By Dr Edrica D. Richardson
The term “sweetheart” has been accepted for many years now across the Caribbean for a much more painful and oftentimes destructive problem of infidelity. Infidelity has been the cause for divorces, broken homes, and even murder. In fact, infidelity is the only commandment that is repeated twice in the bible, once for doing it and once just for thinking about it. But somehow in our culture it is only seen as a rite of passage for most relationships, which is not ‘normal’ relationship behaviour. While monogamy may not be natural (as countless authors and even bible families displayed), the conscious decision to be faithful is an intentional choice that can be made on a daily basis.
What is sweethearting?
Dr Edrica D. Richardson is Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in multiple states in the US; and an AAMFT Approved Supervisor. Her clinical specialties include relationship issues, stress management, family conflict, and life coaching, to name a few. She works with adolescents, couples, and families in The Bahamas and the US. Visit her website at www.dredrich.com
Infidelity used to be simply defined as breaking a promise to remain faithful to a sexual partner, and that promise can take many forms, from marriage vows sanctified by the state to privately uttered verbal agreements between lovers. But the definition of infidelity keeps expanding: sexting, watching porn, staying secretly active on dating websites, so there is no universally agreed upon definition of what even constitutes infidelity. As a result, what percentage of people cheat, estimates vary widely from 26% to 75% universally.
What does sweethearting do to us?
It threatens our emotional health. Infidelity threatens our emotional security, our romantic ideal of being the unique, indispensable, irreplaceable, the ‘one’… infidelity tells us we are not, it is seen as the ultimate betrayal. Infidelity shatters the grandiose desire of love. Even though infidelity has always been painful, today it is often traumatic, because it threatens our sense of self. I thought I knew who you were; who we were as a couple; who I was; now I question everything. So infidelity becomes not only a violation of trust, but a crisis of identity. But the bigger problem is that we live in an era where we feel we are entitled to pursue our desires, because this is the culture where I deserve to be ‘happy’. Just remember ‘I’ is not in ‘we’, which is needed in a relationship.
Why do we still have affairs if leaving is possible?
Now, the typical assumption is that either there’s something wrong in your relationship or wrong with you. But everyone can’t be pathological. Because even happy people cheat! But most people find themselves in a conflict between their values and behaviours. At the heart of an affair, you often find a longing for an emotional connection, for novelty, for freedom, autonomy, sexual intensity, or a wish to recapture lost parts of us.
While most believe that affairs are about our partners turning away from us, most of the time it is about our partners running away from the person they have become. It isn’t so much that they were looking for another person as much as they are looking for another self. As a therapist, infidelity tells me that some affairs are an attempt to beat back deadness, an antidote to death. And contrary to what you may think, affairs are way less about sex, and a lot more about desire: desire for attention, desire to feel special, and a desire to feel important.
So how do we heal from a sweetheart?
The fact is the majority of couples who have experienced affairs stay together, because they are able to turn a crisis into an opportunity. Each partner gets to claim more, and they no longer have to uphold the status quo that may have not been working for them that well. Couples will have depths of conversations with honesty and openness that they may have never had; partners who were sexually indifferent find themselves lustfully voracious. Something about the fear of loss will rekindle desire, and make a way for an entirely new kind of truth.
Here are some specific things that couples can do
We know from trauma the healing begins when the perpetrator acknowledges their wrongdoing. But what is essential besides ending the affair is the important act of expressing guilt and remorse to the hurting partner. The perpetrator now becomes the relationship protector of boundaries, it is their responsibility to bring it up, relieve the partners’ obsession. This is the first step in restoring trust.
For the deceived partners it is essential to do things that bring back a sense of self-worth, to surround yourself with love and with friends and activities that give back joy and meaning and Identity. But even more important is the need to curb the curiosity for the affair details; questions that only inflict more pain and keep you awake at night. Instead, switch to investigative questions, ones that mine the meaning and motives:
• What did this affair mean for you?
• What were you able you express that you could no longer do with me?
• What is it about us that you value?
To be clear I am not pro-affair, but pro healthy conscious relationships. As I have seen, the victim of the affair is not always the victim of the marriage. So ask yourself more importantly:
• What it did the affair do to you,
• What did the affair mean for you.
Every affair will redefine a relationship, you get to decide how!