Sexual affairs leave a scar on a marriage and impact not just its future but can also impact the individuals involved in significant ways.
Most people want to understand the causes of infidelity to avoid these circumstances being a part of their marriage. They hope that once they know the reason, they can remedy the situation before either partner is tempted to indulge in sexual infidelity.
Here we will look at key reasons for extramarital affairs and how to cope with infidelity.
What is sexual infidelity?
Sexually infidelity is any sexual transgression in a relationship where one or both partners have sexual contact with individuals other than their partner.
Sexual infidelity usually occurs in secret, without informing or seeking permission from your partner. And it usually violates the terms of the relationship, especially those related to loyalty and fidelity towards each other.
How to identify sexual infidelity
Sexual infidelity, just like other forms of infidelity, leaves a trail behind it if one is patient and observant of their partner’s behavior.
Look out for rapid changes in your partner’s mood, behavioral patterns, or decisions whose reasons you cannot place, especially if your partner is being particularly secretive about their plans and actions.
You can choose to communicate openly with your partner if you see these signs rather than stew in emotions of uncertainty or suspicion. However, make sure your doubts are not based purely on your insecurities and jealousy.
Does sexual infidelity mean your marriage is over?
Anxiety about your marital future is a very natural and understandable question post-infidelity. If you have just found out that your spouse has been cheating on you, you may worry that your marriage is over.
Can a marriage survive infidelity?
Many factors impact the fate of a marriage after an affair. It is certainly not as simple a question as it appears to be. So don’t jump to conclusions too quickly, and don’t despair because there is always hope.
Now let’s look at some other questions and aspects to consider when there is sexual infidelity in your marriage.
1. What kind of affair was it?
You may think, “cheating is cheating, irrespective of what kind!” That is very true. However, for some, there is a difference between an indiscretion during a trip and a secret affair that has been going on for months/years.
Even though both are betrayals, for some people, a momentary lapse in judgment might be easier to get through compared to long-term investment by their partner in another relationship.
2. Do you know your spouse’s affair partner?
The identity of your spouse’s affair partner will affect how you feel about the sexual infidelity in your marriage.
If you find out that your spouse has been carrying on with someone you know or even your best friend or sibling, it will probably impact you as a double betrayal on both levels. On the other hand, if the affair is with someone you have never met, it may be slightly less hurtful.
3. How did you find out?
Did your spouse come to you and confess their infidelity with remorse, asking your forgiveness? Or did you catch them in the act? Or did you suspect something for a long time and finally get some irrefutable proof?
Maybe you got an anonymous call, or you heard from a neighbor or friend or maybe your partner confessed. You may have even received the dreaded news from your doctor that you have an STD and you know that you have been faithful to your spouse.
However you find out about the sexual infidelity in your marriage, it will affect the way you can process the news.
4. How is your partner responding?
As soon as your spouse knows that you know about the cheating, their reaction will be very telling and instrumental as to the way forward for you both.
Are they denying, minimizing and making excuses for the affair, saying it wasn’t serious and you are overreacting? Or are they openly admitting that it happened, was wrong, and promised it is over and will not happen again?
Of course, there are many variations along this spectrum, but certainly, the way your spouse responds will give you some indication as to whether you can continue in the relationship.
5. Has this happened to you before?
If you have experienced betrayal in a close relationship, your painful reaction to this new trauma may be compounded. Perhaps you were abused or neglected in your childhood, or by former lovers.
Past traumas would probably have compromised your sense of safety in close relationships, and now that it’s happening again, you may find it very hurtful and difficult to digest.
10 reasons for sexual infidelity
What is sexual fidelity and why is it so important to many people?
Sexual fidelity encompasses the agreement between a couple that they would stay loyal to each other and will not have sexual relations with anyone other than their partner or spouse. And yet, people break away from this and commit infidelity in marriage.
Sexual betrayal in marriage can leave its mark on the relationship, so why do people still break their promises to their spouse?
