In my last column, I discussed the prevalence of marital infidelity as estimated over the years by a variety of psychological studies, the most famous of which was the Kinsey Report in the 1950s. Those estimates have risen dramatically over the last 60 years for women (from 26 percent to about 60 percent), but have remained about the same (approximately 70 percent) for men. I also addressed the cultural changes — women working outside the home, and the social acceptance of the double standard for sexual behavior (“boys will be boys”) for example — that have resulted in the rise of these percentages.
This week, I think it important to address the devastating and destructive impact of marital infidelity on the marriage partnership. The treasured expectation in our culture is that your spouse is the one person you can deeply trust not to hurt you physically or emotionally. Your husband or wife is expected not only to love and honor you, but to be your best friend, lover, co-parent, and soulmate. The emotional bond with your marriage partner is one of the most major and powerful relationships you will have, along with emotional bonds to parents, siblings and children. Sexual intimacy especially has deep psychological and emotional power to create, nurture and sustain the marriage bond.
All these elemental expectations, reinforced by the marriage vows, contribute to the reasons that infidelity is experienced by the faithful partner as both the death of a dream and the death of the relationship, and some degree of painful mourning is felt even if the marriage ultimately continues. Because it shatters the deep trust and emotional safety between spouses, infidelity shakes the very foundation of marriage.
The fai thful spouse will experience a complete crashing down of faith and trust in the unfaithful partner, and the sense that their whole world has been destroyed. Faithful partners go through all the painful phases of the grieving process because of the enormous sense of loss they experience. It is a process that may continue for many years, particularly if the infidelity results in divorce.