How Cheating May Actually Improve Your Relationship

by Sarah Harrison for YourTango

We didn’t believe it at first either …

Unless you’re inclined toward polyamory, extramarital relations are generally frowned upon.

Marriages accept and expect monogamy; infidelity is harmful! Right?

Not so fast, says Michael J. Formica, a Psychology Today blogger. In a post on the “Enlightened Living” blog, Formica makes the case that thinking about cheating—and even stepping out on your sweetie—can potentially help your relationship.

First Formica identifies four basic types of affairs:

  1. An object affair: The cheating partner neglects the relationship to focus on something else—work, a video game, an intense involvement in floral arrangement—a detriment to his or her love life.
  2. A sexual affair: Exactly what they sound like: The adulterer rents cheap hotel rooms for sex—but not emotional intimacy. A sexual affair is strictly about nookie, nothing more.​
  3. An emotional affair: When there’s no smooching, but lots of sentiment. You’re spending hours on IM with someone who’s not your boyfriend, spilling your secrets to a woman who’s not your wife, turning to someone else instead of your partner in times of need. Clearly not good for your primary relationship.
  4. A secondary relationship affair: This is the traditional kind of cheating, where you have two parallel partnerships that are both sexual and emotional, and it’s this kind of liaison that Formica says can actually help a marriage.

First, he says, an affair can add fizz to a flat partnership. What was once stale gets refreshed by a new energy.

Second, if you’re having an affair you’re probably doing it because you’re missing something in your primary relationship. If you analyze the affair you might be able to see what it is that’s lacking and address that problem.

Finally, people tend to get into the same kind of relationship over and over again, but affairs are different—according to Formica they often are “a more authentic barometer for what we actually need in our relationships.”

Right about now you’re probably thinking this Formica guy is one messed up dude who’s just making excuses for cheating. But Formica qualifies his analysis:

The “good” that might come out of an affair is clearly not the affair itself or its potential painful consequences (for the betrayed, children involved, etc.). But, as I often say, everything is material for change. If we look at our choices and examine ourselves in an honest and forthright way, we just might find one of the keys to prompt our own personal growth and evolution.

That evolution might lead us back to a more authentic relationship with our primary relationship, or it might lead us to a more authentic understanding of ourselves that leads us away from that primary partner. Either way, that is still positive growth.

Readers, what do you think? Can infidelity ever lead to positive change? Or is the damage wrought by cheating too harmful to ever be good?

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  1. On the one hand, I’m inclined to say that if your relationship is in the can, you may as well try anything.

    On the other, while I get the theory, infidelity has a much stronger track record of destroying relationships than fixing them.

    So, no, I’m gonna go with the math here: cheating has wrecked way more relationships than it has fixed.

  2. It’s an interesting concept, though I think it’s a little like saying it’s good if your house gets blown over in a storm, as it will show you where the structural weaknesses were. Sure, it’s survivable, but there are much better way to improve a relationship than subjecting it to infidelity.

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