An Ode to the Nuances of Infidelity

Having a partner who is unfaithful can be soul-crushing. The level of insecurity that arises is enough to immobilize most. The anger that follows is enough to burn you inside but never fully encompass those who deserve the fire. I have been that partner, lying in my emotions like a sea of sadness and choking on the water as it flows through me. I have also been on the other end once, of being what I feel is unfaithful to my partner.

Although I never physically lusted after another, my mind has caressed the thought of an emotional connection with another while still committed to someone else. At the time, I rationalized my feelings as being valid due to the inadequacies I was receiving from my partner. After years together and hours of communication, we just never seemed to fit together as either of us would have liked. So I did it, I allowed a woman other than my fiance at the time to stroke my ego and make me feel all the butterflies I thought had retreated to their cocoons years ago, never to stoke the sensation in me again. This short-lived relationship that resided only in the land of the virtual ultimately was the push I needed to finally end my engagement and relationship. I will forever be grateful to her for this and still feel the pangs of guilt from time to time for being unfaithful at this avenue in my life.

I recently listened to an episode of the podcast hosted by Glennon Doyle and her sister called, "We Can Do Hard Things." This particular episode focused on infidelity. I had been avoiding this episode for a couple of weeks as infidelity is something I have experienced with more than one partner and wasn't ready to dig into that wound. Once I finally began listening to the podcast, many of the themes Glennon and her sister touched on seemed similar to my feelings surrounding being cheated on by past partners. I was able to relate to the rage-induced fights and feelings of inadequacy. What I began feeling that surprised me was a sense of disconnect. The way that these two women were describing their infidelities experienced seemed like a far-off universe that my experiences couldn't really relate to.

My first encounter with a partner being unfaithful came from someone who entered our relationship on the premise of openness. I was unfamiliar with what open relationships looked like or felt like, and polyamory was never something I had educated myself upon. I fooled myself into thinking that I would be able to hold my emotional self together while knowing my partner had What got me through the darkness of knowing was the premise that communication would be as open and flowing as our partnership. This wasn't the case, and I ended up finding out about my partner's many infidelities via photos and texts sent to me, as an accident.

But, when I remove the emotion and pain from this situation, do I think this individual is inherently a bad human being?


The nuances of infidelity are as vast as the stars and I am no astronomer. What I am is a human being just trying to find my way through life with as much understanding as possible. Infidelity in a committed relationship happens for many reasons, none of which inherently make the cheater or those cheated on a bad individual.

In my case, my partner at the time and I were young and had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. I tried to change the person I was with as opposed to admitting that this type of relationship was not one where I could thrive nor gain my needs and wants sufficiently. My level of emotional maturity was low and I was unable to articulate what I needed or wanted past attention or affection from another. This relationship took many years to heal from. All these years later I believe it still affects my ability to trust others. Not in that, I can't trust but in that, I take a considerable amount of time to pour trust into others.

We as a society tend to avoid these hard conversations though. When we think of the infidelity of someone who has been labeled a cheater, negative emotions and thoughts are tied to this. We judge first and ask questions never, leaving so many of the nuances of stepping outside of our relationship filled in by misinformed blanks.

I think we do this for a multitude of reasons. It is painful to try and accept that experiencing unfaithfulness in a relationship is more than just right and wrong. It forces us to truly meet the parts of ourselves that we may have been ignoring or aspects of our relationship we were not able to show up for, or just plain didn't. If we remove the pointing of blame and the black and white shades we like to paint situations in, we have two people who are hurting that needed something in a partnership that never arrived.

I am in no way defending infidelity. It is a harmful and painful step to go outside of your relationship. But, what is one to do when chemistry strikes with another? How many conversations with your partner are enough before your soul starts searching for what it needs, with or without your permission? Happiness and contentment in a relationship can't develop without nourishment, being watered and tended on a regular basis.

Sometimes just walking away is not an option. Sometimes our souls find another who fills us up so wholly before we leave our current partners. Sometimes life just has a different plan for you than you do. But, what is sure all the time, is the need for compassion and understanding. If these are not able to be given, then silence and lack of judgment should be displayed. You will probably never fully know all the nuances of a situation of infidelity, especially if it is not your own.