[click "Play" to hear Dr. Hokemeyer's discussion about infidelity]
By Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
Dr. Hokemeyer is a nationally recognized expert on Eastern philosophies, relationships, and emotional healing. A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, he holds a PhD in psychology, as well as a doctorate in the law. A part-time Telluride resident, Dr. Hokemeyer is based in the New York City office of the Caron Treatment Centers. He is also a weekly contributor to “The Dr. Oz Show,” CNN’s “Headline News,” and other media outlets, including “Good Morning America,” “truTV,” and “Oprah Radio.” His new column, Shrink Rap, is scheduled to appear at least bi-monthy on Thursdays on Telluride Inside… and Out.
Infidelity is back making international headlines and it’s all over the blogosphere. For months, we had to endure the sordid details of Tiger Woods’ sex life. Then it was Sandra Bullock’s humiliations. Prior to those revelations, the buzz was about all the married politicians stepping out. Now it’s The Arnold and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the disgraced head of the International Monetary Fund.
What we don’t know enough about is what constitutes infidelity, the cascading impact it has on relationships, and the options available to those whom it affects.
So let’s start with some basic facts:
There are 2 types of infidelity: emotional and sexual. Emotional infidelity occurs when one party in a committed relationship finds romantic intimacy with a person outside of that relationship. Sexual infidelity occurs when one party in a committed relationship has sex outside that relationship. Researchers have found that 25% of heterosexual marriages and 82% of gay male couples are impacted by sexual infidelity. Without a doubt, the Internet has made both emotional and sexual infidelity easier to engage in through chat rooms, social networking sites, and sites specifically devoted to sexual encounters.
What you need to know about both types of infidelity is that they occur in the context of a committed relationship based on a promise of monogamy. Infidelity arises when one person in the relationship acts outside of that understanding without informing the other person of his or her intentions. The result is a breach of trust and a corrosion of the relationship’s integrity. In short, infidelity destroys a relationship by replacing trust with mistrust, shame, feelings of worthlessness, and betrayal.
Downright yucky, right?
But just because infidelity happens, let’s not assume it automatically kills a relationship. If the relationship was worth getting into, it is also worth investing time and effort exploring what went wrong.
Through open and honest communication with your partner, you have the power to explore the following options:
• Ignore the infidelity and pretend nothing happened. (Not recommended.)
• Terminate the relationship. (Not always necessary.)
• Take some “time out” from the relationship by agreeing to a separation for a fixed period of time. Use that time to sort out your feelings and seek assistance from a professional. (Recommended.)
• Stay in the relationship and explore the reasons why the infidelity occurred, set new boundaries around future behavior and remain open to new possibilities (Recommended.)
What’s important to remember is that you have options. Through these options, you have the power to change. Yes, infidelity is destructive. It’s shameful and unpleasant. But like most things that challenge our sense of self and our present reality, it also presents new possibilities for healing and growth.