Affairs and infidelity are more painful than ever. Why?
Because now we often see a replay of the entire betrayal. The intimate texts. The sexy emails. Dick pics. Sometimes even the XXX rated videos.
Long gone are the days when all we found was a matchbook from a seedy motel or lipstick on a collar.
It’s a new layer of modern trauma that never before existed. The words and images are burned into the minds of the one who is betrayed.
And when old boyfriends are now just a click away on Facebook, affairs are everywhere. And, on average, gay men are heavy users of social media.
Undisclosed hook-ups are painful in relationships, but affairs are torturous. Affairs are about secret emotional involvement.
Recovery is possible, and in fact, most LGBTQ couples do survive an affair. To give you some hope, and a sense of what the healing process might look like, here are some common stages of repair for couples in therapy:
This is the crisis stage. The relationship is going through a grieving process. These initial stages are almost always the most painful.
Now is the time to focus on the person who has been betrayed. The work is about making sure that the person who had the affair takes the time to really put his feet into his partner’s shoes to understand what he is feeling.
Until the betrayer can feel empathy for the betrayed, no progress can be made.
This isn’t about where someone put his penis. This is about the experience of being lied to. When our loved one lies to us, our view of the world falls apart. Relationships are about trust and safety. This is lost when what we thought was true is no longer real.
For a couple to feel connected again they will need to know why the affair occurred. This is powerful growth work for both partners.
Sometimes there are unresolved issues in the relationship that are “acted out” through the affair. The crisis of the affair is often a wake-up call for the couple to do this work.
Paradoxically, the crisis can spark intimate, honest conversations that clients have waited a lifetime to experience. This is an exciting high for both partners. In stage two these peak moments are typically short-lived and not sustainable. But they do provide the much-needed hope. And that hope is the fuel to power the hard work of lasting relationship repair.
Sometimes the affair is not about problems within the relationship. Some people cheat because they want to feel more alive. The secrecy of an affair can make us feel more powerful, less vulnerable, and more free.
Our affairs are usually less about sex and more often about the desire to feel special and seen. And because they are “naughty”, the erotic charge increases. Research shows us that breaking taboos is the number one human aphrodisiac.
Affairs are often about wanting a new relationship with yourself rather than a new relationship with another person. The partner who had the affair will need to forge a new path to do the important work of building aliveness within himself.
In the last stage the couple builds a new relationship dynamic based on honesty, empathy, and deeply connecting communication. They learn how to talk about any subject in a way that brings them closer together rather than further apart.
Typically this new culture is one of safety but also of imagination. The paradox of long-term relationships are that they offer safety but they often don’t provide adventure. Humans like both.
Long term relationships need imagination to avoid domestic deadness. Some couples go dancing all night. Others create sexy scenes together. Affairs usually have lots of imagination. Why shouldn’t long-term relationships receive the same creativity?
Fortunately, gay men are often known for their creativity.