Infidelity is one of the more sad, painful experiences that can happen to a marriage. Around 3-4% of married men and women enter into an affair every year. Affairs are not just extramarital; they can also happen to couples who live together, of course, as well as couples that are gay or lesbian. Discovering an affair has been compared to trauma, with shock, anger, betrayal, and loss of control happening all at once. The world as one knew it is over. Trust that existed may take a long time to repair. Couples may spend months wondering why it happened.
Why do affairs happen? It can't just be a sour relationship, because they happen to people in relatively happy relationships, too. Today, it seems, affairs happen because of opportunity. More men and women are out in the world, not tied to a desk or home. If someone has a job that requires travel, or if they have money and can move freely, then they are more likely to enter into an affair.
Sex therapists are frequently the right expert to treat a couple after an affair has been discovered. While the thinking is that affairs are really not about sex, sometimes they are. Sexual dissatisfaction on the part of either a man or a woman can be one reason for an affair. Unfortunately, one of the reasons I know this to be true is that married people involved in an affair sometimes come into my office on their own, wondering how they can make their sex life better with their partner. More about that later.
Sexual dissatisfaction occurs when a partner gets bored with sex, finds their partner no longer attractive because they don't take care of themselves, or is turned off by a partner's sexual problem, such as not enjoying sex, having a low drive, or complaining that sex hurts. It can also happen because a partner is inhibited and won't engage in certain types of harmless sexual play. About 25% of couples are, in fact, in a sexless marriage--that causes sexual dissatisfaction, for certain.
When an affair is discovered, the world tumbles down. It affects not just the non-participating partner, who is devestated, but also the participating partner, who may feel self-disgust and shame. If the couple decides to part, it can create ripples that can carry on to their children, their parents and in-laws, and even the community. The destruction caused by an affair cannot be understood unless by people who have experienced it, or by therapists who witness the aftermath.
If you are seeking help and hoping to heal from an affair, or if you are deciding whether or not you should stay together, then a sex therapist is qualified to help, especially if there have been sexual problems in the marriage. Sexual problems are very common, as is letting them continue on due to embarrassment. A therapist not appropriately trained in sexuality may miss or be unable to treat sexual concerns that contributed to an affair. Sex therapists are well trained in all aspects of relationships, including sexuality.
Whether or not your relationship recovers from an affair, seeking counsel from a sex therapist may be helpful for your future relationships as well.