When Women Cheat: Overcoming Blame and Disempowerment
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A lot of my articles are about preventing infidelity, keeping communication open and honest, exploring alternatives in relationships, understanding monogamy, marriage and defining what works for you, and educating people on those alternatives such as new marriage, nonmonogamy, open relationship, and the like.
But what happens when you understand and consciously have tried all of the above and still find yourself at crossroads? Where the egalitarian relationship you once had slips away and becomes another statistic? I am talking about infidelity, and yes, it can and does happen to the best of couples. It can happen with couples who communicate openly; it can happen to couples who practice nonmonogamy. It happens, and it may have happened to you.
Is It Really Empowering To Cheat?
For many women, taking on a lover, having an affair, cheating, etc, can feel empowering, but it does a number on your relationship. Finding true empowerment takes a little more time and work.
When working with victims we need to encourage empowerment, ways they can better care for themselves before and/or after something harmful has happened to them. This is true for most victims. This is definitely true in cases of infidelity.
In this case, your husband or boyfriend is the unassuming victim of infidelity. So clearly they need to be empowered so they no longer feel insecure, unloved, etc.. But, perhaps ironically, you, the cheater also need to be empowered.
Please note: this is not to suggest that certain people are not unwilling victims of intimidation, bullying, abuse, etc, but in adult relationships where there is an ongoing interactive nature of some consent, it is important to look at both sides.
Cheating does not exist in a vacuum. Cheating is a symptom of an imbalanced and complex system. Unknowingly, the cheater via his/her actions is attempting to fix that imbalance. Often times the cheater will justify cheating because in many cases s/he blames the other for some injustice.
This is where it starts. The cheater feels wronged and therefore justified. In the healing process, the cheater must be the healer, but she won’t be able to do so if they still harbor anger or resentment towards the partner. This blame itself is not only ineffective, it is also disempowering. Blame holds someone else accountable. And, though the infidelity may have stopped the cycle will continue. Anger, resentment, and/or acting out will continue until both parties are equally empowered.
When we talk about self-empowerment, it is sort of an abstract concept. If you try to tell a teenager to go empower yourself, this might look like rebelling, saying “I do what I want”, “you can’t tell me what to do,” and while this may feel empowering, and look a lot like self-empowerment it is really more about establishing your own identity by going against authority. This is not the empowerment I am talking about.
Sure, it may feel as though you have lost your identity in the relationship, but can we establish our own identity and be self-empowered at the same time? Indeed. When I talk about true self-empowerment I am talking about learning to trust yourself, but I am also talking about acceptance of your partner, and this also means finding ways or learning to let go of blame, which leads to anger and resentment. The key is to break the cycle, which is often based on blame.
When working to heal a relationship that has been injured by infidelity, addressing the blame the cheater has towards the victim is key. This is true for any act or violation of trust, whether it be between romantic partners, lovers, family members, or colleagues.
Many acts of disloyalty or unfaithfulness can often be traced back to blame. Here it is important that the cheater trying to empower herself, by trying to find a voice that is lost or perhaps was never there, first deal with the blame she has placed on her partner. The blame and similarly the anger, and resentment is what is keeping the cycle intact, and unfortunately, it holds the innocent victim responsible. (In very much the same way a teenager might blame his/her parent.)
It is important to remember although the victim clearly has a role too, he/she is unaware of it. It is very unlikely that your partner will change the role unless he/she is made aware of it, and how it affects you. This now becomes the responsibility of the cheater to heal the wounds, by acknowledging his own feelings.
Make These Small Changes
The cheater can empower herself to heal not just the relationship, but her disempowerment by incorporating these few small changes:
1. Acknowledge the blame.
Where is the anger, resentment, frustration etc. coming from? Recognize when these feelings arise. What behaviors, actions, conversations, etc.. are triggers for the anger? This takes work. This requires the individual to take constant inventory of feelings, and then to acknowledge them. This might mean taking body inventories as feelings are felt in the body. Learning which feelings are triggered when and where takes time and forces the individual to be constantly conscious and aware.
2. Voice the feelings.
This is best done with your partner, but if this is not possible, it can also be via writing in a journal, talking to a therapist, or a friend. The point is to recognize the feelings as your own. Although someone else’s behavior may be behind the feelings, the feelings are still yours. Writing them down or talking them out makes it easier to see where their actions end and where your feelings begin. This distinction is crucial.
3. Understand that you can either hold on to your feelings or you can let it go.
We cannot choose how we feel at the moment. But we can choose what we do with the emotion after the fact. Holding on to anger, harboring resentment, and blaming are all choices we make. Letting go of these toxic emotions is a choice. If you cannot communicate your feelings with your partner, (ie if they are not a willing or ready participant in helping you change, which may be the case in infidelity) and if you decide to stay in the relationship this technique can have far-reaching results. Not only does it extricate your involvement from the root problem, it either a) eradicates the issue completely or b) forces your partner to address his/her behaviors without your emotions getting involved in the mix.
Lastly, accept your feelings and most importantly accept your partner for who they are.
About The Author
Moushumi Ghose is a sex/relationship therapist, California Board Licensed Marriage-Family Therapist, and author of “Marriage, Money, and Porn: A Guide to Navigating the 21st Century Relationship“. Her writing has appeared online and in print. She has also made several TV appearances and is co-host and producer of The Sex Talk Series,a web series dedicated to sex education, dating and relationship advice. Mou is currently working on her 2nd book about Sex.
Mou is currently available for consultations and coaching via phone or face to face in NYC/LA. www.LASexTherapist.com
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