I was recently asked an interesting question. What is worse… your partner cheating? Or your partner dying? They seem to be quite unordinary comparisons, right? However, I found it to be a fair question and one worthy of attention. After some thought and discussion, what became clear to me was that there is tremendous overlap between both tragedies. This might explain why you feel like you’re dying inside when you discover infidelity or even wish your partner were dead. Reactions like these are completely understandable and certainly worth some exploration.
Why does cheating hurt so much?
A survey has shown that 1 in 5 people admit to having affairs. And those are just the ones prepared to admit it! No matter which population gets surveyed, you are likely to find a large portion of infidelity. It is common. We all know someone who has experienced it, or we may have experienced it ourselves. So, why are we SO bothered by something that is so prevalent? Here is my view… The reason it hurts so much is because it is the ultimate betrayal. Sex, intimacy and forming families are incredibly special, sacred experiences and when your partner explores this elsewhere, on your watch, the pain can be unbearable. We are suddenly filled with self-doubt and have hundreds of dark questions:
Do I really know this person?
How do they view me?
Do they love her/him more than me?
What is wrong with me?
How did this happen?
And it can work both ways. As quick as we can be to villainise, the person cheating can also be in pain. Perhaps they have had a nervous breakdown and are acting out to soothe other problems. Perhaps they feel immense guilt for their momentary slip-up and will self punish for years. Perhaps an event has led them to seek affection elsewhere. As an experienced therapist, trust me when I say – when it comes to infidelity, there are no winners. So, what does this have to do with death and dying? Well, as I explained already, there is much overlap – which we will look at now.
Why does death hurt so much?
The subject of why death hurts so much has been debated by scholars for centuries. Death happens to us all and we know this our entire lives. So, why do we care? From a religious perspective, some believe we grieve death because we were made to be immortal, and that the fall of man explains the terrible burden we feel when someone dies. Some scientists put it all down to our brain chemistry – the more we associate someone with comfort, happiness and ‘happy hormones’, the more we ‘withdraw’ when they are no longer here, causing all manner of physical and psychological symptoms. Evolutionary perspectives can explain death as something we need to actively avoid to survive, and therefore we link extreme feelings to its presence.
Whatever the reason, death is the ultimate challenge. So why does infidelity also feel this terrible? And how are they similar?
Is cheating worse than death?
As I said before, death and infidelity have much overlap. They are both terrible, unfair and difficult circumstances for the ‘left behind’ partner to handle. Both induce grief and longing – grief for the person who dies, or grief for the relationship that is harmed by the infidelity. And longing for what was once a happy, harmonious partnership.
Both experiences also mark the end of something. The death of a partner marks the end of the relationship and the beginning of new life. In infidelity, if you are one of the 45% of people who try to stay together after the affair, you mark the end of the relationship as you knew it, and have to form a new way of being with one another. Or, if your relationship ends there and then, you are suddenly thrown into a whole new way of life without the presence of your partner – which can feel like a death of sorts. If you are in the terrible situation of having to watch your partner move on with someone else – such as the person they had the affair with – it can be excruciating – far, far worse than if they had died of a faultless illness and left you with only fond memories.
No matter what happens next, the road to recovery is tough – which is why I recommend therapy in these circumstances.
Moving on from infidelity
Trying to move on from infidelity can be a minefield, regardless of which way you go. Your options are vast. You can have a clean breakup, there and then. You can take a break from one another. You can try to make a go of things. You can change your entire relationship dynamics. The options are endless. Therapy is a great way to explore these options in full, as well as to try and bring some harmony to the circumstances surrounding the infidelity. I provide a safe, trusting environment for couples to explore some of the most painful and challenging conversations possible to have. There is no right or wrong outcome – but one that makes you both feel comfortable and confident about the future.
Getting the support you need
I offer you acute couples counselling, couples therapy and individual psychotherapy based on your preferences, either online, at your place, or at my clinics in Østerbro or Svendborg.
We can also go for a walk.
Whichever help and support you need, my pledge to you is consistent.
Book a free 15 minute conversation, which is all you need to begin your journey. We will talk about where you are now, where you want to be, and how I can help you get there.