Q. My boyfriend and I have lived together for three years, but we are not married. I thought we were really happy, but I found out he’s had an affair with a woman at his office for the past six months. He doesn’t consider it “infidelity” because we are not married. I thought we were going to get married. Why would he do this?
A. Over the past years the definition of infidelity has been broadened to include both unmarried straight and gay couples who are living together in a monogamous relationship but have been unfaithful to one another. Since the two of you are not married and seem to have different views about your commitment to one another, you need to have a serious discussion about the nature of the relationship. Does he think it is short-term? Does he perceive it as simply friends with benefits? Unless each party understands the relationship in the same way (or under the same rules) problems will arise.
A recently published book, “The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity”, by Scott Holtzman, offers insights into spousal cheating. According to Holtzman, one of the major reasons for infidelity is that one’s needs are not being met in the relationship. People often become so complacent that they begin to ignore each other. Has this happened to the two of you?
Another reason for infidelity is lack of impulse control. People who lack self-regulation will engage in activities that are often unwise. An affair offers “newness,” which activates pleasure neurotransmitters in the brain. This may exacerbate the desire to be promiscuous.
You don’t say what type of work he does; you don’t mention his working hours; you don’t say if you work. Some people can become so involved in their workplace that it becomes home, and domestic life gets ignored. This is especially true if two people work different shifts or have jobs that take them away from home.
If you cannot establish mutually acceptable rules for your relationship, it is time to move on with your life. You seem to have different expectations from a partnership, and it’s better to find that out now.
Q. My wife had an affair with a neighbor. She is not willing to end it, so I’m filing for divorce. Our children are 11 and 13. She says we should not tell them the reason. I think we should because it’s her fault. What do you suggest?
A. Even though you are angry at your wife, and feel she has destroyed your family, you do not want to act out of anger. If your children know about the affair, and it’s possible at their ages, then it’s appropriate for both of you to answer their questions together. Never badmouth your wife to your children; nor should she accuse you of being neglectful or inadequate in any way. These knee-jerk responses can come back to haunt families for years.
If your children find out about the affair from another source, it may destroy the trust they have in their mother. They could also side with your wife, destroying the trust they have in you. Remember that doing a bad thing does not make someone a bad person. You and your wife will most likely share custody of the children. They should know that you are not enemies, and they should not be forced to take sides.
Before you file for divorce, both of you should meet with a marriage counselor. Understanding the problems in your relationship may bring a solution to the situation. There is a tremendously high divorce rate in our country. Both of you owe it to your children and to each other to attempt to reconcile before you proceed with divorce.
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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City where she maintained a private practice. She now teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. The questions will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.