After being off the air for several decades I decided to watch Dallas, this time from the perspective of a couples counselor. In my practice, I work with infidelity. Many of my clients want to know why their partner cheated and how they can prevent it in the future. The “why” is something needed so the betrayed partner has some feeling of control.
When infidelity occurs in a relationship, the betrayed partner struggles with symptoms very similar to PTSD, namely hypervigilance and intrusive thoughts, and an array of other emotional and physical sensations. However, when a partner is hypervigilant, he or she will be on the lookout for when the next breach will occur and whether the hurt partner knows the entire story-is there anything else that is being hidden? Therefore, knowing the “why” the affair happened is important.
In addition to knowing why an affair happened, knowing how one’s partner became unfaithful in the first place is also relevant. Although there is no set rule to predict infidelity, it happens frequently with the start of secrets and conflict avoidance. Men and women may “step out” on the relationship when things between the couple are not going well. Additionally, one may be unfaithful without ever intending for the infidelity to happen. This blog addresses the later. For the purpose of example, I chose the television version of the perfect husband: Bobby Ewing. The man portrayed as the pinnacle of decency, ethics and morals. The one who stands on the side of righteousness and the one who could have succumbed to the enticement of Jenna Wade.
In the beginning, there is peace and harmony between the couple. Their marriage is secure. In brief, they are surrounded by a protective wall and together the couple peer out the same window. There are no real secrets from each other. Sharing is open, they share their enthusiasms about friendships with other people because they have nothing to hide. They maintain appropriate boundaries.
Bobby and Pam, prior to Jenna Wade, exemplified the above. They shared their daily events with each other, turned toward each other, and supported each other’s dreams and ambitions. Their wall was solid.
Then came Jenna Wade.
Step 2: Intimate friendship/Insecure marriage
One partner begins to share more of him/herself with the friend than with their marital partner. The boundaries in the marriage begin to shift slowly, barely perceptible to both partners. One way to determine whether a particular friendship is threatening is to ask, ”where are the walls and where are the windows?” In a healthy relationship, the ”window” is wide open, allowing the flow of informations and sharing to pass back and forth without limitation. With Bobby Ewing and his wife Pam, the window begins to close. Some of the information is becoming limited and some is being shared outside the relationship.
Bobby and Jenna had a romantic past that ended when Jenna left Bobby for another man. Now, Jenna is back in Bobby’s life. She first reaches out to Bobby. Telling Bobby she is in trouble, Bobby runs to her aid. Walking arm and arm she tells Bobby her latest woes. She puts her arms around his neck and kisses Bobby on the lips-neither engagement thwarted by Bobby. He agrees to sign a lease for Jenna. The secret: Bobby tells Pam about Jenna after Pam learns of their past. Bobby fails to tell Pam that Jenna contacted him for help or that he signed a lease for her. Bobby left Pam out of these communications and unilaterally decided to sign a lease, never giving Pam a voice, there was no “accepting influence”. Bobby never tells Pam about the kiss or the physical closeness between him and Jenna.
When Pam discovers that Jenna is in the picture, Bobby invites Pam to meet Jenna. This reflected openness. Had Bobby continued to inform Pam about the events between him and Jenna, gotten Pam’s input and had a discussion with Pam about how to help Jenna, the relationship with Pam would not have been as threatened.
Instead, the secrets between Bobby and Jenna continue. Bobby fails to tell Pam about the time he is spending with Jenna. In fact, Bobby forgot about a lunch date with Pam and has missed dinner at home for a week. In the evening, he has been coming home very late. The window between Bobby and Pam is closing. Another window, between Bobby and Jenna is opening.
Step 3: Emotionally involved affair/emotionally detached marriage
The involved partner becomes more involved. Beginning to understand that the relationship is greater than a friendship. The marital partner and his/her friend have developed a separate channel of communication and experience apart from everyone else. They become more physically intimate: sitting close, touching hands, eating off each other’s dish, etc. At home, the uninvolved marital partner may question time away, may indicate that he or she notices a change in mood or behavior from the involved partner, his/her gut may hell him/her that something is wrong.
Involved partner may not believe he/she is doing anything wrong-still feels committed to spouse, not engaged in sexual relations. Involved partner may not recognize that the emotional tie is affecting the marriage.
A compelling aspect of emotional affairs is the positive mirroring that occurs. The partner likes how he/she is seen from the other person’s eyes. By contrast, in long term relationship, one’s reflection is one in which flaws are magnified. In a new romance, one’s reflection is more positive.
