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  • Writer's pictureIrina Adams

Rethinking Infidelity

In her interview on NPR and TED Talk "Rethinking Infidelity." couples therapist and world leading expert in cheating and infidelity, Dr. Esther Perel, points out that, "It's never been easier to cheat — and it's never been more difficult to keep a secret," she says. "The majority of affairs would normally have died a natural death. Today they are discovered primarily through the phone or through social media or though the computer." She spent the past six years of her career focusing on couples who are dealing with infidelity — and she's heard a lot of stories, finding that expectations for modern relationship and marriage are at an all-time high. We want and expect from our partners everything that we expected in traditional marriage (in terms of companionship and economic support and family life and social status) and we expect them to meet all our emotional needs as a best friend, trusted confidant and a passionate lover. We not only set a high bar for our sense of belonging, connection and romantic intimacy, but now also we want self-fulfillment in our relationships and an ultimate "soul mate," that for most of history was reserved to describe a “higher being.” But relationships are complex and there are many ways people let each other down. Sometimes you realize, after years of “living” those parts of you, that there are other parts of you that have virtually disappeared. The woman disappears behind the mother. The man disappears behind the caregiver. The sensual person disappears behind the responsible person. And such expectations for each other weigh heavy on us, making us vulnerable to break from these all-encompassing vows and seek escape and acceptance for just who we are in others. More often infidelity is an expression of longing and yearning; longing for connection, for intensity, for a sense of "aliveness," which is really the word that many people all over the world would tell me when they are having an affair.

According to Dr. Perel, there is no universally agreed-upon definition of infidelity. It is often deeply culturally connected, and the lines keep on expanding. ... Is it a love affair? Is a tryst? Is it watching porn? ... Is it staying secretly active on your dating apps? The definition is often subjective and in the mind of the two people that are part of one relationship. There is no hierarchical structure from above that tells you, "This is considered a transgression." But infidelity doesn't have to signal the end of a relationship. Dr. Perel says "Many affairs will remake a relationship, but you can renegotiate the entire thing and reach a new and more realistic level of maturity, friendship, admiration, reliability, and most importantly trust.

And while every affair will redefine a relationship, every relationship has the power to determine what is the legacy of an affair will be. So, if the bombshell of betrayal shattered your relationship and you and your partner are interested in staying together and ready to rebuild your trust and authentic love for other anew, as your therapist I can look for the genesis of the affair, how it started, and why. So the first thing in the session is to make clear that the conversation is not about sex…the conversation is about loss, and it is loss on both sides. As Dr. Parel, I often ask couples who consult with me, your first marriage or partnership together is over. Would you now like to create a second one together?” And if the couple is willing, I would help them find true mutual fulfillment, awakening aliveness, and negotiate the elusive balance between their emotional and intimate need. See Dr. Perel's TED Talk'...for anyone who has ever loved."

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