the Executive Director of the Jung Society of Utah.


Resources

Meyer, C. (2019, March 23). What Is the Difference Between an Emotional and a Physical 

Affair? Retrieved from https://www.mydomaine.com/emotional-affair-and-a-physical-affair-1102788

Wang, Wendy. “Who Cheats More? The Demographics of Infidelity in America.” Institute for 

Family Studies, 10 Jan. 2018, ifstudies.org/blog/who-cheats-more-the-demographics-of-cheating-in-america.

I Feel Betrayed, Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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I Feel Betrayed, Should I Stay or

Should I Go?

By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA

I Feel Betrayed, Should I Stay or Should I Go?

By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA

“If you start to feel that you have given up too many parts of yourself to be with your partner, then one day you will end up looking for another person in order to reconnect with those lost parts.“ - Esther Perel

One of my favorite authors on infidelity and betrayal is the renowned sex and relationship therapist Esther Perel. Based on decades of her psychotherapy experience, she truly believes and is adamant that many marriages can recover from the blow of betrayal. That is great news! However, Esther also expresses concern over stigma the betrayed partner may face in our modern society, should they choose to stay with an unfaithful partner.

In her talks and books on infidelity, Perel deals with the unbearable pain of fractured relationships with intense honesty and compassion and offers her clients astute and direct perceptions. Although her frank methods can seem eccentric to some, if my marriage was in trouble, I’d want her help. 

What are the most common types of affairs? 

The reality is an “affair” no longer means only a sexual intimate extramarital relationship. Times have changed. We marry for different reasons nowadays. Divorce laws have changed in the last decades. Infidelity isn’t black and white any longer; it comes in all shades of gray today. One common theme is the secrecy. Some types of infidelity can be:

·        Physical/sexual affair; when one partner has sex outside of the relationship. Studies show men have a harder time forgiving a sexual affair than women do. At the same time, women may be more likely to forgive when emotions are not involved.

·        Virtual affair; when trust violation is committed through chats and sexts. This may include the viewing of pornography.

·        Emotional affair; when one partner becomes emotionally attached to someone else. Sex is not always part of the emotional affair.

·        Outside interest affair; when one neglects the relationship to pursue an outside interest to a point of near-obsession. That can include obsessive hobbies or addictions such as gambling.

Knowing what your spouse views as infidelity is key to maintaining your marital or commitment vows, so talk with your partner. Attending premarital or couples therapy can help in discussing views and expectations around monogamy to avoid future disagreements or hurt.

Perel observes, “Love is messy; infidelity more so. But it is also a window, like no other, into the crevices of the human heart.” So why part of you may be asking everyday: “Should I stay, or should I go?’, I would challenge you to look deeper.

Can a marriage heal after an affair?

While betrayal can bring unbearable pain, research shows it can be healed. As Perel emphasizes based on her experience, “an affair can even be the doorway to a new marriage—with the same personWith the right approach, couples can grow and learn from these tumultuous experiences, together or apart.”

I also resonate with Perel’s observations that “today, we turn to one person to provide what an entire village once did”. Just realizing how much hope and expectation we have put into our partner—where perhaps we should have been providing for ourselves—is key.

Also, let me note that affairs do have a lot to teach us about contemporary relationships; our wants, desires, entitlements, or even our dares. They offer a unique peek into our attitudes about relationships, lust, and commitment; unquestionably all viewed from our personal and cultural lens. What is acceptable to you is utterly unacceptable to another. What once was unacceptable to you, under today’s circumstances, can be accepted, or vice versa.

How can I decide if I should stay in the relationship?

Of course, there is always the next step to consider when facing issues of infidelity in your relationship. Do you stay with this person or not? In some cases, that question may be answered for you, with your partner leaving the relationship. Or, it may be you feeling that it is necessary for the relationship to end; perhaps your partner isn’t willing to end the extramarital affair or face their addiction. Another option is for you try to work with your partner in processing the experience, however painful, and perhaps find a way to stay together… in a new way.

Whatever you decide, make sure that you have considered the pros and cons of all options. This is where working with a therapist can be helpful. You shouldn’t have to go through this pain alone.

Infidelity of a spouse can be a traumatic experience for anyone to face. It can trigger emotions and safety concerns. However, it is something you can get through, provided are able to process it yourself, and you have the support during this difficult time.

Perel, E. (2018). The state of affairs. Rethinking infidelity. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, LLC.

 
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Joanna Alvord is a Marriage and Family Therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is currently accepting new clients. Email Joanna (joanna[@]theeftclinic.com) or call The EFT Clinic today to set an appointment.

How Your Attachment Style Influences Your Relationship

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How Your Attachment Style Influences Your Relationship

By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA

How Your Attachment Style Influences Your Relationship

By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA

“We're only as needy as our unmet needs.”- John Bowlby, Founder of Attachment Theory

At the core of attachment theory is the assumption that we all are wired for connection. This primal drive to connect is wired into every human being, shaped as a survival mechanism over millions of years of evolution. We connect to survive. Hence emotional isolation can register as a life or death situation in the most primitive and fastest-to-act part of our brain, the amygdala. Some call it primal panic.

