“How does it happen, great love? While nobody knows, I can tell you that it happens in the blink of an eye. One moment you are enjoying your life and the next you are wondering how you ever lived without them.”
Despite being a fictional love coach, Hitch is right because finding love is unpredictable. Being satisfied with our lives and not seeking a partner is a great time for doing just that. On the other hand, being dissatisfied with an intimate relationship opens the door to unpredictability in forming and maintaining it.
What does this mean?
It means that dissatisfaction in a relationship may unfortunately lead to infidelity. Infidelity, whether emotional, physical, or both, is a symptom of something missing. In other words, we do not reach outside of a relationship unless something is missing in it. If our partner is emotionally or physically unavailable, we seek out comfort and assurance from another individual. In contrast to the popular belief that such comfort is provided by one-night stands or casual encounters, which can certainty be the case, it is colleagues and close friends who are more likely to fulfill that need. As a result of novelty, pleasure, and excitement, this newly found comfort begins to resemble a fairytale. However, we tend to forget that happy endings are only characteristic of fairytales.
Why is it important?
Prince charming rescues the damsel in distress and their shared love is enough to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. This is the romantic plot of nearly every fairytale but unfortunately does not reflect the complexity of relationships. I want to briefly note that infidelity is not dysfunctional. Instead, it is a symptom of something missing in the present relationship and should be treated as an opportunity to understand the situation and more importantly, oneself. Infidelity is difficult to understand because two individuals serve to fulfill a single need. The long-term partner typically provides a sense of security and stability while the lover provides excitement and novelty.
What can you do?
Before making decisions that may be impossible to reverse, it is important to take inventory of how you are feeling regardless what others may think. These questions are not exhaustive but provide a place to start:
- What is it that I want?
- Why am I reaching outside of my relationship?
- What was the catalyst for reaching out of my relationship?
- What are the problems in my relationship?
- Are the problems in my relationship reconcilable?
- What would it look like to date the lover?
- What would it look like to end this relationship?
- What would it look like to be alone?
In the end, there is no right or wrong answer. If you choose to end your long-term relationship, do not immediately jump into a new relationship. This will only lead to disappointment and heartbreak as you attempt to form the foundation of this new relationship on sand. Instead, I suggest taking at least six months to better understand the situation and most importantly, yourself.
Hamburg, S.R. (2000). Will our love last: A couple’s road map. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.