Nothing destroys the foundation of trust and security in a relationship quite like infidelity does. The gay community at large tends to accept more liberal forms of sexual expression. Without social norms precluding what’s sexually appropriate or not in the context of an intimate relationship, gay men are in a position to choose for themselves the role sex plays in their relationships. As such, most gay couples develop a “relationship contract” of sorts as they begin to merge their lives together about monogamy vs. non-monogamy.
For those couples who have agreed to be monogamous, a partner’s affair with another man can create a whirlwind of chaos and pain—and sometimes, the destruction of the relationship itself.
While many relationships don’t survive an affair because of the difficulties involved in working through the betrayal and broken trust, many others are able to overcome the challenges and are able to cultivate an even better partnership than they’d had before. A couple can triumph over an affair! Part 1 of this article will examine the reasons behind an affair, and Part 2 will offer some practical tips on healing and moving forward for those couples who have decided to try and salvage their relationships.
He Cheated on Me!
When a lover cheats and the affair is revealed or discovered, the two men in the couple relationship both go through a grieving process. The psychology of the issues involved for each man in the couple is different, but there is a common backdrop of pain and shattered trust. Disillusionment sets in, and a flood of various emotions erupts. Anger, betrayal, guilt, disgust, defensiveness, depression, and numbness and shock are common emotional reactions, to just name a few.
You become preoccupied with the affair, unable to think of anything else and it can be hard to concentrate and control the racing thoughts and images your mind conjures up. Everything you thought you knew and believed in now comes into question and you can feel lost, confused, and abandoned. You wonder what’s been real and what’s been a farce from the inception of your relationship. Your self-esteem is wounded, you feel deceived, and your world feels like it’s been turned upside down. The sense of loss is profound and can be traumatizing. You then contemplate whether the relationship is worth fighting for.
Why We Are Unfaithful:
Statistics among all sexual orientations indicate that infidelity is pervasive. There are many different reasons why we gay men may cheat on our partners. While certainly the problem may stem from one man in the couple (eg. sexual addiction), in my clinical experience, I have seen more cases of infidelity arising as a symptom of something that's troubling the relationship.
The following are some possible underlying factors that contribute to the straying outside our primary relationships:
• fear of commitment and/or intimacy; cheating as a way of staving off getting too close, being controlled, or being suffocated by one’s partner
• lack of gay monogamous role models
• low self-esteem; seeking sex from other people as a validation of one’s attractiveness and self-worth
• boredom; a compelling need to seek thrills, risk, adventure, or variety • easy sexual access and availability • society, and gay culture itself, sexualizing gay men (just look at the ads in your local gay newspaper or magazine, for example!)
• unhappiness in one’s relationship; feeling unloved or unwanted; emotional distance in the partnership; unmet needs; acting-out because “something’s missing”; searching for emotional connection, attention, affection, and validation that one feels he’s not getting from his partner • sexual problems in the relationship or lack of sexual intimacy
• sexual addiction, poor impulse control, involvement of drugs and alcohol, or unresolved emotional problems, sexual abuse from the past, or a prior history of infidelity
• purposeful attempt to hurt one’s partner (power-plays, “I’ll show him! I’ll get back at him by sleeping with…”) • incompatibility with one’s partner; differing life philosophies and needs
Men in particular (both straight and gay) tend to be more at risk and susceptible for cheating on a lover because of the tendency toward being able to separate sex from emotions during sex.
These reasons are certainly not intended to be rationalizations or justifications for having an affair, but knowing your own underlying causes can help in beginning to problem-solve ways of “treating the symptoms” so that your relationship has a chance of successfully moving forward. No two affairs are alike, so it’s important to understand your unique relationship situation so you can remove the barriers that trigger you and prevent you from claiming the type of relationship you really want.
Tomorrow, in Part 2 of this article, specific tips and strategies will be given for the man who cheated, the man who was cheated upon, and for the couple as a whole for rebuilding their relationship in the aftermath of an affair. In the interim, if you and your partner are in this situation of dealing with an infidelity, contemplate the following questions and points:
• What does this affair mean to our relationship? What led up to it? Why did it happen?
• In what ways did each of us contribute to this happening? What role did we each play and what are our responsibilities? What’s missing in our relationship? What needs work? What did we learn about ourselves as a result of this experience?
• Can I forgive my partner and myself for what’s happened? How does this all mesh with my personal requirements for a partner and relationship?
• What do we need to do differently to ensure that this never happens again?
Remember that you are both suffering and that you both need extra support, reassurance, and understanding from each other right now. If you are truly committed to repairing your relationship, keep blame, finger-pointing, verbal aggression, and judgment out of the mix. There’s been enough pain already. Develop a vision for a positive outcome as a couple and keep centered on that as you go through the difficult grieving tasks involved in getting back on track again. And you can!
( Part Two - Tomorrow )
© Dr. Brian Rzepczynski, The Gay Love Coach
( The suggestions and feedback offered in this column are but one perspective of multiple approaches to dealing with problems or challenges. Information provided in articles and advice columns should not be used as a substitute for coaching or therapy when these services are needed. None of this information should be your only source when making important life decisions. This information should not be used for diagnosing or treating a particular problem, nor should it take the place of a consultation with a trained professional. It is your responsibility to consult a professional prior to making any life decisions. )
Dr. Brian Rzepczynski, contributing author to GAYTWOGETHER, is one of the leading love coaches for the gay community. As a licensed dating and relationship coach, Dr. Brian Rzepczynski, DHS, MSW has over 18 years experience as a psychotherapist and life coach specializing in helping GLBT individuals and couples develop and maintain successful and fulfilling intimate relationships. He holds a doctorate degree in human sexuality from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality and a master’s degree in clinical social work from Western Michigan University. He also runs a successful private therapy practice, Personal Victory Counseling, Inc. http://thegaylovecoach.com