Add the fact that the reason we may feel the alert—such as needines— is not just because our adult needs are not being met; it can also be the result of our childhood needs that were not met. These unmet needs can be associated with what happened many, many years ago, but the pain of not having them met has remained trapped in our body. And when triggered, the pain can come and surface in the present.

John Bowlby’s attachment theory emphasizes the importance of a secure mother-infant bond in development of a person’s well-being and later mental functioning. One of my favorite modern authors, who expanded on Bowlby’s attachment theory, is Stan Tatkin. As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Doctor of Psychology, and one of the world’s experts on attachment theory, he wrote several books, including “Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship”. In his work, Tatkin uses attachment terms such as anchors, islands and waves, rather than the more traditional attachment terms of secure, avoidant (or dismissive), anxious (or preoccupied), or the less prevalent anxious-avoidant (or disorganized).

Anchors, Waves and Islands

The interactions with our early caregivers shaped our autonomic nervous systems. Those interactions determined the way we as infants and children engaged with those around us, and the way we tend to engage with the world now; whether we need interaction, or we need space. As life goes on, our peers and partners eventually take over the role of our primary attachment figure. They become the source of safety and confidence, or they become the source of anxiety and mistrust.

Thus, those who are anchors experienced—or learned later in life about—secure attachments. They learned they could rely on others, that relationships are important, that their needs would be attended to, and in general that the world is a safe place. According to research (Tatkin, 2012), a bit more than 50 percent of people fall into this category. Unlike anchors, islands and waves were raised in an environment where relationship did not come first, and their needs were often not met by their primary caregivers. Therefore, to self-protect and to have their needs met, from a very young age they had to adapt themselves to their environments. 

Now, it’s not that islands and waves do not want relationships. We all do. Islands and waves will just struggle more with trust. Waves tend to believe they are going to be abandoned, that it’s inevitable, questioning if others will be there for them, and so they tend to be more dependent and often cling to others. They may sometimes even look for proof of an approaching abandonment, and this fear activates their attachment need for contact. They tend to seek reassurance about themselves and seek safety from others. On the other hand, islands believe that if they depend on another, their independence will be taken away, and they will feel trapped, or even in danger of being suffocated in a relationship. In order to avoid these emotions, islands tend to seek distance. The fear of engulfment is what causes them to deactivate their attachment need, therefore they diminish the need to connect with their significant other. This deactivation explains island’s distancing behavior.

What Can You Do?

Does your attachment style affect your dating life or your committed relationship? Does your attachment style affect how you communicate with your partner? Does knowing your attachment style, and that of your partner, make your relationship stronger? Yes, Yes and Yes. 

1.  So, get to know yourself! Take an adult attachment style questionnaire with your partner. Get to know how your partner functions and why they function that way. Tatkin often refers to “becoming an expert on each other”. 

2. Own your own tendencies in conflict and recognize your partner’s protective behaviors. While some attachment style combinations may be more challenging, the good news is research shows that attachment is fluid and can change during our life. We are hurt by people and we are healed by people. As paradoxical as it sounds, I truly believe the only way out of insecurity is through a mindful relationship. Knowing your own attachment style tendency and that of your partner makes the healing process easier. 

3. Ask your partner “Am I doing that thing again? Is that what causes you to feel …?” Building a healthy relationship requires frequent safe connections with your partner in order to regulate, so make room for safe connection in your life. 

4. Slow things down. Pay attention. Be mindful. Be present. 

5. Remember, the most primitive part of our brain, the amygdala, acts the fastest, and it may take a bit more time for the newer neocortex and reasoning to catch up so that we can act in a safer, more appropriate and more desirable way. 

6.  Andbe patient with yourself! This work can be demanding.

We all long for intimacy, we all long for connection. We may express this longing differently, but that longing is there even if we learned this need can be dangerous and may hurt. Understanding adult love tells us what matters and when it matters. These insights offer us a compass in the reshaping of the interactions between partners. Unlearning patterns that are heavily ingrained will take effort and time. But it is all doable, and these new neural connections are developing as you are reading this. 

Tatkin, S. (2012). Wired for love: How understanding your partner's brain can help you defuse conflicts and spark intimacy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

 
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Joanna Alvord is a Marriage and Family Therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is currently accepting new clients. Email Joanna (joanna[@]theeftclinic.com) or call The EFT Clinic today to set an appointment.

Vulnerability Pays Big Dividends

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Vulnerability Pays Big Dividends



By Ed Peterson, LCSW, MBA

Vulnerability Pays Big Dividends

By Ed Peterson, LCSW, MBA

In her book Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson brilliantly sums up what happens when couples get stuck in negative and reactive cycles: “In insecure relationships, we disguise our vulnerabilities so our partner never really sees us.” Dr. Johnson goes on to talk about the healing power of love and emotional responsiveness in a love relationship: “Love has an immense ability to help heal the devastating wounds that life sometimes deals us. Love also enhances our sense of connection to the larger world. Loving responsiveness is the foundation of a truly compassionate, civilized society.”  

