One of the best things that you can achieve in any relationship is the understanding that your partner cannot and should not be able to provide you with everything you need. They may be kind, and funny, and smart, but they might not be the best athlete. It’s hard when you want someone that is the complete package. You want someone who is both athletic and down to eat a whole pizza. Someone who is spontaneous and has that bring-home-to-momma stability. You want someone who is funny and you want someone who can hold down a conversation about racial politics. If you don’t realize that one human can’t provide all of these things simultaneously, you may start to feel certain bars getting low. Maybe your adventure bar is getting low. Maybe your humor bar is getting low.
Instead of seeking to fulfill these desires by yourself, or with your partner, you may start to be drawn to others who exhibit these characteristics you feel you’ve been lacking lately. It’s especially likely if you’re in close contact with lots of people who you find yourself emotionally or physically attracted to. Suddenly you start to get that feel-good feeling again. Your bars are going up. You want to follow that good feeling.
What is opportunity?
Opportunity is most simply an opening for you to become close to another person that is not your significant other. Opportunity can happen in a lot of different ways. You might be in the same college course as this person. Maybe they’re your study partner. Maybe this is someone you work with closely. Maybe it’s someone who is in the same social-group as you are. Maybe you have very similar hobbies and communicate regularly about that. Opportunity can be any number of things that allow you to become physically or emotionally close to another person.
How does this relate to infidelity?
Opportunity is the sweet spot when your problem finds an easy solution. Opportunity allows you to bypass the problem to feel good, sometimes without even realizing why you felt bad in the first place. I believe that opportunity does not exist without discontent. That means that if someone is unfaithful it is because they were unhappy either with themselves, with their partner, or with their relationship. If you are happy in your relationship, it isn’t opportunity, it’s just another person who you happen to get along with well.
Should you avoid opportunity?
In a monogamous relationship, I think that avoiding opportunity can be critical in disallowing yourself to develop a crutch. That means you need to know your own limits and you need to recognize your own ability to lie to yourself. A good meter for opportunity is this: Would my partner be upset if they heard what I was thinking, or saw what I was doing? If the answer is yes, back up and try to be a little critical of your emotions. Avoiding opportunity is just another way of saying you’ve created boundaries in your relationship. Often boundaries aren’t things you shouldn’t do or can’t do, but things that feel weird to do.
What about intimate friendships?
The gaping hole in this argument is friendship. If one person isn’t capable of being 100% of what you need in the world, you need a community of other people that can fill in these gaps.
Q: What’s the difference between friends filling gaps, and following opportunity?
A: Thinking. Ahead.
If you’re following opportunity it means you are already unhappy or discontent in some way. If you’re gaining something from your friendship, you’re preventing those bars from dropping so low that you need to seek out fulfillment elsewhere. Friendships are critical in being a happy, fulfilled person. Different friends can provide different things. Some can bring you back down to earth. Some can really get you excited. Maybe you have a friend that completes your geeky soul. Maybe you have a friend that excites your musical spirit. Whatever your friends do, they help keep you happy. They prevent you from relying completely on your partner for everything you need.
If you don’t think ahead – if you don’t reach out to your friends – you may find your bars dropping and reaching out blindly for support. You will find yourself seeking the wrong kind of support.
Another gaping hole in this argument are relationships that create their own boundaries from the start that purposefully allow for the exploration of opportunity. These relationships are often, but not always open relationships, or polyamorous relationships. Open relationships or other forms of ethical non-monogamy also fill these gaps and allow you to be more fulfilled. This isn’t a workable solution for everyone. Some people are more comfortable with the idea of non-monogamy than others. Sometimes ethical non-monogamy fits you, and your needs. Sometimes it makes your emotional distress more visible. Some people are led to non-monogamy by books or articles, others just feel they’ve always been polyamorous by nature. They believe that multiple romantic relationships is the way of life. They find fulfillment in this space. For some, ethical non-monogamy is the key to preventing infidelity.
The problem with opportunity
It’s addictive. If you’re feeling low and find something that brings you back up, you’ll be drawn back to that person/scenario over and over again because it gives you a feel good feeling. In relationships, this is called NRE: New Relationship Energy. It’s the buzz you feel when you have good chemistry with someone else. That energy could be romantic, sexual, or even just super-great friend chemistry. Once you get a taste of that NRE you’ll be compelled to come back to it over and over again. New relationship energy may prevent you from reaching out to your partner to communicate your needs. It will be difficult to create that energy with your partner. It is easy to feed off of it with someone new.
Often, this is the turning point to infidelity. Instead of taking a step backwards out of the hole of opportunity, the partner who is struggling falls deeper into it. They’re now balancing between their relationship and their desire to feel fulfilled.
Why don’t they just leave?
The biggest reason is that they’re actually still in love with their partner, they just don’t know how to fix the problem, or what the problem even is. They like this new feeling and how it has sustained them, but they still want to fix their relationship. Instead of leaving, or working on the relationship, they enter a limbo where they are neither committed nor uncommitted. They’re simply wavering. Previous posts on communication could help this problem and allow to people who love one another to find their way back to one another.
In my research, I spent a lot of time reading about women who were in unhealthy relationships. I believe that men and women equally enter this kind of relationship-limbo once they’ve fallen into either opportunity or new relationship energy. But the research I did for women was particularly emotionally complex. The reasons why women wouldn’t or couldn’t leave went beyond a sense of confusion.
Some women were physically or emotionally abused within their relationships and this is why they ended up seeking opportunity. These women didn’t leave their relationships for more complicated reasons. They weren’t still in love with their partners, but often they felt that they could not leave. Maybe their partner would beat them or threatened to beat them if they left. Maybe their partner made them believe that no one else would ever love them. Maybe they had no control over their own finances and felt that they could not survive on their own. Maybe they had children together, maybe they were deeply involved in a church community that would not approve or support a separation or divorce. Maybe this person was isolated and didn’t have any resources for leaving. Instead of leaving – which either was, or felt impossible – they find temporary relief in outside relationships.
In my research, people had either:
- Talked themselves into staying because of emotional or physical abuse
- Had simply forgotten how to sustain a loving relationship
- Other people are not a natural risk to your relationship – they can strengthen your bond with your partner by helping fulfill them and their needs.
- Other people turn into opportunity when they are put first over creating a sustainable relationship.
- We often resort to infidelity because we still love our partners but are unhappy and don’t know how to confront this unhappiness.
- New Relationship Energy can be addictive and prevent us from healing our relationships.
- Some people are no longer in love but stay within their relationships because they feel they cannot leave,
- Open-relationships and polyamory can act as an ethical replacement to infidelity while maintaining a happy relationship. NRE can be healthy here. Not viable for all.
Next on infidelity:
my actual. fucking. thesis. topic. We’ve made it a long way. My actual thesis springs from this idea of guilt. In my time as a writer I’ve read so many stories from both men and women about their feelings of guilt after being unfaithful to their partners. We often silence these stories because we feel that people who were unfaithful just shouldn’t have done it. Stories that are silenced are the ones that are most interesting to me. So, I decide to narrow my focus to women. What do these stories mean? In my research, I found that women experience guilt in their relationship very uniquely, because they are women.
My thesis topic: Women experience guilt uniquely in unfaithful relationships because of prescribed gender roles.
Ho boy, stay tuned.