On my quest to figure out relationships I stumbled upon the podcast “Where Should We Begin” and was hooked. Relationship therapist Esther Perel works with anonymous couples in search of intimate, raw and profound details while analyzing topics such as loss, infidelity, sexlessness, sex addicts, adultery and so much more. One of the things Perel mentioned is that she gives adultery a chance. Obviously, I had to get to the bottom of this.
Did you know that swans, those beautiful romantic creatures floating innocently around and are symbols for sexual fidelity and romance, have some chronic cheaters among them? I am still surprised how swans were able to keep this from us for so long. I reckon there are other species out there who have shown a consistency in being unfaithful lovers. According to scientists (who gets funded for research like this?), only a handful of animals experience monogamy. One I remember was California mice. You should keep that in mind when buying Valentine’s card searching for a perfect cover. Don’t use anything swan! Mice are okay.
Humans are also bad at being faithful. According to Statistics Canada, estimates of people who fool around on their significant others vary from less than twenty percent to up to seventy percent. Well, those are the numbers of the cheaters we caught. Of course, we cannot find too much reliable data since cheaters are usually untrustworthy or they do not agree on what actually qualifies as cheating. Is kissing someone else cheating? Oral sex does not count, according to Clinton. Sexting? Or when I tell my partner, “I know you have a very stressful job. Do whatever you have to do to get through this”, entail that he can cheat? I mean I did not specifically say, “This does not include to cheat on me” so I guess it is (also) my fault. Statistics further show that women are just as bad as men when it comes to cheating. A couple of years ago, their adulterous options have been somewhat more limited due to economic dependence or domesticity but since women entered the workforce Pandora’s box of temptations has been opened.
Anthony Burgess describes adultery as “the most creative of sins,” and yes, he is right. Thanks to social media and the ability to connect anywhere, cheating is so easy. Tinder or Facebook your way through infidelity in no time. So does this mean we can just eat “them forbidden apples” even more hungrily than ever? In the US for example, adultery is still illegal in many states and is even seen as a crime that can justify denial of citizenship. According to Esther Perel, however, the desire to stray is not evil but human. In her therapy sessions, she focuses first on the motives why the partner cheated. “To look at straying simply in terms of its ravages is not only reductionistic but also unhelpful, “she writes. So, it is initially okay to experience rage and hate but then the motives and meaning of an affair need to be explored. Perel states that “now the real work begins. To acknowledge the point of view of both parties [since it always takes two] – what it did to one and what it meant to the other”. By trying to analyze what was joyful, liberating, satisfying or meaningful for the one who cheated should be taken into consideration, she adds.
Whenever an affair is detected, it is usually devastatingly painful for the ones betrayed but maybe it may also be somewhat invigorating. For example, one may consider the expectations of what marriage is/was in the first place. It has been analyzed that to make a relationship function at its best, comfort, excitement, sexuality and intellectual stimulus need to be present mostly at all times. According to Perel, partners are too quick to look elsewhere the “moment that those needs aren’t being met”.
One has to keep in mind that there is no such things as absolute romantic security in relationships. There is no “affair proof” marriage out there. We can tell each other that trust is the most important thing for us in a relationship and that it also is the only thing that should/can not be broken but who can promise this?
The psychoanalyst Adam Philips said that trust is “a risk masquerading as a promise.” I do not want to be seen as the only progenitor of my partner’s desire but rather as a current enjoyer or recipient. “Introducing uncertainty sometimes requires nothing more than letting go of the illusion of certitude. In this shift of perspective, we recognize the inherent mystery of our partner,” she states which means to me that to love is to have, and to desire is to want, and a balance of the two makes for a more enduring connection.
Perel wrote an awesome book that I can highly recommend if you would like to read. Perel is Belgian-born and practices in New York. I just love her European take on desire, love, and lust.