There are so many catalysts behind unfaithfulness. Let’s break these predictors down:
1. Sexual dissatisfaction in the marriage
With renewed mobility and medicinal assistance, people can experience a renewed interest and desire to explore their limits sexually in different phases of life.
People may feel a strong desire to reinforce their self-image or wish to have the ego boost provided by cheating on their age-appropriate spouse with a younger, different partner.
If a woman is unhappy with her marriage or how things are going in the bedroom, midlife can be a catalyst in her seeking a sexual partner outside the relationship. The biggest increase in sexual infidelity numbers is among the over-60s!
2. Bad phase in marriage
Sexual infidelity can occur at specific moments of a marriage where there is negativity within the relationship.
Most marriages go through a few bad phases, in which the spouses have difficulty understanding each other. They may get into constant fights and dislike being around each other.
When a couple is out of sync with each other, there is a greater possibility for them to betray their partner’s trust and try to form a sexual connection elsewhere.
One partner may become bored with how routine has set up shop in the bedroom: lovemaking on schedule, with the same foreplay (because you know exactly what to do to get each other hot) and a collapse into post-coital bliss.
Or, a relationship under stress, conflict at home, or a mutual agreement to live as roommates “until the children are grown” are likely scenarios for sexual infidelity.
4. Unfulfilled desires from before
Some evidence suggests that people who had multiple sexual partners before getting married are more likely to cheat later in their married life. The thought is that they may become restless when they realize that there is an expectation of long-term monogamy.
Not having lived out their life may not bother them initially (after all, they are marrying the partner of their dreams and cannot conceive of ever wanting to have sex with anyone other than this person). Still, a decade or two with the same sexual partner can provoke a wandering eye.
Some people may start reminiscing about what it was like when they could freely move from partner to partner, experiencing new and different sensations, and they may want to act on that desire.
Conversely, there is a rise in sexual infidelity in people who did not experience multiple partners before marriage. In midlife, they may wonder if they have missed out on something and become fixated on trying out new and different sexual partners before “it is too late.”
5. Risk seeking
Certain people are hardwired differently, which can put them at risk for sexual infidelity.
Risk-seekers are more likely to be unfaithful; they are drawn to the excitement of an illicit, secret affair and cannot weigh the risk (losing their marriage) against the benefit (sex with a different partner) because their brain does not function like that.
Addicts’ brains also seem to allow them to move towards sexual infidelity with little reflection on the consequences of this behavior.
The urge to satisfy the addiction (in this case, a sexual addiction) outweighs any good sense decision they might make. People who don’t work towards being agreeable and conscientious are more likely to be sexually promiscuous, as they care less about the feelings of others.
6. Habitual behavior
Another contributing factor to sexual infidelity is that more young people have had several partners before marriage.
Throughout their marriage, they can become frustrated with the idea that they are “locked into” monogamy after having experienced another type of sexual freedom. They miss the “old days” if they sense their married sex life becoming routine or boring.
Research shows that prior acts of infidelity pose a significant risk factor for the subsequent possibility of committing sexual infidelity.
7. Bad communication
If we have a partner who doesn’t make us feel valued, we may be more likely to stray. People need to invest time and energy into their relationships. Communication is essential to making this happen.
It is important to pay attention to your relationship and take time out from the fatiguing tasks of child-rearing and parent-caregiving to hit the refresh button on your marriage. You don’t want to put that on the back burner because everything else seems to take up your emotional bandwidth.
8. To prove a point
A person may commit sexual infidelity if they are trying to prove something to themself or their partner.
A married person may cheat if they seek revenge from their partner or are looking to hurt their partner in some way. Cheating can be a form of rebellion used to break the control the partner has over them.
Furthermore, some may commit sexual infidelity if they want to prove to themself that others still find them attractive or that they can find someone else if their partner chooses to leave them.
9. Feeling unwanted
Understanding sexual infidelity’s meaning becomes important because it may happen as one or both partners may feel unwanted and undesired by their partner, which can affect one’s self-esteem and security levels within the relationship.
When a person feels unwanted, they may commit sexual infidelity, which may give them a chance to feel wanted and desired by someone other than their spouse. What they can’t find in the relationship, they may choose to seek outside of it.
