Infidelity is a betrayal of a relationship. And infidelity is a leading cause of lost friendships, breakups and divorces. Infidelity is not just about being sexually unfaithful. Infidelity is about any discontinuation of loyalty or support. And lack of allegiance. See where this blows the doors wide open for confusion? Infidelity is completely subjective. Some people have a very strict definition of fidelity and some have a very liberal definition of fidelity. It is based on belief systems, past experiences and education with regards to morality and personal preferences. If we witnessed or experienced infidelity in our childhood, we will most likely not even recognize the ways we lack fidelity. It will be a huge blind spot. This is especially true if we had a parent who was disloyal to us directly, or whose allegiance we could not trust. You will find that infidelity is perceived differently amongst cultures. For example, in some cultures, it is considered perfectly appropriate and therefore not a breech of fidelity for a man to have a mistress. In others, that would be considered wrong and bad. Though sexual infidelity is the dominant fidelity concern in modern society, emotional infidelity is in fact the number one fidelity threat to relationships. Emotional affairs are where one person is emotionally intimate with someone other than their partner where the attachment formed to the other person, negatively affects the connection or partnership. Infidelity is all about trying to get one’s own needs met. When infidelity is present, someone’s needs are not being met within a relationship so they seek them outside the relationship in ways that are damaging to the relationship itself. For example, if we feel we lack self-esteem, we may flirt to be admired by others so that need is met.
If we try to get one single person to meet every one of our needs, we are particularly at risk for infidelity because it places too much pressure on our partner. They will fail at that task and then, we will look for the needs to be met elsewhere. A person will not stay in a space of self-denial for long. Which is why we have to be clear about which needs must be met by a partner specifically and see if that is something they are willing to do. But no one can tell you which needs are appropriate to have and which needs are not. A good relationship is not about learning to have no needs. So for example, romance may be a need that must come through a partner as opposed to a friend and if this is an agreement, seeking romance outside the relationship is an infidelity. Where we run into a big barrier with fidelity is when we begin to involve morality in the picture. Arguing over what is objectively right and wrong within a relationship is futile and is also not a winnable argument because relationship conduct, especially fidelity is subjective. It is mostly based on cultural conditioning. So rather than have a conversation about fidelity based on wrongness or rightness, we need to have one based on individual perspectives and reach an agreement within the relationship that is accepted by both parties. In other words, we need to set out the parameters of fidelity within each relationship we have, whether it be a friendship or a romantic partnership as soon as possible. This provides a stable structure for conduct within the relationship. It is a platform for trust, which can be easily and innocently broken if we do not find a meeting of minds about fidelity enough to agree upon a course of conduct. Communication is not important when it comes to this agreement… it is critical. Obviously the topic of infidelity is closely related to the topic of jealousy. So don’t worry in the very near future, I’m going to do an episode on jealousy and envy. Fidelity is about both people agreeing upon the boundaries of the relationship itself as if the relationship itself were a third entity that both were in charge of. For example, one person might see venting to other people about the relationship as an infidelity and the other might not. So this leaves the door wide open for trust to be broken and so it is important to reach an agreement about this act within the relationship. Only you and the other person know what constitutes relationship infidelity so leave society’s opinion out of it.
We have to begin to define and set up boundaries for the relationships we are in. Sometimes, these are defined as you go… usually when there has been a violation. But because these boundary violations can be so detrimental to a relationship, it is best if we set them up at the very beginning. That way we can set up the rules we both play by. This can prevent us from feeling like we are walking our way through a field of buried land mines… we don’t know where the trigger is, but we seem to trip the trigger every time. You know what that kind of relationship feels like. If you have a hard time with personal boundaries, it will be very hard to create healthy boundaries for a relationship because to create healthy boundaries for the relationship itself, you have to definitively know the needs and wants of each person within the relationship. For this reason, I urge you to watch my YouTube video titled “How To Develop Healthy Boundaries”. To define boundaries within a relationship, you must communicate. You must voice your preferences and see if compromise can be reached in every area of your life where you might run into a feeling of broken trust. For example, sexual conduct, privacy concerns, time spent together vs. apart and how to handle problems in the relationship. Try to be very specific as well. For example if you’re discussing the relationship boundaries involving flirting with other people, avoid making sweeping statements like “no flirting”. Be specific about what kind of flirting is ok and what kind of flirting isn’t ok and if no flirting is ok, define what flirting is to you in practical action. An example of a specific practical boundary with regards to flirting might be no touching or no seductive eye contact with another person.
