Research estimates that about 25 percent of committed monogamous relationships face infidelity at some stage of coupledom. After infidelity, many women make misguided assumptions about themselves, the relationship and their partner based on myths that permeate our culture. The first part of this two part series focused on the myth that the relationship is over, and myths that the infidelity happened because the unfaithful partner fell out of love or attraction or because of their narcissism. This second part of this two part series, will bust myths #5 to# 7 of the most common myths believed by betrayed partners.
5. If I had just been less needy…they wouldn’t have cheated
6. I should have known
7. I will be alone forever
Myth #5 “If I had just been less needy…they wouldn’t have cheated”
Women who have discovered their partner’s betrayal often tearfully exclaim: “I expressed my insecurity, and pushed them away!” It is important to distinguish between expressing one’s needs and being “needy”. All humans have needs, and communicating one’s needs and desires is a cornerstone of any good relationship. Because most people don’t enter relationships with the ability to ask for what they need in a way that resonates with their partner, another cornerstone is how to set expectations and boundaries. If the cheating partner/spouse did feel overwhelmed or distressed by their wife’s or girlfriend’s expression of needs or their anxious attachment style, it is their responsibility to set clear expectations about how they are or aren’t able to support her.
As my colleague Esther Perel stated about recent expectations of marriage in The State of Affairs: “So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide.” The weight and responsibility of helping someone you love through negative emotions may be overwhelming. It can create negative relationship cycles and diminish both emotional and physical attraction between partners over time. In post-infidelity couples therapy, I encourage each partner in a couple to do some deep inquiry as to what their needs are, re-learn how to express these needs to their partner, and learn to accept that their partner may not be capable of holding all of their needs. In betrayed women’s coaching groups, clients are encouraged to support one another as they review what they were looking for from their partner, why they may have grown up expecting certain psychological support, how they communicated those needs, and whether their partner is equipped to provide what they need.
Myth #6 “I should have known”
Betrayed partners frequently fall prey to the idea “I should have known.” They beat themselves up for not knowing that their partner was having an emotional or physical affair. In Buddhist tradition, this kind of emotional self-flagellation is called the second arrow of suffering and increases the pain itself. In most cases, the infidelity revelation comes out of the blue. In others, betrayed women had an intuition or gut feeling about the infidelity, but their partner lied and gaslit them with such dexterity that they ignored that intuition or gut feeling.
Years of clinical experience has shown me that after infidelity discovery, in addition to loss of trust in their partner, most hurt partners experience a loss of trust in themselves. They stop trusting their perceptions, gut instincts, and abilities to judge people’s character. Part of the healing process is rebuilding and reclaiming the trust in one’s authentic self and pushing back against the harsh inner critic–the internal voice that insidiously whispers: “I should have known.”
Myth #7 “I will never find another partner”
Almost all my female-identifying clients facing the potential end to their marriage or relationship after infidelity fear they will never find another partner. This catastrophic thinking can prevent someone from ending their monogamous agreement even when they know it is the best choice for them. According to CDC research, 54 percent of divorced women remarry within five years and 75 percent of divorced women remarry within 10 years.
If a woman’s relationship does end, individual or group coaching supports her growth as she gains a deeper understanding and healing of the family of origin wounds both you and your partner brought into that relationship. She can learn skills to calm her intrusive thoughts, mourn the loss of the relationship, develop more communication skills to articulate her own desires and needs, expand the village of folks she can depend on for these needs and regain trust in herself to make strong, grounded decisions about future relationships–and ultimately build a stronger, more fulfilling relationship. It takes a village to raise a child and it certainly takes a village to help a woman heal from partner betrayal.
Sex therapists’ goal when working with betrayed partners whether in individual therapy, couples therapy, or in a women’s group setting is to create a safe space to mourn the loss of what was, bust cultural myths around infidelity, and explore the deeper meaning of the relationship’s breakdown. Through this work, they can emerge with a deeper knowledge of what kind of life they want for themselves, whether they create a stronger, wiser second iteration of the relationship to the partner who betrayed their monogamous agreement, or decide to forge ahead with a new life as a stronger, supported single woman.