Infidelity doesn’t always indicate a broken relationship.
Just ask Esther Perel, the Belgian psychotherapist responsible for some of the most compelling relationship analysis of our time. According to Perel, cheating often has very little to do with a person’s contentedness or satisfaction; instead, the issues almost always lie with the cheater themselves. A search for freedom, for instance. A deep and persistent longing for adventure.
“Straying isn’t necessarily a symptom of a relationship gone awry,” Perel said during an interview on Mamamia’s No Filter podcast with Mia Freedman.
“It’s the quest for lost parts of one’s self, it’s the quest for a sense of aliveness, for vitality. It’s a quest to reconnect with the unlived lives.”
“… Affairs are about hurt and betrayal and deception but they’re also about longing and loss and self-seeking.”
Listen: Esther Perel discusses the psychology behind cheating, and whether or not you should tell your partner. Post continues after audio.
These facts – that the person who has been cheated on is very rarely involved, and never to blame – might provide a glimpse of solace for one 32-year-old woman this week, who has been left reeling by her 29-year-old husband’s lies.
The couple has been married for eight years – the woman writes on Reddit – and have established what she calls an “excellent” foundation.
“We dealt with deaths of close family members, job losses, errors in judgment on substance use, mismanagement of finances,” she explained. “We always were able to find solutions to whatever was current until three weeks ago…”
That is, when she checked her husband’s phone.
‘We were preparing for work and he was taking the recycling to the kerb and a Skype notification popped up. I decided to open it up because neither of us use Skype, or so I thought.
‘I open it up to a multi-month conversation with some woman from across the country, talking about how they are in love and are planning to meet. There were naked pictures and videos. They had been talking at night for hours at least three times every week sometimes more.’
It’s a sickeningly familiar story, isn’t it?
After sending herself screenshots of the photos and messages, the woman confronted her partner in floods of tears. But even the confrontation didn’t unfold as she had planned.
“He became extremely irate and told me either take it or leave it,” she wrote. “He demanded I open the relationship or leave the house. I could not believe my ears.
“I don’t know what to do… we haven’t spoken in a day.”
It's an indelible event - one that will change the shape and feel of their relationship forever. So, what should a woman in this situation do?
The internet's answer is overwhelming: "Call a divorce lawyer. Lock ALL your assets down."
If the woman was to consult Esther? Who knows, undoubtedly her advice would reflect the complexities and blemishes that come with cheating - and acknowledge that there is not always a clear, set answer. Sometimes, these situations can be salvaged. After all, just a fortnight ago, the pair had enjoyed a happy, joyful relationship.
Although, an "open" relationship would change the very DNA of their marriage entirely.
Which brings us to the question - what the hell would you do?