NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, November 7, 2016

The Connection Between Infidelity and the Need to Feel Desirable

I've written about infidelity in prior articles (see my articles: Broken Promises - Surviving InfidelityCoping With the Sudden Feeling That You Don't Really Know Your SpouseWhen Trust Breaks Down in a Relationship: Lies of OmissionRelationships: Coping With Infidelity, and After the Affair: Can You Trust Your Spouse?

The Connection Between Infidelity and the Need to Feel Desirable

In this article, I'm focused on the connection between infidelity and the need to feel desirable.

Esther Perel, a Belgium psychotherapist, who is a relationship expert, writes about this topic in one of her articles.

Most people seem to believe that infidelity occurs mostly because the relationship isn't working out.

But Dr. Perel's article highlights that infidelity can occur in an otherwise happy relationship, demonstrating how the need to feel desirable to someone new can be at the root of the infidelity, even when there aren't other problems in the relationship.

In many cases, the infidelity never becomes physical--it remains on the level of flirting either in person or online or sexting.  The spouse, who is involved in this type of interaction outside the relationship, often enters into a fantasy world with the other individual and, in that fantasy, he or she feels desirable.

This feeling of being desirable can be "intoxicating" and difficult to let go of, even when the unfaithful spouse wants to stop engaging in this behavior.

I would like to expand on these ideas with the fictionalized vignette below, which is representative of many different cases with all identifying information changed:

Ruth and Ed
Ruth and Ed were married for several years when Ruth discovered flirtatious email between Ed and a colleague.

Ruth was devastated.  She had always thought that she and Ed had a good relationship but, as she read email after email in which Ed and another woman engaged in sexual fantasies, she felt shocked, hurt and betrayed.

When she confronted Ed about the emails, he felt deeply ashamed.  He tried to tell Ruth that nothing physical happened between him and the other woman but, at that point, Ruth didn't believe him.  She told him to leave the apartment and check into a hotel for a couple of weeks until she could sort out her feelings.

After a few weeks, Ed persuaded Ruth to go to marriage counseling.

During their marriage counseling sessions, the therapist helped Ed to explore what triggered his infidelity, and he realized that he liked the way he felt when the other woman flirted with him via email.  It made him feel attractive and desirable.

However, he was quick to say that he had no real feelings for the other woman.  In fact, he never anticipated that the flirty emails would develop into anything.

Ed said he realized that it was selfish of him to jeopardize his marriage in this way.

The therapist also helped Ruth to explore her feelings, and Ruth expressed feeling angry, but most of all she felt hurt and betrayed.

During the next few months, both Ruth and Ed became increasingly committed to their relationship and to their marriage counseling sessions.  They both wanted to find out what they could do to get past this chapter in their lives so they could build a stronger relationship.

Ruth expressed that she felt badly that she wasn't the one who made Ed feel desirable and she acknowledged that she might have taken him for granted a little during the last few years (although she and Ed both knew that this didn't excuse his behavior).

They both wanted to explore ways to reignite the passion in their relationship so they could both feel desirable to one another.

Their commitment to the relationship and their willingness to do the necessary work in therapy is what helped them to overcome this traumatic period.

The Connection Between Infidelity and the Need to Feel Desirable

In the end, they each came away feeling that their love was even stronger than it had been before Ruth discovered the emails.

Many people assume that if there is infidelity in a relationship it must mean that there are problems with the relationship.

But, as I mentioned earlier, there are many instances where one or both people in a relationship engage in infidelity not because there is a problem in the relationship but because it makes them feel desirable to someone else.

This is often not readily apparent to either person until they begin to explore these dynamics in couples or marriage counseling.

Depending upon the individuals in the relationship, some relationships can be salvaged under these circumstances and some cannot.

There are couples who say they have gotten past the problem but, in many instances, one or both people never get over it.

For those couples, it can become something that is used as a "weapon" when there are other problems, usually with the person who feels betrayed brings it up at unexpected times.

For other couples, like the couple mentioned in the fictionalized scenario above, working through this problem can be a source of emotional growth that improves the relationship beyond how things were before the infidelity.

A skilled, experience therapist will not have an agenda to either keep the couple together or to see them split up.   This important decision is completely up to both individuals in the relationship.

Getting Help in Therapy
Individual, couples or marriage counseling is a valuable resource to help individuals and couples to understand the underlying cause of the infidelity in their relationship and it provides an opportunity to decide if they want to remain together or not.

If they decide to split up, therapy can help a couple to do it in as amicable a way as possible so that each person can be his or her own "best self" through the process.

If they decide to stay together, each person needs to be committed to seeing the process through in order to benefit from therapy.

If you're having problems with infidelity in your relationship, you owe it to yourself and your spouse to get professional help rather than making decisions that you might ultimately regret.

A skilled therapist who works with couples is objective and experienced in helping couples to understand internal as well as intersubjective dynamics so that each person can make decisions about the relationship.

Taking the first step, which is setting up a psychotherapy consultation, is often the hardest, but it might just be the best thing that you ever do for yourself your relationship.

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

I have worked with many individuals and couples to deal with 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.