Is cheating a choice in a relationship

Images before eyes: sweaty bodies, rumpled sheets

The worst, says Kathrin looking back, was the nights. Without wanting to, she kept imagining what it was like between her husband and the other. How he touched her young body, caressed the smooth skin, caressed her plump bosom. It was always the same images that could not be scared away: sweaty bodies, rumpled sheets, two people intimate, happy and familiar.

Kathrin, whose real name is different, is sitting in her garden near Munich on a sunny late summer day. She wears a green and white striped shirt dress. She has pinned up her dark curls. The 51-year-old tells her story in calm, sorted sentences. “When the images that robbed me of sleep night after night got too bad, I went for a walk through the darkness for hours. Sometimes the movement helped to at least alleviate the pain, the burning anger, the feelings of revenge. ”It was two years ago that Kathrin found out about her husband's affair. “If we had conducted the interview at the time, I would have said that the disaster struck me without warning. Today I know that that is not true. "

"He hope I would forgive him."

The matter is quickly told, she says: He, the architect, had to go to Hamburg several times a month for a project for months. There he got to know the other. When the project ended, he ended the affair too. “I will never forget that wet and gray Sunday evening in November. Our 17-year-old daughter was also traveling with her boyfriend and her two years younger brother. The "crime scene" had just started when my husband switched off the television and in a few words outlined what had happened. He hadn't even managed to look at me. At the end he said that he was very sorry for everything and that he hoped that I would forgive him. "What she felt then, says Kathrin, she cannot really describe to this day. “My heart started racing, I was sick and very hot. I couldn't grasp the situation. What was happening here? What happened to my life, to my marriage, after twenty years? I felt like I was whirling around in a wave that had carried me along, I didn't know where up and down was, and I had no idea whether I would ever come up again. ”In her garden near Munich, Kathrin fights with them for a moment Tears. She takes a sip of water. Then she says: “I had completely lost control of my supposedly orderly life. In the meantime I have realized that it was exactly what I needed. "

On that evening two years ago she was outwardly very calm. She didn't yell, she didn't throw plates. She only asked her husband a few questions, which he answered with a short yes. Is she younger Unbound? Is it really the end of it? She refrained from asking why, the fear of the answer was too great. During the first sleepless night, Kathrin took off her wedding ring and called her best friend. Her husband stayed in the office.

For Germans, loyalty is the most important thing - in theory

According to surveys, for almost 80 percent of Germans, loyalty is the most important value in life. However, there is a gap between desire and reality. Statistically, around 25 percent of women and 40 percent of men have cheated on them. Infidelity is also the most common reason for separations and divorces, not only in Germany. Finding an affair or fling is a shock. Experts compare the pain about it with traumatic experiences, such as physical abuse. Infidelity means betrayal on so many levels: deception, rejection, humiliation - all the things that love is supposed to protect us from.

When the one we trust is the same one who lies in your face and denies you a minimum of respect, it turns the world upside down. "Sure, a separation or divorce after an affair is sometimes inevitable, smart or simply the best solution for everyone," says the renowned couples therapist Esther Perel. “But is it the only right choice?” The 61-year-old Belgian with a practice in New York wants to encourage couples to always view infidelity in the context of the relationship. What are the difficulties? At what level do the partners feel that they are not seen by the other, that their wishes are not taken seriously? "When relationships become ugly, cheating in marriage can be a wake-up call to finally pay attention," writes Perel in her current book "The Power of Affair. Why we cheat and what we can learn from it ”(Harper Collins, 22 euros).

Black-and-white thinking and one-sided accusation, according to the expert, do not help anyone. "I'm not saying that affairs are good, but they can change priorities and not only be a stress test, but also development workers who mature couples." She emphasizes that it often doesn't matter that every detail of the affair is on the table has to come. It is more important to understand the importance of the external relationship.

After the affair - what's next?

For the first few weeks after confession, Kathrin lived like in a tunnel, unable to make a decision about how her life should go on. Her best friend advised her to put her unfaithful husband outside, as she had done years ago. But Kathrin wasn't that impulsive. At work, she took sick leave, but after a few days she realized that she needed her work as a kindergarten teacher to distract herself from the matter for at least a few hours. When her husband was there, the two would sneak around each other. He too suffered and brooded, she could tell by looking at him. When a secret is revealed, says Esther Perel, those who have cheated often also suffer a shock: “Usually only then does he become aware of what he has done.” Because in the rarest of cases, boredom or unscrupulousness are motivation for cheating, but rather simply unfulfilled longings.

