Affairs as A Path To Marital Growth
I’ve coached many people who’ve had an affair, not because I’ve coached thousands of people, but because so many people are struggling with the issue of infidelity. Pick up any magazine, read any bestseller, see any movie, attend any opera, and you will usually find a story about a cheating husband or a cheating wife. If you are feeling deeply shamed, as my unfaithful clients have, remember that you are not alone. Helen Fisher, the popular anthropologist and author of The Anatomy of Love, among other books, says that cheating is what humans do most of the time. “The primary reproductive strategy of homo sapiens is pair-bonding in conjunction with philandering,” she writes. In other words, most people in most cultures have a common life story: they get married and then cheat on their spouse. This is not to say there aren’t other options, as Fisher points out. There are women who are celibate, like nuns. There are men who are celibate, like monks. There are men who have many wives, like the Sultan of Brunei. There are women who have many husbands, like Elizabeth Taylor. (Okay, so maybe her style is less polyandry and more serial monogamy, but still.) But for most people, most of the time, Fisher says, it’s bonding with one other person and then cheating. Committed sexual monogamy is the most joyful choice for me, personally, but I had many questions along the way. I had to develop my own brand of sexual morality, not just accept it from my evangelical Christian parents. It was not a tidy process, but what journey of the soul isn’t fraught with bloody battles? I had to arrive at this place on my own. When I am coaching people who have struggled with paralyzing guilt over infidelity, I remind them first that they are not alone, and second that an authentic life is rarely tidy. People make mistakes. But if you can take this crisis and look at it with soulful eyes, like Christ did for the woman who was nearly stoned to death, you can turn that “mistake” into a huge opportunity for spiritual growth. Renewed marriages, deeper spiritual practice and a feeling of connectedness can all come from facing this issue head-on. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but sex is fertile ground for spiritual growth. Getting to a place where we fully understand our sexuality takes work, however. Over the years, I’ve gathered a few tools that can help. For example, I’ve found that our sexuality, like our dreams, can be viewed through a metaphorical lens. Our dreams are not always literal. Sometimes (or most of the time, in my opinion) our dreams are trying to help the dreamer somehow. They are trying to help us understand something, cope with something, or give us directions for our waking life. Our sexual desires don’t have to be taken literally, either. They can show us the way to a vibrant new way of life, if we learn how to interpret them. A longing for a new sexual partner might be a sign of a desire for more creativity, more fun or more variety in our schedule. Or it might be an expression of anger or sadness in our relationship with our spouses or partners. (Of course, it also might be that you just reeealllly want to sleep with that hunky Marine sergeant. As Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.) Our sexuality can take us on incredible journeys, can open the door to new solutions and can shed light on our true desires, just like our dreams can. But if we shame ourselves, block our core creativity, or huddle in secrecy, we are very likely to make mistakes. We are much more likely to hurt ourselves, and others, when we are trapped in shame than when we have brought our true desires into the light. This doesn’t mean we must to act on every sexual desire, any more than we should act out all our dreams. It means we must illuminate our sexuality by bringing the light of our attention to it, with the tenderness a great healer.
Hadley Earabino, Martha Beck Life Coach