Psychology
23 Oct 2018

Pack your bags!

A man caught cheating usually expresses his remorse, and will claim that it was his biggest mistake. Should we believe him? -- an interview with sexologist Dr Alicja Długołęcka.

Wysokie Obcasy
Paulina Reiter Wysokie Obcasy, Global
Pack your bags! - NewsMavens
Man, PixaBay

The following fragments from Paulina Reiter's interview with Dr Alicja Długołęcka first appear in the Polish weekly "Wysoki Obcasy" in September 2011.

Paulina Reiter : Why does being cheated on feel so humiliating?

Not all women find the betrayal humiliating. Our feelings and reactions depend on the way we perceive ourselves and our relationship.

PR: So how would you label the emotions usually caused by a partner’s infidelity? 

Feeling deceived is probably the most common reaction -- the more we’ve invested in the relationship, the more fooled we feel.

Cheating disturbs the order, disrupts our vision of the world and of our relationship. I wouldn’t say it’s humiliating. I would rather call it petrifying.

It destroys our carefully constructed life -- sometimes involving children -- a shared house, joint commitments and plans for the future. The more there is that bonds us together, the more terrifying and painful the betrayal is.

PR: How about feeling guilty?

Betrayed women tend to blame themselves for not being able to build a relationship that would make their partner stay of their own free will. It’s a dramatic and upsetting situation, often leading to a painful self-reflection: “What made him leave?”, “What have I done?”, “What is wrong with me?”

Another question we should ask is -- what kind of behaviour do we categorize as betrayal?

PR: Sexual intercourse with another woman.

What about online sex? If a man devotes his time to another woman, sitting in front of a computer screen, is he cheating on his partner? Is it more or less serious than a fling with a work colleague on a business trip? 

PR: I guess it’s all relative, then...

And if a man has a female friend with whom he shares all the secrets and weaknesses he would never share with his wife?

PR: That’s friendship, not cheating.

Many women would call it cheating. You don’t regard it as a betrayal but someone else might see it as a negligence of intimacy and consequently, treat it as a husband’s unfaithfulness. Studies confirm that women are more jealous of emotional closeness than of physical contact.

Women concentrate on the psychological aspect of sex -- seeing their partner’s devotion to another woman as a destruction of their spiritual unity.

Men, on the other hand, are more concerned about physicality -- they can’t bear the idea of sharing their woman with another man. Psychologists ascribe this to anthropological grounds: woman’s infidelity has a different volume and meaning because it might result in giving birth to a rival’s child. In some places in the world, unfaithful women still face brutal, public punishments. But we’re not talking about unfaithful women today, are we? We are here to talk about women who have been cheated on, right?

PR: You’re absolutely correct. Do you have any advice for betrayed women?

There’s no universal advice because every situation is different. It all depends on the reasons behind the partner’s infidelity. But I do have one suggestion: if we catch him in bed with another woman, let’s not jump down her throat. Too often we put the blame on the partner’s lover, forgetting that he is the one who is accountable to us for this situation. Not many women sleep with married men deliberately -- very often they’re completely unaware of the circumstances.

PR: So what should we do?

Some people claim that the best solution is to pack his bags and kick him out. And I’m sorry to admit it, but this method actually works, especially if we use it beforehand: we warn our partner about the consequences of his potential infidelity and then, once in a while, refresh his memory.

Unfortunately -- and I mean it when I say “unfortunately” -- it’s pretty effective. Many relationships are built on men’s dread of the punishment awaiting their betrayal -- I meet them in my practice all the time. Sadly, if they don’t cheat on their spouses, it’s out of fear, not because they’ve chosen their partner over other women and they want to be loyal. It’s not a healthy arrangement.

Men should be treated as partners, not as our possessions. We need to give them freedom, allow some space to practice.

PR: To practice?

To practice being around the opposite gender -- chat, have fun, flirt -- in a way that doesn’t jeopardize the relationship. This “training” helps men control their desire. A constantly threatened and restrained partner, once unleashed and tempted, is more unpredictable and more likely to give in to his lust.

PR: So, if we fear our partner’s betrayal, we should give him more space?

Correct. This way we accept the fact that our partner is a free man and that we can’t impose anything on him, but also that he’s solely responsible for his own actions. We have freedom of choice in this matter as well and we can either accept his behaviour or not.

PR: Could the change in our approach also change our reaction to our partner’s unfaithfulness?

If we love him, then yes. If it’s a single incident, we might treat it as a warning sign, a call for action. A man caught cheating usually expresses his remorse, becomes unusually sweet, assures his partner  that “it’s his biggest mistake” and claims that it made him realize how much he loves her and how exceptional and important she is. If we feel that he’s being honest and that he truly cares, we could try and talk to him. It might turn out that we both have drifted apart and lost the feeling of closeness.

If we are willing to forgive him and we’re both willing to fix it, living through a betrayal might help regain the missing connection.

Our love will never be the same again, but it might become fuller and more mature.

PR: Should we always be so open-minded and permissive?

Of course not! I’m not encouraging every betrayed woman to forgive her partner and go to couples therapy! Sometimes it’s just not worth it. The decision and determination to repair the relationship must come from both partners. We both need to feel that our relation is too precious to lose it. 

Sometimes our motivations are not entirely rational and we try to maintain the relationship because we’re scared of being alone. Instead of living in a pointless arrangement, we should try to discover who we are without our partner, outside the relationship, on our own. We might surprise ourselves.

*** 

Alicja Długołęcka is a Polish sexologist, and author of numerous books including Seks na Wysokich Obcasach (Sex on High Heels) and a lecturer at the Department of Psychotherapy and Sexual Rehabilitation at Jósef Piłsudski University of Physical Education in Warsaw.

Translated from Polish by Martyna Kardach

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