Kristin Hodson: Is infidelity the new relationship norm?

By Kristin Hodson

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Nov. 18 2012 2:00 p.m. MST

In this Feb. 14, 2004, file photo, Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, center, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division, kisses his wife, Holly, second left, as his son, Stephen, left, and daughter, Anne, right, look on upon his return home from Iraq to Fort Campbell, Ky. Gen. Petraeus, the retired four-star general who led the U.S. military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, resigned Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, as director of the CIA after admitting he had an extramarital affair.

Christopher Berkey, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Enlarge photo»

With the recent news of yet another major national leader resigning from his position due to an affair, infidelity seems ever-more pervasive in society. Is it now the “new norm” for people to cheat on their spouses? Is infidelity, in fact, becoming more mainstream for the average American marriage? Worse yet, is it inevitable and even normal?

If you go by Hollywood standards, the answer is yes — infidelity is everywhere. In fact, one popular television series would have you believe that desperate, unfaithful housewives are rampant in American suburbia. A prominent website with the tagline “Life is short, have an affair” estimates that only 10 percent of married men are currently faithful.

But the reality, according to another reputable website, is that more than 70 percent of men and women will be faithful to their spouses over a lifetime.

As a licensed clinical therapist, I think we need to combat the impression that infidelity is “the new norm." Infidelity has serious emotional and physical consequences and should never be rationalized or justified.

But what exactly constitutes infidelity? The answer isn’t as black and white as you might think. As I stated in a recent Deseret News article, almost everyone agrees that sexual intercourse is definite betrayal and cheating; that’s it’s just going too far. But, after that, the line in the sand becomes somewhat blurry for many couples as to what other behaviors constitute going “too far.”

However, it’s important for couples to have a clear understanding of each other’s expectations when it comes to marital fidelity. It's also important in today's society to realize that while infidelity does happen and will continue to happen, it’s not something “everyone” is doing.

As a licensed clinical psychotherapist, I think it’s important to understand that just because a certain behavior seems to become more “normal” doesn’t mean it is a healthy or good behavior. Additionally, when infidelity is sensationalized, it can undermine hope in a relationship and cause unneeded anxiety, fear or depression.

With so much access to information, news and the glamorization of adulterous behavior in movies and television, it’s important to identify your relationship rules so the line isn’t blurry but clear and mutually understood.

Three key questions to ask yourself and your partner might be:

Is it OK for us to stay in contact with a former girlfriend/boyfriend or even someone dated casually?

Is it OK for one of us to car-pool to work, alone, with a member of the opposite sex?

Is it OK for one of us to have online relationships?

These are just a few of the types of questions that can help you and your partner establish relationship boundaries. With guidelines in place, infidelity will not become "the new norm."

Instead, you and your partner can minimize anxiety and mistrust within your relationship and make trust and bonding "the new norm."

Kristin B. Hodson is a licensed clinical social worker and founder of the Healing Group in Salt Lake City. She is also the co-author of "Real Intimacy: A Couples Guide to Healthy, Genuine Sexuality." www.thehealinggroup.com.

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