In The State of Affairs, relationship therapist Esther Perel analyzes the lights and shadows of infidelity. And if we say “lights” it is because, according to her, despite what the contemporary discourse claims, there are some. “Infidelity says a lot about marriage: not just your marriage, but marriage as an institution. Plenty of people care deeply for the well-being of their partners even while lying to them, just as plenty of those who have been betrayed continue to love the ones who lied to them and want to find a way to stay together,” writes the author, who offers an approach to infidelity that is more compassionate than usual.
Lara Ferreiro, psychologist and collaborator at the extramarital dating platform Ashley Madison, states that we are currently before a paradigm shift regarding how we understand relationships and that, for many people, happiness does not necessarily have to be linked to monogamy. “More and more couples are choosing to open their relationships. They know that infatuation lasts one to two years on average and that after that they will get bored with any partner. So, instead of changing partners, they change their way of understanding relationships. For many, sex and love are different things; they are more rational and know how to separate them. Just as we fall in love several times in life, we can also be attracted to new people; having new needs over the years is normal. For many, this doesn’t mean that we are not happy with our partner, but simply that we want to enjoy ourselves, live new experiences and adventures. For example, Ashley Madison users engage in a wide range of emotional behaviors, such as secret sharing, gift giving, online technological behaviors, sexting and more,” she says.
While in the past many people had affairs because marriage did not offer the debauchery and passion that they wanted, today many understand that this passion must be part of the marriage pact. However, as Perel points out in The Atlantic, “it’s not our desires that are different today, but the fact that we feel entitled — even obligated — to pursue them.”
Happy, cuckold marriages
But why do people in a happy marriage sometimes cheat? “This also happens because of the high expectations of marriage. When they reach that stage, many realize that despite having the happiness they longed for, it is not perfect. That is when extramarital affairs appear. The search for another version of oneself can also be one of the most powerful reasons, and it is often linked to investigating practices that have never been tried or that have been repressed with the partner. In the end, human beings tend to get bored when they see the same stimulus every day. We need variety,” says Ferreiro. “An infidelity can help the relationship evolve towards something more real, and it can bring new ideas. This helps us open our minds and get to know ourselves a little better.”
There are several reasons why happy people can be unfaithful:
– Self-exploration and self-discovery
“Infidelity leads to self-discovery because you are breaking moral limits, and that makes you rethink things,” says sexologist Mariona Gabarra, advisor to the extramarital dating platform Gleeden. Perel points out that many of her unfaithful patients, despite being happy with their partners, talk about love affairs as “a form of self-discovery.”
– Sexual problems
“When someone is unfaithful, it is usually because there are problems with the sex or because there is no desire or passion. It is always the same formula: there is a problem with the sex and the person wonders what it could be. They have a hard time. Then they reach the conclusion — so widespread and inaccurate — that this is normal when couples have been together for a while, as if it was something that had to be endured. This conclusion is common because it is assumed that love, affection and routine are the most important things in a couple, when in reality, sexuality is, as it is the most intimate part. The next step is that, after a while, that person thinks that they cannot live without those sexual experiences and takes the step of being unfaithful. This happens because we don’t have tools to work our sexuality out as a couple,” says Gabarra.
– To feel new or forgotten emotions
Happy people who cheat can be unfaithful to experience new emotions. “Through a sexual affair, a person can discover desires, have new intimate experiences, feel alive and desired and discover a new version of themselves. There are those who feel young again or revive their lost passion. An affair is very attractive, as it increases self-esteem and the hormones skyrocket. When we have a love affair, we live in an adrenaline-filled bubble,” says Ferreiro.
Although it is important to explain the reasons why there are people who are happy with their partners and, despite this, are unfaithful, this is by no means an ode to infidelity. As Gabarra points out, rebuilding a relationship after a non-consensual infidelity is very difficult. “Infidelity is a betrayal that emotionally is very harmful, and it can greatly damage the other person’s self-confidence. Having extramarital affairs can be positive, but if it is considered an infidelity according to the rules or what the couple has established, then it is no longer so. The couple will have to sit down and set new limits, which is complicated,” she explains.
Finally, we must keep in mind that there does not have to be a problem in the relationship for an affair to take place. As Perel told the journalist Natasha Lunn, author of Conversations on Love, “Even happy people cheat. I could be in a very good relationship with you, and love our life, but then something else might appear that connects with something inside of me that has nothing to do with us. It has something to do with my past, my longing, the lost parts of who I was.”
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