NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Living a Double Life: Part 2: The Secrets and Lies of Infidelity

In my prior blog post, Leading a Double Life: Part 1: The Private Self and Public Self , I introduced the topic of leading a double life.  I gave examples from the common phenomenon of having a private self, which is a normal part of life and isn't about leading a double life, to leading the life of a sociopath, which often involves living a double life filled with secrets and deception.  In today's article, I'll focus on a particular aspect one of leading a double life, infidelity.

The Secrets and Lies of Infidelity

I've discussed infidelity in prior blog articles, including:

Infidelity - Married, Bored and Cheating in Sex Chat Rooms
Infidelity: Your Spouse Cheated on You - Should You Stay or Go?
Relationships: Coping With Infidelity
Infidelity: Cheating on Your Husband Even Though You're "Not the Type"
Infidelity: Learning to Trust Again After the Affair
Relationships: Are You Having an Emotional Affair?

Leading a Double Life in An Affair is Fraught With Problems
Leading a double life, in a primary relationship while having an affair, is fraught with possible serious emotional consequences for everyone involved.

Most clients that I have worked with who are having affairs are fearful of getting caught.  In most cases, they don't want to hurt their spouse or partner, family or the person they are having an affair with, so they go to great lengths to keep the affair secret and indulge in lies to keep it under cover.

Most people admit that they are aware that if they were caught, they know their spouse or partner would end their relationship.  And even if the spouse doesn't leave, these people are usually aware that it would be a long road back to establish trust again, if it can be reestablished.

But often even this awareness isn't enough to have them give up the affair.  Many of them will acknowledge that they're being selfish by having the affair--wanting to keep their marriage and also have someone else on the side.

The Risk of Getting Caught and the Dopamine Rush
Other people find the secrets and lies exciting.  The thought of getting caught makes the affair even more tantalizing and fun.  Getting away with these secrets and lies makes the affair more risky but also gives them a kind of emotional rush.

This emotional rush has been described to me as similar to a cocaine rush, the rush of placing a bet for people with gambling problems, and so on.

The dopamine rush itself can become a powerful reinforcer of this behavior as they look to keep getting this "high."

If they're honest about it, many people who get a rush admit that if they had their choice, they would be able to keep getting away with the affair and not get caught.

Secrets, Lies and Compartmentalization
Infidelity comes in many forms.  There's everything from the one-time affair that was alcohol fueled at an out of town conference to a 25 year affair.

Keeping an ongoing affair secret usually involves a fair amount of deception.

Most people who have talked to me about having an ongoing affair have told me that, over time, just like other forms of lying, telling lies related to infidelity gets easier in a sense--at least on the surface.

Of course, the experience will be different for everyone.  But many clients have said that, whereas they were very scared the first time they lied to a spouse, after a few times, they found themselves doing it with more ease once they realized that they could get away with it.

This doesn't mean that they felt good about themselves or that they had a clear conscience about it.  Most of the time, for people who aren't sociopathic, it involves leading a compartmentalized life.

Compartmentalization, as the term implies, allows people to keep the different parts of their lives in different "boxes" or compartments, so to speak.  So, for instance, they would keep their primary relationship and their affair in different compartments in their minds.

The purpose of this type of compartmentalization is to ease whatever guilt, shame or discomfort related to the affair.  Often, it also keeps them from being fully aware, in a more conscious way, of the emotional consequences for everyone involved if the spouse or primary partner finds out about it.

Getting Caught Cheating: Worlds Collide
Keeping an affair secret is much more difficult today than it was in the past before cellphone records and text messages.  There are so many ways that someone having an affair can be found out.

Since the compartmentalization often keeps people from feeling discomfort and from being fully aware of just how emotionally risky their behavior is, getting caught is usually much more emotionally devastating than they anticipated.

Once you're caught having an affair, compartmentalization no longer works as worlds collide.  At that point, you have to deal with the full impact of your behavior and the consequences.

Getting Help in Therapy 
Individuals and couples who are affected by infidelity often need professional help to get through the emotional crisis that arises when a secret affair is discovered.

When infidelity is first discovered, during the period of the initial shock, couples often don't know whether they will stay together or break up.

Whether or not you decide to stay in your primary relationship or not, the emotional aftermath of an affair is filled with hurt and anger.

Rather than trying to get through this on your own, a licensed psychotherapist, who has experience helping clients overcome the pain of infidelity, can help you navigate through this difficult time, whatever you decide to do about your relationship ultimately.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many individuals and couples who were dealing with issues related to infidelity.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.