At that time, Kathrin and her husband only talked about the bare essentials. But they basically had been doing that for years. “During my nightly walks I had a lot of time to reflect on our relationship, in which speechlessness and indifference had long been widespread. I didn't think that was great, it just happened over the years. Up until that point I didn't care. ”But now she didn't just play through the breakup, checked finances and possessions. Fortunately, the children were almost grown up. Above all, she wanted to get to the bottom of the question of how it could have come to this. “Because of my husband's betrayal, I went through intense emotions: anger, sadness, loneliness, and distrust. It may sound strange, but it changed my view not only of my marriage, but also of me. Suddenly I saw my life like through a burning glass. "

“Until death do us part” - at any cost?

Kathrin and her husband had been a couple for 25 years. They met at a party, and when they noticed in conversation that they were practically neighbors in Munich, they started dating more often. She liked his cheerful manner, his unconventional way of looking at things. They went to exhibitions, went to Billy Bragg and Eurythmics concerts, cooked pasta together and talked for hours. After six months she moved in with him. Five years later, they said yes with all their hearts, even before God, consciously choosing the formula “Until death do us part”.

"I still remember exactly how we moved into our house after the birth of our second child," says Kathrin. I was so incredibly happy and proud back then. Now the four of us were sitting at our round dining table like a lucky clover. ”Jealousy never played a role in their relationship. Not even when Kathrin's husband started his own business and was on the road a lot from then on. But the typical everyday stress did not stop at them either. In addition to her job, Kathrin took care of the children and the household. “What happened to me is what happens to millions of women: suddenly you're in a role in which you're developing in a strange direction.

Suddenly I was the family minister, wanted and always had to have everything under control, control everything. ”At first her husband asked if he could support her. But that, says Kathrin, she hardly trusted him. Only she knew what the children needed, what the in-laws wanted for their golden wedding anniversary, what food to serve when friends came. In short: only she knew what was best for everyone. “What I used to love about my husband, namely seeing things more relaxed and just letting life come your way, now annoyed me. I had developed into a fury with an obsession with control. ”Her husband withdrew more and more, worked a lot, and hid in the evening with a book or a film. But Kathrin not only rejected him as a father, friend and reliable partner, also as a lover.

There was hardly any sex anymore - but that alone is too easy

They had sex maybe two or three times a year. "I was often much too tired, and when I finally got some rest, I thought of everything, but not about sleeping with my husband." But it would be too easy to reduce his cheating to the lack of physicality. According to surveys, sexual frustration is the most common reason for an affair, but there is often more to it than that. “When cheating you do something forbidden,” says Esther Perel. "And that is exactly what gives you a feeling of freedom and power over your own life." The non-binding affair as a short escape from everyday constraints is by the way not a typical male phenomenon. Women do exactly the same, and the trend is increasing.

Once, after one of her night walks, the anger burst out of Kathrin. She woke her husband on the couch, yelled at him that he had betrayed her and the family. “I drummed my fists wildly on his chest until I finally slumped on the couch and we both cried bitterly. We wept for each other, for our marriage and for what we had become. My husband carefully put his arm around me, I let it happen. He said he had felt terribly lonely next to me for the last few years, and suddenly there was this woman listening to him, caring about him, finding him attractive. His words sounded so clichéd, yet they struck me right in the heart. And I realized: It wasn't his affair that threatened our relationship. The real threat came from our inability to communicate and the fact that we had both emotionally left our marriage long before the betrayal. "

For the expert Perel, one thing is certain: Lies and deceit often stuck in relationships for years, sometimes even decades, before the affair. “Every day I see what fraud can do. But I also see what bad relationships can do. ”She talks about couples who have sex and one of them has hated sex for years, but says nothing. Couples don't talk about being disgusted with each other, being bored with each other, having doubts about themselves, or wanting a different life. They bend over, prefer to be unhappy, and that's just so as not to endanger the relationship. Today more than ever we have the freedom to decide: go or stay?

Kathrin and her husband have decided to stay. After long, open and painful discussions, they want to give their marriage a second chance. “We started cooking together again and going to concerts, small steps that feel pretty good.” Kathrin says that her view of one another has changed, and her view of herself has also become more appreciative. "When old Kathrin comes through, who wants to control everything, I'll put her in her place. And my husband also quickly presses the stop button when he begins to withdraw and prefers to buy movie tickets for us. I know one thing for sure: without the affair we might be separated by now. Or worse: we would continue to live side by side in silence and loneliness.

Expert advice: After the affair: How can a fresh start succeed?