Unfaithfulness: Defining Betrayal and Infidelity

“Go ahead,” you said. “Drink for both of us.” So I ordered two Manhattans. I didn’t know whether to offer you a sip. I didn’t know if it could be this easy to get you, for once, to stop.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. After a dramatic pause, you said, totally serious. “I’m pregnant.” And then you cracked up. I laughed even though I didn’t feel like laughing. I raised my Manhattan, tipped it a little in your direction, then asked, “Whose is it?”

The Lover’s Dictionary

In David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary, the narrator tells the story of a relationship through dictionary entries, providing insight into the ups and downs of the couple’s problems, which are marked by alcoholism and infidelity.

What is Infidelity?

There are so many ways of looking at infidelity, but to break it down simply, there are physical affairs and emotional affairs. In either case, they can cause serious harm to your relationship and individual mental health and can be the tell-tale signs of marriage/relational discord, chronic addictive behavior and anything in-between:

  • One-night stand
  • Long-term physical relationship
  • Coveting another individual
  • Emotional infidelity 

(Nonsexual intimacy in such a way that violates trust and expectations)

  • Online affair
  • Online flirtation or sexting
  • Compulsive sexual behaviors

The trend today for so many relationships – married or unmarried – is for them to end due to these various acts of infidelity. The numbers vary and some sources stated that 25-40 percent of relationships experience infidelity. A 2021 survey by Health Testing Centers reported that a little over 46 percent of respondents in a monogamous relationship said they had an affair of some type. 

Statistics aside, infidelity doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a choice, even in marriages where each partner describes the relationship as good.

Why Couples Cheat

A good marriage doesn’t guarantee there won’t be any infidelity. So why do individuals cheat? Most commonly, it boils down to being unhappy in the relationship or feeling disconnected. Or it can be because of long-standing addictions and other mental illnesses. Here are some other reasons:

  • Revenge or attention
  • Interest in exploring new sexual activities
  • Low relationship satisfaction (One or both partners give up trying)
  • Love of romantic love (Attracted to the thrill of being in love or love addiction)
  • Mental illness, such as substance or sexual addiction

Individuals cheat because they can rationalize their actions. They keep it a secret because they might be ashamed or don’t want to rock the boat because they are comfortable where they are, even in unsatisfying relationships and in many cases, the act of infidelity holds a power and rush over the individual that is intoxicating. 

Getting Past Betrayal

After the initial shock and feeling brokenhearted, you might wonder if you can move past the pain. You may anguish over why your partner cheated on you. You may blame yourself for your shortcomings. You may feel embarrassed or empty. However you may feel, it’s important to understand that you didn’t cause the infidelity. Because of that, it’s also easy for you to believe it’s your partner’s responsibility to make things right and leave it at that. But ultimately, it takes hard work over-time by both parties to mend a relationship torn apart by this major breach of trust.

To move forward, past the emotional scars of betrayal, you must have meaningful discussions with your mate about what you’re feeling because many emotions are tied up in a betrayal. And you need to know what your partner is feeling, what lead to their actions and down the road of recovery a formal disclosure might be part of your healing journey. 

These things are best done thru proper coaching or therapy and support groups. 

It’s not easy for some mates to admit they’ve “done you wrong.” It’s easy for them to turn an explanation into justification and to spiral into their own shame. That’s where communication can easily break down. Your mate can deny they’ve cheated, splitting hairs over what “infidelity” actually means, and they can even gaslight you in the process, which is a form of emotional abuse and manipulation just as serious and damaging as the infidelity itself.

The “why” they cheated doesn’t justify it – morally or otherwise – as in blaming external circumstances (work stress) or turning the tables and blaming you. In so doing, they are minimizing or normalizing the infidelity and not owning it.  You have a right to feel hurt and betrayed.  A trust has been broken and the bond between you severed. Identifying infidelity as infidelity, plain and simple, must be the minimum requirement for moving forward for clarity and possibility for growth and healing.