Is it okay to accept the man's infidelity?

Infidelity - An affair is not the end

When Stephan used to be out all night, Maria couldn't sleep. The fear that her boyfriend might end up in another woman's bed instead of coming home kept her wide awake. In the end, that's exactly what happened: Stephan cheated, confessed the affair and Maria's world collapsed.

For many couples, the story ends here. Fraud often feels too big and too destructive. Maria and Stephan, on the other hand, are still together. Not only that: Twelve years and two children later, Maria says that the breach of trust from back then even strengthened trust in the relationship between the two. Seriously?!

We are all cheaters

The question of what motivates people to cheat is also a concern of the psychologist and psychotherapist Kristin Gilbert. Together with colleagues, she researched more than ten years ago within a project at the TU Braunschweig which circumstances favor an affair.

More on this: No life without love

With the help of the data collected in the study, the scientists developed a therapy specifically for couples whose relationship has been shaken by infidelity. Gilbert's conclusion: We are all potential cheaters. At least when certain risk factors come together.

Anyone who, like Stephan, likes to be out and about, knows a lot of people and loves parties, has many more opportunities than someone who seldom leaves their microcosm. Gilbert calls this "contextual risk factors".

Of course, opportunities alone do not automatically make you unfaithful. "The partnership and, in this case, especially the sexual satisfaction, was often low," said Gilbert of the surveys back then. Just as this satisfaction often decreases with the length of the relationship, the willingness to cheat increases. The psychologist speaks of "partnership risk factors".

More on this: Controversy in a partnership: Who fights, loses

Children usually increase this risk. Stephan cheated with Maria only a few months after the birth of their first child. "He was at the bottom of my priority list," she explains the situation from then. Maria seems to have completely digested what would traumatize many women for the rest of their lives. How did she do it?

Freedom through cheating

At least not without couples therapy, says Maria. With the help of the therapists, Maria and Stephan looked at the patterns that had a decisive influence on their behavior as a couple. This is what Kristin Gilbert summarizes as "individual risk factors".

"An important point is the loyalty concept: the more liberal my attitude towards monogamy and loyalty, the higher the likelihood that I will cheat," says Gilbert. An essential motive of the foreigners interviewed by the scientists was also the desire for freedom and autonomy.

More on this: Monogamy is just an invention

This is also the case with Stephan: During therapy, he realized that as soon as he saw his freedom in danger, he kept destroying things that were important to him. In the end, he not only harmed others, but also himself.

Perpetrator and victim - who is who?

The deceiver is the perpetrator, the victim is the victim. There is general consensus in society on this. Maria felt that way too. It's not wrong either. However, it is not the whole truth either.

"There are two levels here that have to be distinguished," says psychologist and couples therapist Hans-Georg Lauer. Those who take the step and cheat naturally become the perpetrator. Anyone who goes this far need not be surprised at the anger and pain of the betrayed partner.

However, both partners are involved in the relationship dynamics, which are often the breeding ground and the cause of infidelity, according to Lauer. That's not bad news. After all, where there is responsibility, there is also room for maneuver. This is how Maria felt: "It was totally relieved for me to realize that I am not just a victim."

"Infidelity by no means means the end of a relationship," says Lauer. The couple therapist outlines three steps that are necessary if the relationship is to have another chance. But they also make sense when anger and pain should not remain lifelong companions.

The first thing to do is to restore a minimum of trust. "That takes openness," says Lauer. In his therapy sessions, the duped are therefore allowed to ask questions. "That strengthens mutual understanding," explains the psychologist. It also makes the couples speak again. A not unimportant requirement for the potential restart of the relationship.

More: We have to talk!

Hold on, hold on, hold on

With the questions comes the pain: "Making the deception concrete and giving a name to the uncertain is what makes the pain really noticeable," says Lauer. "Step one: endure questions. Step two: endure pain." Whoever manages that has a good chance of overcoming it.

Third, it is important to be aware that there are no hasty answers. "Some couples tend to go straight back to business," says Lauer. Often the fear of what might lurk in the depths is too great. It is better to quickly accept what happened instead of becoming aware of the scope of the problem and enduring the uncertainty. "But that usually takes revenge."

Couples can make real quantum leaps through crises

Maria can confirm that it is worth taking a look at the personal patterns of both partners. Before she was with Stephan, she herself was often the affair and thus part of a three-way constellation in which she could not get beyond the status of the secret lover.

More on this: Happy partner? Longer Life!

What doesn't kill you makes you strong

In therapies, the - often unconscious - beliefs that often co-determine the path our life takes are revealed. "I am not worthy of someone completely choosing me," believed Maria. When Stephan cheated on her, she saw her worthlessness confirmed.

But Stephan stayed. Despite the fact that he was strongly drawn to the other woman, he decided to break his own pattern of action and get further involved with Maria. "To see that we went through this crisis, relaxed a lot," says Maria.

"A couple going through a crisis together can make a quantum leap," says Lauer. That applies to Maria and Stephan. The topic of fling is no longer a nightmare. This is not only because Maria has forgiven her husband and both are much more aware of their behavior patterns than they were before the betrayal.

Maria has also overcome her sense of worthlessness. "I always thought if he cheats I can't take it. It'll kill me." Not only did she survive, but she says their relationship has gotten stronger and more honest. When Maria speaks of one of the most difficult times in her life today, she sounds grateful that all of this happened just like that.

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    Author: Fabian Schmidt