Friday, October 21, 2011

Is everyone a cheater?

I don’t know about you, but I thought I knew the definition of infidelity in relationships – sexual contact with anyone other than the one you’re supposedly monogamous with.

Not too long ago, the they who define culture came up with the idea of “emotional infidelity.” Michael Formica, one of those experts with a trail of letters following his name and a blogger at the Psychology Today website, defines emotional infidelity thus:

Although the implications and consequences are similar, emotional infidelity as a construct is a bit more murky, as it does not simply apply to sexual or romantic interpersonal relationships. . . .

The notion of emotional infidelity can also apply to platonic same- or trans-gender relationships, as well as activities, work, exs, siblings, extended family, hobbies and even kids. Many women in the part of the country where I live and work ruefully refer to themselves as Wall Street Widows - non-interpersonal emotional infidelity in full flower.

Emotional infidelity is any situation that creates or causes some degree of emotional unavailability on the part of one partner that interferes with one particular aspect of the relationship, along with the quality of the relationship as a whole.

According to a recent survey by the Kinsey Institute , 23 percent of men and 19 percent of women in partnerships say that they have cheated on those partners. If we use Formica’s definition of infidelity, those percentages go up to 100 percent. What person in a relationship doesn’t also have other people and goings-on in his or her life?

If everyone cheats – if everyone can’t help but cheat – then “cheating” means nothing, and why should anyone care?

This kind of definition creep bothers me. In the absence of real trouble, some minds go in search of worry and offense. The idea of emotional infidelity is a gift to this kind of mentality. Instead of a clear, specific definition of cheating, anything and everything in your partner’s life outside of you can become a threat. Talk about crazy-making. People who not only trust their partners, but have self-esteem that is unassailable, do not worry about emotional infidelity.

Formica ends his blog post with this non sequitur:

Here's the rub - in the case of emotional infidelity, you're stealing from yourself.

Actually, if you believe in emotional infidelity, you’re stealing from yourself – and your partner.

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