About Marital Infidelity

“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive”. –

Walter Scott, Marmion

What is Marital Infidelity?

Marital Infidelity is when a triangle is created within a marriage. One spouse engages in a close emotional and or physical relationship with a third party, without the knowledge and or approval of the other spouse.  It is also described as adultery, cheating or an affair.  Once a spouse has created a triangle, it is usually maintained by the deception and secrecy towards the other spouse.  Lies of omission or commission are commonly featured.

Marital infidelity, whether emotional or physical, is a violation of the implicit and explicit trust between marital spouses.  When a triangle is created by one spouse, without the knowledge or consent of the other, the implicit and explicit marital trust is betrayed.  In a monogamous marriage it is usual for both people to have made an agreement to be sexually and emotionally faithful to each other.  Marital infidelity breaks this agreement.  The cause of marital infidelity is a deficit or lack of personal boundary on the part of the betraying spouse.

Impact of Marital Infidelity 

When the marital agreement is broken as a consequence of infidelity, the trust between spouses has been abused and as with all other types of abuse there is a perpetrator and a victim. In most cases immense suffering is experienced, particularly by the betrayed spouse.

Psychological and emotional trauma is the norm when the betrayed spouse becomes aware of the infidelity. It is helpful at this time for the betrayed spouse to understand that these responses are normal responses to what is a very difficult situation for them.  Anxiety, depression, rage and jealousy and a lowering of self-esteem and or of body image are typical psychological and emotional responses experienced by betrayed spouses.

The initial impact on the betrayed spouse can be likened to an acute grief response, which in the early stages can be very debilitating. There is a sense of unreality and shock, often followed by a sense of psychological and emotional numbness. The betrayed spouse`s physical health is also often negatively compromised, insomnia, anorexia and muscle aches are common symptoms, all associated with an elevated stress response.  At this stage the spouse can struggle to function normally. The betraying spouse can also experience similar psychological and emotional symptoms once the triangle is revealed.

Harmful Myths

There is often a myth that responsibility for marital infidelity can partially be attributed to the non- betraying spouse, or to the marriage itself, particularly in situations where prior marital problems and discord may have existed. This is not the case.

Further, in the early stage of revelation, as in all forms of abuse, the victim of marital infidelity often tends to question themselves and wonder if they are somehow culpable in some way for the event.  Consequently, the betrayed spouse can additionally experience guilt and shame as well as the range of other difficult experiences.

However, it needs to be clearly stated that the responsibility for marital infidelity does not belong to the betrayed spouse. It is the sole responsibility of the betraying spouse , even in marriages where there has been prior severe dysfunction.  The betraying spouse made a unilateral choice at some point, to break the implicit or explicit marital agreement, at least by withholding information from their spouse about the emerging triangulation.

The Aftermath

As every marriage is unique, the impact of infidelity can have varying outcomes. It really depends on what each of the spouses wants to achieve.  Often the decision to end the marriage is taken.  It can be helpful to seek support individually or as a couple when this is the case, in order to facilitate a `good ending`.

However, infidelity does not necessarily mean there is nothing worth salvaging in the marriage. There is in fact evidence for post marital infidelity growth.  For this growth to develop however, both spouses need to be willing and able to meet the challenges associated with re-building trust in each other.  With shared motivation and commitment, a new and robust, intimate, shared reality may be created and emerge over time.  Professional counselling is also available to assist couples with this endeavour and can be very effective and helpful.

“Turn your face to the sun and let the shadows fall behind”.  Maori proverb

Written By:                                                                                                              Dr Anita Corfe                                                                                                Counselling Psychologist & Integrative Psychotherapist                      SACAC Counselling


What Can You Expect from Pre-marital Counseling?

Engaged couples hope for a long, healthy, and happy marriage. This is more possible if we start with open and an honest conversations; premarital counselling is a great avenue to have these conversations. A study at the University of Denver found that premarital education reduces the divorce rate of participants by thirty percent (Stanley, et al, 2006). So what could we learn during pre-marital counselling? Usually, the couples will be able to:

  1. Be more cognizant about the strengths of their relationship and realise reasons why they are together and wanting to build future lives in the first place. This heightened awareness and verbalisation will in turn reaffirm and strengthen the relationship.
  2. Gain better understanding on how personality, family history, and life experiences can influence the relationship. With proper assessment, couples will be able to learn about personal needs, values, and how those affect our views and attitudes toward many factors of marriage such as intimacy and sexuality, finance, and parenting to name a few. The similarities and the differences in the couple will be discovered more during this process. However, in pre-marital counselling, the couple will learn to manage those similarities and differences better so that they will be able to utilise them to their advantage instead of looking at those as something that could tear them apart.
  3. Be guided by the counsellor to plan for their future better by discussing and managing expectations. It is very important to be conscious about what we expect from our partner and the marriage itself. During the discussion about expectations, couples could discover what being a “wife” or “husband” means to them, including their expectations of roles and division of labour in their household, or even what sex or infidelity means to them. The counsellor can help couples set and accomplish financial or family planning goals.
  4. Find new information. The counselling sessions will give couple the opportunity to discuss issues that do not come up in normal conversations, such as their fears, dreams, desires, beliefs, values, and needs. Individuals might have different reference points in terms of familial history, ethnic, cultural, and religious views that might prevent them from openly discussing certain topics. That is why counselling could offer a safe space for individuals to share things that are difficult to talk about.

By the end of the program, couples should have a more in-depth understanding of their partner and a set of tools to help start their marriage on the same page.

Written By:                                                                                                            Natalia Indrasari                                                                                      Licensed Marriage And Family Therapist                                                  SACAC Counselling