One of the most common reasons why couples seek help for their relationship is a crisis caused by infidelity. This is an extremely difficult moment in many ways: the level of trust is low, and the level of emotion can be overwhelming. If a couple decides to work on their relationship at this point, then they will have to really engage all their resources and discover new ones that they were unaware of. This effort may lead to the rebuilding of the relationship, but – this is worth emphasizing again – this will demand a lot of motivation and conscious attention, to avoid falling into the “traps” that are common in these kinds of situations.
Below are some of the most common traps – forms of manipulation which make a successful resolution to the conflict, and development of the relationship, impossible.
The unfaithful partner
The most common forms of manipulation used by the person who has been unfaithful are:
- Hiding the infidelity and denying what the other partner sees: “you’re only imagining that things have changed.”
- Emphasizing that the infidelity happened with no reason: “it was only physical, so there’s nothing to think about.”
- Shifting responsibility onto the other partner: “you were insensitive” “ you didn’t appreciate me” etc.
- Maintaining that they can only feel (fill in the blank – spontaneous, attractive, intelligent, free etc.) with the other person.
- Minimizing the feelings and suffering of the other person: „I told you about it, didn’t I? That shows that I care about you!” “I’ve forgotten about it – you should too” etc.
- Concentrating on oneself: “I’m such an awful person, I don’t deserve you”, “I have problems with intimacy, I got frightened of how much I care about you (convince me that it’s worth fighting for and that we’ll be okay)”
- Saying that they’ll stay with the other partner for the sake of the children.
The partner who was cheated on
The news of the infidelity usually comes as a shock and brings up pain, sadness and anger. It’s very important to give yourself the right to these feelings, to express them, and to find support.
If you still want to save the relationship after some time has passed, it’s worth becoming familiar with the list below.
Manipulation used by the person who has been cheated on:
- Unwillingness to take their share of responsibility for the situation that lead to the crisis (the responsibility for the infidelity itself lies, of course, with the person who cheated), e.g. “our marriage was perfect before you were unfaithful.”
- Using the infidelity in every argument – even those completely unrelated to the topic of infidelity – as a bargaining position: “now you have to do what I want”, which gives a sense of power (“I’m right and I have the moral high ground”).
- Using the infidelity to explain one’s own difficulties: “because of what you did, I have low self-esteem, life has become meaningless, I’m not doing well in my career”, etc.
- Using the infidelity as an excuse to leave (when in fact they were planning to leave beforehand, and didn’t want to take responsibility for leaving the other person.)
- “Since I didn’t cheat, I don’t have to work on the relationship.”
- Saying, that they are staying in the relationship for the sake of the children (both sides use this idea.)
What isn’t manipulation?
It’s worth avoiding the attitudes and behavior described above, and to concentrate on making a decision about whether you really want to save the relationship. This demands courageously dealing with the feelings and needs of both sides, an honest look at how the relationship was before the infidelity, and making the necessary changes. It’s not a given that the relationship will last, and without full participation and authenticity, there isn’t much chance of creating closeness – with or without infidelity.