I suggest that when we begin a new relationship, we begin by answering compatibility questionnaires together. The more specific and uncomfortable the questions are to answer, the better. As long as you are able to answer truthfully, instead of by saying what you imagine the other person wants to hear. Trust me, if you experience enough painful relationships, you’ll decide it’s much better to discover you’re incompatible before you commit to the partnership. These compatibility questionnaires can flush areas of potential future infidelity to the surface. And be open to boundaries changing within the relationship as time goes on. Relationships evolve just like people do. Now we come to a very fascinating aspect of fidelity. Polyamory vs. Monogamy. Monogamy can be seen as intimacy with only one person. Polyamory can be seen as intimacy with more than one person. Intimacy is more than sex. Sex may be an aspect of intimacy, or it may not. But intimacy is the closeness that occurs as the result of sharing oneself with another. Seeing into, feeling into, listening into another and partaking of their inner world. So you see, most people on earth are in fact not solely monogamous and not solely polyamorous. They are instead a unique blend of both. To greatly simplify what I mean, lets’ pretend that under each person’s name is a line of boxes, where you can check polyamorous or monogamous. In the various areas of a relationship, any given person will be either polyamorous or monogamist. For example, one person might be romantically monogamist but polyamorous with regards to sharing intimate details about themselves like their deepest fears. Another person might be monogamist sexually and also monogamist with regards to sharing intimate details about themselves and their deepest fears. Intimacy conflicts in relationships arise when there is an incompatibility between these checked boxes. These boxes fit into the categories of physical, mental and emotional. When one is sexually polyamorous, they fit into the category of physical polyamory. When one is committed to the idea of openness and transparency, they fit into the category of emotional and even mental polyamory.
Be aware that sometimes, we are holding double standards in our relationships. These are areas where we are polyamorous and expect our partner to be ok with that, but we expect our partner to be monogamist in these same areas.
It must be said that most of the people in the spiritual field are emotionally polyamorous. And with the rare exception, if we live in an intentional community, we are actively practicing emotional polyamory at the very least. But it is more than possible to practice emotional polyamory whilst not being emotionally disloyal to a partner. Providing that a partner does not require emotional monogamy from you to feel a sense of connection and allegiance. In fact, when we have children in a relationship, we begin to practice a form of polyamory. There is a difference between infidelity and polyamory. With infidelity, we have broken an allegiance. This is what we call “cheating” or having an affair. Instead of including other people in our love, we have excluded someone from our love. We have excluded our partner or left them out of something. We are violating the connection. This is why secrecy is such a big part of infidelity. If you feel like you have to hide or keep something secret from another person, especially a partner, you have engaged in infidelity. Depending on your definition of fidelity, anything you do that is a detriment to the connection between you, can be seen as a form of infidelity. Which is why yet again, it is so crucial to define what is and isn’t considered detrimental to the connection. Complete open, honesty and compromise in this area is important to create a safe structure of fidelity for the relationship.
Defining this safe structure is often lovingly referred to by therapists as creating a ‘couple bubble’. Only you and your significant other can decide upon the parameters of that couple bubble and what pops it or maintains it. Compromise is when we give up something important for something we see as more important. But because we value the thing we are gaining by giving something up so much more, it does not lead to resentment. We see it as a good trade. When we try to give up something we value highly for something that we feel holds lesser value, we end up with resentment. This is not healthy compromise, this is sacrifice. And it’s important to know that when many people use the word compromise, they really mean sacrifice. This is out of alignment. When we develop relationships, we rarely consider whether or not we are compatible. We fall in love and think our fate is sealed. But genuine intimacy incompatibilities with regards to fidelity are rarely incompatibilities that can be worked through because they cannot be worked though in a way that compromise is satisfying to both parties. Both parties usually have to sacrifice instead of compromise and this leads to breaks in trust, resentment and disconnection. It is tempting to believe that love conquers all within a partnership, but you may want to watch my video titled “Is love enough” before you make up your mind on that account. Relationship experts keep saying that communication is the key to a good relationship. Why do they keep saying it? Because it’s the straight up truth. This is especially true when it comes to establishing fidelity in our relationships. If we don’t communicate, we set our partner up to fail and our relationship does not stand a chance. We are setting our relationships up for failure when we expect our partner to know and adhere to the parameters of our definition of fidelity. We have to tell people; especially our partner when our needs aren’t being met or our boundaries are being violated in a relationship and give them and ourselves the opportunity to work through it to find a way to accommodate those needs. This includes our children. As parents, we practice infidelity with our children all the time without realizing it. And this is what sets them up to repeat the cycle in their adult relationships. Take an objective look at your relationship with your child; pretend to step into their perspective and observe each interaction with you (the parent) over the course of a day. Can you see ways that you are not faithful to them by discontinuing loyalty and support? For example, perhaps when you sided with a sibling against them, they felt betrayed. Do they observe infidelity between you and your spouse?
Chances are in a relationship; we are going to make mistakes. A huge part of fidelity is about doing what it takes to repair a relationship once a rupture in the relationship has occurred. This imbues the relationship with a sense of loyal, supportive and secure trust. So don’t worry as much about not making mistakes as you worry about using mistakes to define relationship boundaries and taking action in accordance with them to develop greater future trust.