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What's The Motivation Behind Infidelity (And Why Is It Important To Know)?

Written by: Dr. Stephanie Bathurst, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Dr. Stephanie Bathurst

A whopping 45% of married men have been involved in emotional infidelity, while 35% of women have participated in an emotional affair, as gathered from the 2023 General Social Survey. The consensus in the frequency of infidelity lessens when accounting for solely sexual infidelity, dropping the US rates to 20% of married men and 13% of married women who admit to having sex with someone other than their spouse without their spouse’s consent.

Couple at the bed.

Infidelity is a uniquely subjective experience. Everybody is familiar with the word, yet I have encountered thousands of individualized definitions of what infidelity is and its destructive impact on relationships.


What constitutes infidelity?

The following behaviors constitute infidelity if they are performed non-consensually or secretively within a romantic partnership. These are defined as acts outside the scope of your contractual relationship dynamic. Here are some of the most common presentations of infidelity:

  • Emotional investment toward something that drains necessary energy from the primary partnership, leading to its dysfunction

  • Online flirtation through text, phone, video, or social media

  • Fantasizing about or imagining another person during self-pleasure or sex with your partner

  • Sexual expression towards another person

  • Physical affection in a sexual manner with another person

  • Attending sexually explicit or romantically focused events without your partner and in secret (strip clubs, play parties)

  • Masturbating to pornography resulting in a negative impact on the partnership

  • Paying for the livelihood of another person outside of the relationship


Why do we have to understand?

Value in the understanding of why comes from a few places. First, intrinsic curiosity and barriers to fluid conversations lock down any potential flow that encourages intimacy in the post-repair recovery phase. Most importantly, as part of Gottman’s formal 3-stage repair process, understanding why this betrayal occurred is a critical stepping stone to the couple making necessary changes in behavior, mentality, and interaction to prevent the recurrence of the same injury in the future. Without a deep knowledge of why infidelity occurred in the first place, we have no direction for how to better meet that underlying need in a way that is more sustainable and less injurious to the relationship.


15 Causes behind infidelity

  1. Physical health complications for self or partner (pain avoidance, fear of injury)

  2. Poor sexual fitness is a deterrent if high energy output during sex feels like a consequence

  3. Unmanaged mental health disorders, such as an active mania episode within bipolar disorder, impulsivity attributed to unmanaged ADHD, and generalized or social anxiety that drive avoidance of conflict resolution, prohibiting expression of needs

  4. Body issues or low self-esteem seek experiences for emotional reprieve, distraction, or external validation of self-importance through infidelity

  5. Performance anxiety

  6. Biologically driven attraction to others combined with self-rationalization to feed this attraction

  7. Untreated substance abuse or process addictions (sex, gaming, shopping) that encourage impulsivity

  8. Displacement of grief from the passing of a loved one

  9. Anxious-attachment disruption. Partners are dependent on external source(s) for emotional regulation.

  10. Physical or sexual intimacy needs that have been chronically unmet

  11. Suppression of sexual identity, gender identity or expression

  12. Unresolved personal trauma

  13. Unrepaired relational resentment

  14. Family of origin modeling, or other conditioned behavior

  15. Poor emotional self-regulation encourages behavioral seeking of hormones to momentarily feel better


How to use these findings

Esther Perel’s approach to infidelity in relationships views “infidelity as a portal into the complex landscape of relationships and the boundaries we draw to bind them.” This approach encourages conversational responses between partners and their therapist to focus on unmet needs, vulnerable longings, frustrations, and experiences of loneliness within both partners experiences. These discussions provide the necessary components and emotional vulnerability needed to permanently resolve the impetus behind infidelity within the relationship and also reconnect the partnership after this global schism.


Understanding the catalyst(s) for infidelity is a critical aspect of working collaboratively with one's partner to prevent recurrences of the same behavior. Although unhealthy and damaging in impact, occurrences of infidelity within a system teach us a lot about how it functions and what can be done to improve the connection or sustainability of the relationship. An effective repair process will absolutely include the coupledom discovering their deepened meaning from this event to transform something painful and negative into connective and fulfilling growth.


Discover

In addition to private client sessions, Dr. Bathurst offers resentment repair Relationship Programs and luxury, all-inclusive Hawaiian Couples Retreats.


What energy type do YOU exchange in romantic relationships? Take your free quiz or share MyFlowTypes.com with your friends for some fun!


A note of thanks to line editor Kellie Supplee


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Dr. Stephanie Bathurst Brainz Magazine
 

Dr. Stephanie Bathurst, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Dr. Stephanie Bathurst is an expert Clinical Sexologist, Relationship Therapist, and Holistic Healer who applies evidence-based techniques that blend holistic and traditional therapies. As a provider, she aims to energize relationships, unblock barriers in the 8 forms of intimacy, and treat the whole system for clients to see long-lasting effects. Acknowledging the heaviness in our world, Dr. Bathurst strives to lead unhappy partners toward better sex, effective communication, and release of resentment so that together we can create a more loving, more stable connection. With her primary office in Oahu, HI, Dr. Bathurst offers coaching to clients across the globe, couples retreats, and hybrid relationship programs for immersive healing. Dr. Bathurst is the CEO of Bathurst Family Therapy, LLC., and has won numerous awards of excellence in her fields. Her integration of degrees in counseling and sexology combined with certifications as an Integrative Medicine Specialist for Mental Health and Pelvic Floor PFilates instructor makes Dr. Bathurst a truly unparalleled provider.

 

References:

  • Altgelt E. E., Reyes M. A., French J. E., Meltzer A. L., McNulty J. K. (2018). Who is sexually faithful? Own and partner personality traits as predictors of infidelity. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 35(4), 600–614. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407517743085

  • Barbaro N., Sela Y., Atari M., Shackelford T. K., Zeigler-Hill V. (2019). Romantic attachment and mate retention behavior: The mediating role of perceived risk of partner infidelity. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36(3), 940–956. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407517749330

  • Brady A., Baker L. R., Miller R. S. (2020). Look but don’t touch?: Self-regulation determines whether noticing attractive alternatives increases infidelity. Journal of Family Psychology, 34(2), 135–144. https://doi.org/10.1037/fam0000578

  • Gottman, J. M., & Gottman, J. S. (2008). Gottman method couple therapy. In A. S. Gurman (Ed.), Clinical handbook of couple therapy

  • Perel, E. (2019). The state of affairs: Rethinking infidelity. Yellow Kite.

  • Russell, V. M., Baker, L. R., & McNulty, J. K. (2013). Attachment insecurity and infidelity in marriage: do studies of dating relationships really inform us about marriage?. Journal of family psychology : JFP : journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43), 27(2), 242–251. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0032118

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