10. Lack of love
Marriage is a long commitment where some couples forget to invest and work on their love for each other. The lack of love can be another reason a person breaks their marital commitment.
A person may seek to fulfill the absence of love in their marriage by having a sexual affair with someone loving towards them.
How to cope with sexual infidelity
Before sexual infidelity, the marriage may have contained mutual love, respect, and trust. If you have never experienced this level of connection, sexual infidelity will likely become the final reason for ending your marriage.
The spouse who had an affair makes it a priority to help their spouse feel safe again. This means the spouse who had an affair is willing to go to exceptional measures to regain their spouse’s trust.
It also means that the betrayed partner will be given enough time to process and recover from grief and pain, even if it takes longer than the spouse who had an affair thinks it should.
After you have processed the initial shock of learning that there has been sexual infidelity in your marriage, you and your spouse need to think and talk about this question; “Are we able to move forward together?”
Before you can answer that question, here are a few pointers to help you think through this difficult decision:
1. The affair must end
If you want to stay together, the affair must immediately stop, cold turkey. If the erring spouse hesitates and still wants to keep the back door open, then your marriage relationship will not be restored.
The spouse who had an affair can change their behavior, focusing on honest disclosure and the complete cut-off of all relationship ties with the other person.
2. A re-commitment must be made
Marriage after infidelity goes through a fundamental change where the foundation is broken and must be re-established to move forward healthily.
Furthermore, the unfaithful partner needs to be willing to make a commitment and promise that an affair will not happen again.
3. A lot of patience will be needed
If you decide to stay together you must both realize that it will be a long and difficult road to restoration. You will need to be patient with one another.
The spouse who cheated must be willing to give the betrayed spouse all the details and time they need to get over the facts. Your spouse may still be hurting and may need more time to process before healing can take place.
The spouse affected by sexual infidelity must learn to forgive genuinely. Some people cannot get past the impact of an affair, and forgiveness would mean they can move forward in the relationship past the affair.
4. Accountability is essential
The one who strays must be willing to be accountable for their movements at all times, even if it feels unreasonable. That will show that they are repentant and want to change.
Once the affair has been discovered, the longer the spouse keeps secrets, withholds information, or continues in any affair behavior, the harder it becomes for the marriage to survive.
For the spouse who had an affair, genuine forgiveness helps them heal from shame and live without fear of continual accusation. They must try to gain the necessary insight into the reasons behind sexual infidelity.
Check out this video by Tafadzwa Bete Sasa where she discusses how accountability is a way of expressing your love:
5. Underlying issues should be addressed
The one who cheated needs to recognize the issues or tendencies that may have caused the infidelity so that those things can be addressed and avoided.
Even the one who was betrayed can ask what they may have done to contribute to the situation. It can be very helpful to consult a marriage counselor or therapist who can help you overcome the effects of infidelity.
6. Seek help from an expert therapist
It would be extremely challenging to try and walk through sexual infidelity on your own.
Seek guidance from an experienced family or marriage counselor. They have seen this all before and have a tested strategy to help you and your partner move through this difficult time in a way that can, if done correctly, actually strengthen and enhance your marital relationship.
Seeking help from a marriage counselor is essential in helping with this process. To guard against repeat behavior, which is likely, a person needs to understand the various factors that were at play when they chose to be unfaithful.
All in all, sexual infidelity does not automatically mean that your marriage is over. Many couples can testify that they have been able to restore their relationship to an even better and deeper level than before the affair.
The couple must assess whether the marriage is worth saving or if it would be better for them to go their separate ways.
If the couple decides to stay together, they must understand that change and acceptance are essential to recovering from the impact of an affair.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Rachael Pace is a noted relationship writer associated with Marriage.com. She provides inspiration, support, and empowerment in the form of motivational articles and essays. Rachael enjoys studying the evolution of loving partnerships and is passionate about writing on them. She believes that everyone should make room for love in their lives and encourages couples to work on overcoming their challenges together.