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I asked 3 sex and relationship therapists to demystify infidelity, and their answers will make you think differently about cheating

Business Insider logo Business Insider 7/15/2018 Shana Lebowitz
a man and a woman looking at her cell phone © Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

  • Sex and relationship therapists say infidelity is more complex than most of us are inclined to believe.
  • For example, couples can sometimes find renewed honesty and intimacy after the discovery of an affair.
  • This post is part of Relationships 101, a series which aims to help us all be happier and healthier in love - and to stop fighting over who should take out the trash.

Cheating = bad. Fidelity = good.

This is the logic to which most of us subscribe. And yet if you ask a relationship expert, they'll likely offer a more nuanced perspective, both on people who stray and on the implications of affairs.

Over the past year, I've spoken to a series of therapists about infidelity among modern couples, and they've all surprised me with their insights. Below, see three of the most intriguing observations I heard about cheating:

Couples sometimes reconnect emotionally after the discovery of an affair

Couples therapist Esther Perel would never recommend that someone deliberately cheat on their partner in order to improve their relationship.

But she has observed the way some couples find renewed honesty and intimacy after it's revealed that one partner has had an affair.

Perel told Business Insider, "It's a reevaluation of what happened: How did we become so estranged from each other? How did we lose our connection? How did we become so numb to each other? And the galvanizing of the fear of losing everything that we have built sometimes brings us back face-to-face, with a level of intensity that we haven't experienced in a long time."

Most people who cheat don't actually want to leave their relationship

Some people who cheat on their partners really do want out - and having an affair is the only way they know how to begin that process. But other people are simply looking to spice things up.

That's according to Tammy Nelson, a sex and relationship therapist and the relationship expert at Ashley Madison, a website for people seeking affairs.

Nelson shared a hypothetical example: "Maybe their marriage gives them physical and emotional validation, but they're not getting the sexual risk-taking that they would want. So they get that from the affair."

In fact, Nelson said some people may only see their affair partner a couple times a year - "but when they do, it's like a full blowout, and then they come back to their marriage and they're perfectly happy."

Don't discount your gut feelings about your partner's attraction to a 'friend'

"Emotional affairs" are becoming increasingly common, and unlike with a physical affair, it can be hard to know if your partner is having one.

According to marriage and family therapist Sheri Meyers, it's important to listen to your intuition. Maybe you've noticed your partner changing the way they act when the other person is around, or maybe they've been weirdly critical of that person.

If you feel like there might be something not exactly platonic going on between your partner and their friend, that's worth exploring - even if ultimately you're wrong.

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