The father of Attachment Theory, British Psychiatrist John Bowlby, summed up what Attachment Theory teaches us about the key relationships in our lives: “The propensity to make strong emotional bonds to particular individuals is a basic component of human nature.“ Bowlby also wrote on how relationships with key “others” are vitally important in the growth and health of all individuals.

Given this information, here are some conclusions about vulnerability:

Attachment Theory teaches us that key relationships (in childhood with an adult care-giver and in adult romantic partners) play a huge part in the human development of a safe haven and the strong ability to be in the world and take risks; the risks are tolerable because the person knows that their partner has their back emotionally and will be there when they reach out in need.

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), developed by Dr. Sue Johnson, is a highly effective couples therapy modality that focuses on helping clients learn to communicate the softer primary emotions (think vulnerability, or the need for acceptance) that always lie underneath the more surface emotions (think anger, contempt, and defensiveness) that put us in a negative cycle of hurt and disconnection.

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) brilliantly supports couples to share their vulnerabilities, which leads to the creation of an emotional “safe haven” and a strong bond that can stand firm in the face of life’s many difficult emotional challenges.

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Ed Peterson LCSW, MBA is an EFT certified therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah. He specializes in individual, family and couple’s counseling. Would you like to meet with Ed? Send him an email to discuss scheduling: peterson.ed.lcsw[@]gmail.com

7 Boundaries for Healthy Relationships and 10 Steps to Keep Them

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7 Boundaries for Healthy Relationships
and 10 Steps to Keep Them

By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA

7 Boundaries for Healthy Relationships
and 10 Steps to Keep Them 

By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA

“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.” 
- Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be 
and Embrace Who You Are

What are boundaries? What comes to your mind when you hear the word “boundaries”? Does it have a positive association, or a negative one? Do you consider “boundaries” as limiting or freeing? Necessary or unnecessary? Many ask, are boundaries even necessary, particularly in this one special and perhaps even I-so-wanna-be-vulnerable-with-this-person? I say, “Yes”, they are necessary. Being loving and vulnerable does not equate being boundary-less. Let me repeat; being loving and vulnerable does not equate being boundary-less. Healthy boundaries should not stifle a healthy relationship, they should let it flourish. Establishing healthy boundaries in a relationship allows both partners to feel comfortable and develop positive self-esteem. 

Here are top 7 boundaries I recommend you focus on:

1.       What you expect from the relationship

2.       What you will tolerate emotionally

3.       Your financial preferences 

4.       Your sexual preferences

5.       Your attitudes towards family and friends 

6.       Your activities and hobbies 

7.       The importance of your dreams

There a lot of misconceptions about what boundaries are and what they do for your relationships. Boundaries are essential not only to your healthy relationship, but also, to your healthy life. And trust me, they are not rigid constrictions intended to suffocate your precious relationship. Boundaries can, should, and do change as your relationship progresses. And this is why discussing them with your partner periodically is so important. Know where you stand and let your partner know.

So, you might ask, how do I set healthy boundaries? Here is what Dr. Dana Gionta suggests:

1.       Name your limits. Communicate what you can and cannot tolerate.

2.       Tune into your feelings. Pay attention to your discomfort and try to answer what is causing it.

3.       Be direct. Talk about how much time you need to maintain your sense of self and how much time you want to spend together.

4.       Give yourself permission. Pay special attention to feelings of guilt, shame, fear, self-doubt. Boundaries are about self-respect, so give yourself permission to set them.

5.       Practice self-awareness. Again, tune into your feelings and honor them. Explore your options.

6.       Consider your past and present. Where we come from and how those relationship functioned are vital to how we tend to act, and what our emotional needs are.

7.       Make self-care a priority. Put yourself first. Honor your feelings. As Gionta says “When we’re in a better place, we can be a better wife, mother, husband, co-worker or friend”.

8.       Seek support. Friends, family, support groups, therapy, published resources are all good options. 

9.       Be assertive. Follow through. People are not mind readers. It is important to communicate with your partner that they have crossed the boundary, and then work together to address it.

10.   Start small. Assertive communication takes practice. Start with something that is not overwhelming.

So, next time you feel pressured to break your boundaries, know that all healthy relationships have boundaries. And, remember that setting boundaries takes courage, and courage is a skill we can master. One last thing I would like to mention is, do follow through, know when it’s time to move on. Remember, you can only share how you desire to be treated in this relationship, and you can’t make yourself responsible for your partner’s feelings or communication. You deserve respect. If your partner can’t respect your boundaries, then it may be time to consider ending the relationship. 

Healthy boundaries don’t come easy, but if you stay open, trust your instincts, and communicate with your partner and you both are engaged and invested, the relationship can only get stronger as it progresses.

Tartakovsky, M. (2018). 10 Way to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 20, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/10-way-to-build-and-preserve-better-boundaries/

 
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Joanna Alvord is a Marriage and Family Therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is currently accepting new clients. Email Joanna (joanna[@]theeftclinic.com) or call The EFT Clinic today to set an appointment!