Updated: Sep 6, 2020
Therapists recognize that there is an accepted definition of infidelity. Even so, I routinely hear debates in my office between partners about the definition. I hear statements such as "it was nothing", "we were just friends" or the person was "just someone to talk to". The partner who had the affair, or some other inappropriate behavior, diminishes the behavior, defining their behavior as anything but an affair. Maybe you can think of other examples other dismissals of inappropriate behavior.
Therapists also talk of types of affair, such as sexual, emotional, exit or entitlement affairs. This helps couples understand that even though there was no sex, it can still be defined as infidelity. Knowing the type of infidelity also helps the therapist so that treatment can be tailored to the situation. But if you don't agree that the infidelity even occurred, then how can you treat it?
I am interested in expanding the definition of infidelity beyond the common definition of "one partner having an outside relationship that is hidden from their partner", so that my definition captures other behaviors. My definition of infidelity is any action that was not explicitly or implicitly agreed upon when the two of you created your relationship. Stay with me for a minute. Infidelity is not just a hidden sexual relationship. In fact, I view infidelity as a betrayal of "the original agreement".
Consider this question "When we got together as a couple, did my partner share his or her willingness for me to........
[pick one or insert your own:]
-have intimate conversations with appealing other people?
-be secretive about communications with a coworker?
-have a strong emotional connection with a friend?
-share sexually charged text with someone on Kik?
-secretly watch porn?
-spend nights out late at bars with unknown "friends"?
-hide purchases or other financial matters?
As you can see by my questions, my definition of infidelity goes well beyond a sexual or emotional affair. So let me move to discuss the antonym to the term infidelity.
Fidelity is maintaining the commitment to the vision of the relationship, explicit or implicit, that you shared as you created this relationship. This includes expectations about love, sexuality, family, career and finance, as examples. Of course life evolves and couples plan and adapt. However, any major change in this vision would need to be explicitly discussed and agreed upon by the two of you. A healthy intimate relationship requires open dialogue and collaboration around adjustments to the vision of the relationship. Any deviation from the vision without prior agreement to the change would be an infidelity.
If you are struggling in your relationship around boundaries with others, secrets, concerning communication, let me offer you a call to action. Take time together to discuss the hopes, dreams and expectations that you had at the beginning of your relationship. Discus how they have changed over time. Create a new vision for the relationship and commit to the fidelity of this vision.