Is It Really Infidelity?
Updated: Mar 6, 2020
A while back the news of the hacking of the Ashley Madison website sent many marriages into a spin. For those of you who don’t know, AM is an online adultery website. Their advert runs “life is short, have an affair”. They describe that they are facilitating consenting adults to cheat on their partners in a safe environment.
In a radio interview I heard a few years ago, the founder of AM rationalized that the people who would sign up are people who would have affairs anyway and that as long as nobody found out about it, an affair could enable a bored or unhappy spouse to remain in a marriage that they otherwise might leave. Of course the hacking of the website and the release of the names of millions of subscribers around the world has put an end to the idea of no consequences.
This is all very different from couples who decide that they should openly include others in their marriages. There are a range of arrangements that could be adopted, but what they have in common is that the couple are in agreement and both believe that they are benefitting. This lifestyle may even include arrangements where couples first meet with others for coffee, discuss their expectations and see if it seems like a compatible couples fit. This may not be most people’s idea of a healthy relationship and is certainly not without its complications, but for those who choose this, it is an honest and open arrangement in that there is no deceit involved between the couple.
What we look at then is an old argument about what constitutes infidelity in a marriage. For some people, the line may be drawn at sex. For them this is what makes a relationship an affair. Anything “below” sex is not really a deal breaker. Usually their partner does not share this limited way of defining infidelity.
The range of definitions and tolerance is very wide. For some, if they find out that their partner is secretly meeting someone for coffee and sharing details of their life, this would be an affair. For someone else it might be that their partner has developed an online chat with someone they will never meet face to face, but share intimate or erotic talk with. Technology has brought in many variations of connecting to others both romantically and sexually, and with it a lot of conflict between couples about what is appropriate or acceptable.
Let’s look beyond the concept of an affair. Is it ok if your husband becomes a Facebook friend of one of your best friends he hardly knows and meets up with her? Is it okay if your wife sits in a sauna with her male colleague on a business trip? Is it okay if your spouse slips up in a moment of weakness and kisses someone else? Is it okay to have a Facebook page that your spouse is excluded from accessing? Of having a second cellphone that they do not know that you have? Of trawling dating websites out of curiosity without any intention to join up?
In all of these examples there is no sex involved. In years gone by, when the only phone a family might have was the home phone – a lot more effort had to go into secretly meeting and communicating with someone. It was maybe more obvious when you had crossed the line.
As TRUST is the fundamental key element in a relationship, it becomes important for each partner to think about whether their behaviour is a betrayal of trust.
Other things to think about in terms of these behaviours:-
Are they secretive? Any marriage or relationship with these secretive elements are at high risk. There is a difference between having privacy and being covert.
They preclude the dissatisfied partner from addressing what is difficult instead of diverting their attention elsewhere. The deep initial erotic attraction of a relationship does not last forever and is replaced by other feelings. Sexual attraction need not die but is generally not as heady and intense forever. Cocaine users talk about the initial high they might have as a first time user. Thereafter they are always going for this – they call it “chasing the tiger”. People who keep needing to experience the thrill of seduction are forever chasing the tiger.
The boundaries of what is and isn’t appropriate in a committed relationship have become blurred. In order to protect a relationship, a couple need to have a clear understanding about what is not ok and strive to stick to it. This is not about control or having no friends of the opposite sex but about where the boundaries lie.
When boredom or attraction to another person or lifestyle become appealing, know very clearly that you are more likely to be caught than to get away with it. Stop rationalizing what you are doing and recognize that it is actually not in the service of a good relationship.
Once trust is broken, it is impossible to pretend that nothing has happened. A lot of work has to go into rebuilding a broken relationship. This same amount of work can go into rebuilding a flagging or tired marriage. It may not work but might be worth trying.