Part 11--The climate in which affairs can thrive

Once you have a strong handle on a cheating partner's motivations for infidelity (see Part 1 in March newsletter), you can move on to understanding the relationship climate that the affair grew in. This is not completely separate from a partner's motivations, but it is an examination of the relationship itself--what was working and what was not, for both of you. The following are some classic relationship climates that help infidelity to take root and grow.

Emotional estrangement

This is often characterized as two people living together as roommates, handling their own needs as best they can without the support or input from the other. This does not happen overnight. It is a slow and steady breakdown of a couple's connection--which can result from any number of things that slowly put distance between two people. How folks handle work problems and job losses, financial difficulties, sickness, household responsibilities, and parenting can all contribute to emotional estrangement. Loneliness can lead someone to seek companionship and caring elsewhere.

Lack of physical intimacy

While the frequency and satisfaction of a couple's sex life is key to physical intimacy, it is not the only component. Affectionate gestures, kissing, hand holding, sitting closely together when watching TV, and offering hugs and light touch when a partner is having a hard moment are all ways to keep intimacy alive, even when it is hard to find the time and energy for sex. Consider this physical contact as foreplay, because it really is. It is how you speak with your body to let your partner know you want to be near and with them, that you care for them, that you find them attractive, and that you are there when they need someone to lean on. When partners are not giving this to one another, one may seek it outside the marriage.

A breakdown in communication

When couples are talking only about schedules, coordination around the kids, home maintenance issues, and other information sharing--they have stopped really communicating. Real communication involves a kind of intimacy where couples engage in conversations using feeling language, where they discuss their personal issues; relationship concerns, needs and wants; future goals and dreams; and anything that isn't about the mundane business of managing the household or handling the needs of the kids/family. While both have a role, verbal intimacy is part of every happy intimate relationship. When it is lacking, it can set the stage for one partner to reach out to someone outside the relationship for this, and it is often the beginning of an emotional affair.

Increased occurrence of frustration, anger, and conflict

When the dominant atmosphere in the home is one of negativity--it leads to emotional estrangement, a deliberate distancing from one another, and a decreasing willingness to turn to one another for comfort and support. This climate is ripe for misunderstandings, negative assumptions about what a partner is feeling and thinking, resentment related to those assumptions, and increasing hostility that sets the stage for conflict. Partners can become like two fighters in the ring, staying in their separate corners until it is time for another round. Offering positive thoughts, feedback, and observations to your partner on a daily basis can help keep a negative climate in check--it can also help to turn around one that has already become entrenched.

If your marriage has been impacted by infidelity and you are conflicted over whether to work towards reconciliation and healing or move towards separation and divorce--be careful not to rush too fast towards either one of these. You will have many questions and will need your partner to put all his or her efforts into answering them to your satisfaction. It will take a lot of patience, will be very painful, and at times may just not seem worth it. It will all come down to getting the answers to your questions, examining your heart, weighing what will be in your best interest, and deciding if your marriage and partner are worth keeping.

Want to read other articles on this subject?

"Part 1--Is it true that "once a cheater, always a cheater?""
List of more "Emotional and Physical Affairs" articles

This is the last "Emotional and Physical Affairs" article.


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


Copyright 2008 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.

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