Infidelity Redefined

Posted on January 24, 2014


This week I am in Washington for the final training module for CSAT (certified sexual addiction therapist) certification.  On the first day of this module, Rob Weiss presented on sexual addiction and technology, and how assessment and treatment is impacted by evolving technology and media.  This post is not about that, but about a comment that he made that I thought was profound.  The comment was this, “Today, infidelity can no longer be defined in physical terms.  Think of it more globally as the keeping of secrets in an intimate relationship.”

Historically, the definition of infidelity has meant having sex with someone other than your spouse.  While this is still infidelity, there are many other ways in which trust can be broken with your partner.  The keeping of secrets is a useful standard to apply here.  In the realm of sexuality, this could take a number of forms.  Viewing pornography on the computer after your spouse has gone to bed might be one of these, particularly if you are keeping it secret.  Sexting with someone other than your partner is another.  Any relationship whether in person or online that is secret from your partner by this definition is infidelity.

By this definition, infidelity is not just about sexual behavior.  One could engage in financial infidelity.  If there are assets, expenses, or debts that one is keeping secret from your spouse, that qualifies.  One might be making purchases or engaging in gambling that your partner does not know about.  Alcohol or drug use that is secret from your partner (even if the secret is just how much you are using) could be infidelity.  Essentially, if your partner is likely to feel betrayed when he or she finds out, that is something to avoid.[1]  If something has already happened, you may need to figure out how to come clean.[2]  True intimacy requires honesty (what you say is true), integrity (both in the ethical sense, and being integrated, that is, congruent), and transparency (no secrets).  True intimacy is one of the greatest of human experiences.  It requires that we be real.  This is, by definition, making ourselves vulnerable.  It takes courage to truly let someone else see into us.  My experience has been that the men I have worked with on their recovery[3] have found that it was worth the risk.  Fidelity in every area has tremendous impact on the relationship, but is also integral in overcoming shame.

[1] If you kept it secret because your partner would have protested or been hurt, then you can be confident that he or she is going to feel that trust has been broken when it comes out.

[2] First, don’t you like the expression come clean?  It feels much better to not have secrets, like being clean.  Second, if it is something big that you need to disclose, it might be a good idea to have therapeutic support to make that disclosure.

[3] Because sexual addiction, among other things, is an intimacy disorder.