Think you can have a "just sex" connection? Think again. It's one of our deepest, strongest passions. At its best it can help us open completely to ourselves and to another person. Sex is so very powerful and important to committed, monogamous relationships, and yet through my practice I've learned that people tell themselves all kinds of lies about its importance.
I've heard men and women everywhere from their twenties to their sixties on both sides of cheating. "It's just sex," they say. As for those who uncover the affair, they sometimes try to convince themselves that it didn't "mean anything" — or maybe they blame themselves: "I'm just not enough." Whatever it looks like, there is turmoil and pain on both sides.
Cheaters are often seen as the villains. And maybe a lot of them are. Maybe a lot of them are callous, and don't really care. But I'm not talking about those men and women. I'm talking about people like 32-year-old Gary who married when he was 25, who has a six year old son who he adores, and a dark haired beautiful wife who he feels he deeply loves.
Then Gary meets Anna, a tall blond beauty who shares Gary's passion for crazy things like rock climbing and archeology. After the first time they talk, Gary feels excited and disoriented. He tells himself to stay away. But the feeling seems bigger than he is. He never questions his love for his wife or his desire to stay with her and the life they have built. Grappling with these immense and confusing feelings, he grabs onto the cultural lie: what he feels for Anna would be satisfied with "just sex," or a fling. It has nothing to do with his marriage. It doesn't have to hurt anyone.
People like Gary are not villains, even though what they do causes a lot of pain. I'm talking about people with strong feelings that they never learned how to handle. People like Katie, almost 45 with a successful career and three daughters. She is married to a man who adores her and who she adores — but she feels that there's always been something missing. Katie is dismissive of sex. It shouldn't matter so much, she says. It's "just sex."
It shouldn’t matter so much but it does, and romantic love fuels her fantasies. Katie doesn't want to address her own attitude and sexual hangups. She doesn't admit it but she wants someone to ignite her — and she's angry at her husband for not being the one. She's a beautiful woman who has always attracted men, but kept them at arm's length until she met Mark: They ignited each other.
The first time Katie "slipped" with Mark and let things get physical, she told her husband. But as she kept "slipping," she let herself drink some more lies from our cultural Kool-Aid. She became uncharacteristically callous. She told herself that she had a right to love, ignoring or forgetting the depth of the love she had with her husband.
Katie and Gary’s stories are different in the details. But there are often commonalities in people who are being tempted by "just sex":
- They say they weren't consciously looking, but the attraction they feel is like a powerful magnet
- People describe feelings that are exciting and disorienting at once. The desire to resist and not resist vie with each other.
- The new love interest isn't really known, yet everything about her/him seems wonderful, and comparisons with one's committed partner creep in.
If you're being tempted by an affair, know that there's no simple way to struggle out of it.
- The power of this magnet feels bigger than you. Now, in the fire, is the time to learn to experience the strength of your own emotions, ranging from passion to pain.
- The feelings are stimulated by someone else — but they are yours. If you can get used to their power and make it your own, you will be able to make a choice and not just succumb.
- Even if you manage to keep your affair a secret, your committed relationship will be affected. You'll be thinking of your lover when you're with your partner. You'll be making comparisons. You've already taken a part of yourself away.
- If your partner finds out, or if you tell, don't minimize what has happened. Listen and take seriously how she or he has been affected. Take seriously that you made a choice even if you felt out of control.
Discovering that you were cheated on may make you ask some common questions like these:
- Why aren't I enough?
- I trusted her deeply. Even though I've been attracted to other people I wouldn’t act on it. But she did.
- He tells me it's not about me but I feel so rejected. When we're together and having a good time, I wonder 'Would he be having just as much fun with her?' It invades everything, and I can't tell him about it because he gets angry or dismisses what I’m saying.
It's basic to want to be loved. It's basic to want to be chosen above anyone else. Somewhere deep inside most people also want to love in a complete way. And it's natural to want sex to be part of that love. So being cheated on, naturally, hurts intensely.
If you are the one who has been cheated on, there are also steps you can take to pull yourself out of the sadness and insecurity:
- Hard as it may be, don't blame yourself, even if your partner does. People don't cheat because of other people's inadequacies; they cheat because of something in them. Every relationship, and every person, has inadequacies.
- Don't hide from yourself. Your anger, hurt, pain, longings are real. If your partner doesn’t want to listen, there is real reason to question the depth of your connection. And to find someone who will listen.
- You need to strengthen and take care of yourself in whatever ways you can. People can grow from their vulnerabilities and pain.
Why do we say "It's just sex"? You seldom hear people say "It's just food." People know that food counts, and that if you're going to a really nice dinner, it's not going to enhance your experience to stop at McDonald's first. Sex is big and basic and fundamental, and an enormously important part of a committed relationship. Just as there's no such thing as just food, there’s no such thing as just sex. To truly enjoy the connection (or the meal), don't snack mindlessly or engage in a mindless fling. Your relationship is truly worth receiving your complete and undivided attention.
Carol Freund works with individuals and couples helping them be in touch with the powerful and sometimes confusing feelings inside of them. This helps people to be stronger and more authentic. You can e mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can check out her website: www.carolfreund.com. When she writes she is truthful about emotional content but changes names and details so that no one can be identified.
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