In a new romance, the magnetism of forbidden love gives the affair partner an intrinsic advantage when comparing the two relationships.
Spouse has crossed the threshold that separates platonic friendships from romantic to emotional affairs.
Tension between Bobby and Pam is growing. He is having trouble sleeping. Pam too feels isolated. She shares with Bobby, ”I feel alone even when you are there”. She further states, ”ever since Charlie (Jenna’s child) and Jenna showed up, nothing has been the same” and “We have a problem and I think they’re it!”
Bobby is upset with Pam when she questions his loyalty to their relationship. He accuses her of being “jealous “and of “twisting things”. In anger, Bobby leaves and drives to Jenna’s house. Bobby is torn between his wife Pam and Jenna. He is further enticed by Jenna because her child may be his (it isn’t). Now, he is in a position where he has to contemplate whether to remain in his marriage or commit to Jenna.
Finally, with Bobby present, Pam confronts Jenna. Bobby watches as Pam and Jenna duel. Bobby does not take Pam’s side. When Pam asks Bobby to ”choose” he leaves. Bobby even complains to Pam, why don’t you split a deck of cards and roll for me. Bobby remains uncommitted to Pam. He did not have her back, he did not stand up and say, I love you Pam and only you. Instead, he scampers away. He awaits Pam’s apology. Pam discovers from Jenna that Bobby intended to break off ties with Jenna. However, Pam suffered the humiliation of not having her husband be her partner. He allowed Pam to fight for him, which breached the trust and commitment of their relationship.
Can they heal? Can one heal from infidelity? Yes. Bobby never reached step 4. However, he did threaten the relationship with secrets and with his behavior. He shared too much with Jenna and not enough with Pam. When Pam objected to his time away, Bobby continued.
Initially, Bobby’s intentions were well meaning. He sought to help an old friend. However, as the time with her increased, the conversations become more intimate and secret. He spent less time with his wife and he strained their relationship. Bobby began to consider Jenna. Perhaps he started to compare what it would be like with Jenna instead of Pam. He could have lost it all.
In therapy, many betrayed partners ask, “how could you do this to me, to us? Didn’t you consider our relationship? My pain?”. The answer appears to be, “No.” Typically, at the time of the infidelity, the cheating spouse is not thinking about what he or she can risk losing.
Although the following did not apply to Bobby Ewing, it could have. Thankfully, Pam intervened. She felt safe to confront Bobby and demand to know what was going on and where he stood.
Step 4: The sexually intimate affair/the threatened marriage * Relationships in which sex occurs at the very beginning are less likely to have the deep level of emotional intimacy that occurs when sex is delayed. When friendships are built on an emotional level before becoming sexualized are more apt to be experiences during as a deep emotional attachment.
Marriage partner engages sexually with friend. Frequently, prior to sexual relations and during the sexual attraction, sex between husband and wife increases. When sexual involvement with the friend begins, sex between husband and wife decreases. Within the marital relationship, the involved partner is less involved in the marriage and family life, the involved partner may be more volatile emotionally. The involved partner is absent emotionally. Uninvolved partner continues to wonder if spouse is having an affair. The sharing with the marital partner becomes less intimate and more “roommate” like, conversations about obligations, not about the relationship or other intimacies.
- The “window” between the husband and wife is mostly closed, cloudy. Sometimes the involved partner feels guilty being with his/her spouse because of the secrets and withheld intimacies.
- The “window” is wide open between the involved partner and the friend. All information passed between the involved partner and the friend.
Living the double life is hard. It entails managing the logistics, including erasing emails, hiding cell phones, camouflaging expenses, meeting sites have got be convenient but not places you would likely encounter people you know. The emotional effort of sustaining two relationship, neither of which can be totally authentic, is also difficult. Lying not only erodes personal integrity, it distances one from his/her spouse. Every action with the friend that strengthens that connection has a corresponding effect of deception within the marriage.
If you and your partner are struggling with infidelity and wish to heal, healing from infidelity is possible. A new marriage can be built from the old. Keeping what you loved and discarding what didn’t work affords couples the opportunity to grow from the trauma of a cheating spouse.
I work with couples struggling with infidelity, along with other marital issues as well as premarital guidance. I am accepting new clients now.
I can be reached: cathycosentino.com or by phone: 201 485 9558. I am located in Wilmington NC and work with couples locally and throughout North Carolina.