New relationships are like a drug. The intensity of new love is our Kryptonite and once struck we feel invincible. Like an “on fire” super hero with a new muse at our side, nothing can stop us now.
After a night of intense love making we find sleep is unnecessary. Lust is confused with true intimacy, but we don’t care.
Having nestled in the arms of our beloved, the next morning we show up at the office blissful and energized.
Married and partnered friends smile at us while secretly nodding to one another. They too once felt the overwhelming intoxication of new love.
We don’t notice this hidden society of “been there, done that.” Instead, we are convinced the gods of the universe have bestowed this special gift only upon us.
Eventually the fun and jokes start, “Just wait. You too will fall off that pink cloud.” Being super heroes we just brush them off and say, “Never! Not me! My love is different!”
In time that dark day comes. We have our first fight. Any illusions we’ve had about our new partner suddenly dissolves. Reality hits and we feel lost, hurt, and disappointed.
Asking ourselves “Have I made a mistake?” we wonder where that incredible sense of well being went.
That love sick “high” we once had is suddenly replaced with the worse “crash” ever.
Feeling emotionally and even physically bankrupt we ask our friends, “Is this the end of my relationship? Have I fallen out of love”
Those in successful, healthy partnerships again just smile. They know from experience that if we just hang in there we will find hope.
The first step toward building a strong relationship involves establishing boundaries. This usually doesn’t occur until after we’ve had a few disagreements with our new partner.
Along with this, we must fall out of adolescent “lust” before we can find true, mature “love.” With healthy adult intimacy the partnership takes on a spiritual nature, one which is satisfying and fulfilling.
Sex, an important part of any relationship is no longer the whole dessert. We now realize it’s the sweet icing spiked with a good dose of intimacy, lovingly spread on the top of the cake.
In the beginning, learning how to build this foundation takes work. Knowing how to respect our mate, fight fairly and build boundaries is actually a bit like climbing up a snowy mountain slope.
Sometimes the trek is easy but then we slip, only to find ourselves neck deep in despair.
Each time we work as a couple to dig ourselves out of the avalanche of disagreement, intimacy will increase. As true friendship evolves, we cherish each other even more.
As difficult as this may sound we must understand its just part of the maturation process all successful relationships go through.
Failure isn’t defined as a pink cloud turning grey. We learn that pink is an initial illusion, while the reality of gray is an opportunity for growth.
Sadly, too many of us are unwilling to learn how to fight the good fight. When confrontations arise with our partner, we look to win, control and dominate as opposed to compromising.
As the saying goes, “Either you see it my way or you can hit the highway.” Such attitudes “kill” healthy intimacy and in the end destroy relationships.
When we continuously expect our partner to cave into our need for control, resentment will increase. Hurt and disappointment remain unresolved.
Knowing how to fight fairly exposes the hidden dirt underneath the rug and forces us to clean up the mess. If we can’t do this healthy communication goes by the wayside, sex feels empty, addictions flourish and despair rules the day.
When this happens we are at risk for emotional or sexual affairs.
Cheating is about the search for that mood altering “Kryptonite” sensation. Wanting relief from the tension, distress and loneliness in our primary relationship, we either go looking for that sexual “fix” or it finds us.
Short lived sexual affairs followed by a series of infidelities occur for the individual who believes lust is love.
When the intensity of lust dies down and it’s time to build intimacy, such a person will abandon the affair and go looking for the next sexual “fix.”
This is an addiction to the physiological hormone associated with new lust.
Long term affairs become secondary relations. In many cases they parallel a primary relationship.
Sadly, when one individual has two partners it’s difficult to build healthy intimacy in either instance. Secretiveness and dishonesty throw up barriers to resolving issues and building boundaries.
An emotional affair involves everything but the act of sex. Concerns not resolved within the primary relationship are presented to someone outside the partnership.
The new receiver doesn’t disagree or fight back like a primary partner. Instead such a person feels empowered, special and trusted with the secrets of the relationship. Emotional affairs can become sexual.
In working with infidelity I often I hear, “My new love makes me feel special, necessary, loved, younger, appreciated and sexy.”
When I tell these folks, “This isn’t love but lust, the same type of feeling you first had with your previous partner,” they become upset and respond with, “No, you don’t know what you are talking about.
This is the real thing.” After a few months, these same clients come to my office distressed about both their primary relationship and the affair!
I’ve even had individuals bring their partner to one session one week and the individual involved in the affair the next!
For the primary partner a secretive emotional or sexual affair, leaves them feeling uncomfortable, unattractive, closed off, depressed, stressed or pushed aside.
Even when they are unaware of an infidelity, they will still sense something is amiss. They may even ask, “Are you cheating on me?” The answer is usually “no”.
When an emotional affair is the issue, denial about the damage done to the primary relationship will be even strong. Comments like, “I’m not sleeping with anyone else,” can leave a partner confused and even feeling crazy!
After infidelity has surfaced, some couples will seek out help. If such individuals arrive at my office and ask, “How can we repair our relationship after an affair,” or “Can we avoid outside affairs,” I always say, “Yes!
But you must first learn how to fight! Work on communication and for the time being, no make-up sex.”
In my book “Learning to Say No: Establishing Healthy Boundaries” I list “Rules for fair fighting.” Knowing how to express anger appropriately is crucial for building intimacy.
Difficult topics like finances, children, in-laws and more come up in every relationship. If we don’t know how to openly discuss these issues, healthy communication will be shut down.
Sex is a topic we often avoid talking about. When negotiating and discussing what we like and dislike about sex, compromise is a must. This too builds intimacy.
Online pornography can begin to replace healthy sex in a relationship. A video, sexual image or emotional affair in a chat room isn’t going to honestly “talk back” to us, so our sexual fantasies are immediately fulfilled.
Online sexual acting out has been compared to crack cocaine addiction and once we are hooked, it’s difficult to justify attending to our sexual relationship with our partner.
In my book “Is It Love or Is It Sex: Why Relationships Don’t Work,” I discuss how couples can work out their sexual differences.
Finally, unresolved issues related to past relationships, addictions, childhood traumas and current losses must be discussed. Addiction walls us off from those we love.
This makes intimacy impossible. Loneliness builds and affairs can happen. Healing addiction is necessary. In this way resentments are finally aired and healthy love can blossom.
Past trauma, childhood abuse, and adult PTSD from serving in the military also require our attention. In my book, “Beyond the Chase: Breaking Your Obsessions that Sabotage True Intimacy,” and “Natural Mental Health: How to Take Control of Your Own Emotional Well-Being” couples learn how to get past these tough personal problems and grow together.
Sexual or emotional connections outside the primary relationship will dismantle healthy intimacy. If you are currently engaged in this behavior, seek out help.
A past or even current affair doesn’t need to destroy a relationship, but left unresolved this will fester like an unhealed wound.
Couples carrying the weight of an unresolved affair must work together to resolve this. Burying such betrayal will catch up with you. A good professional will teach you how to begin to fully recover.
Everyone deserves a healthy relationship. What are you willing to do to make this happen for you?
Wills-Brandon, C. (2009). Beyond the chase: Breaking your obsessions that sabotage true intimacy. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
Wills-Brandon, C. (2000). Natural mental health: How to take control of your own emotional well-being. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.
Wills-Brandon, C. (2000). Learning to say no: Establishing healthy boundaries. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse.
Wills-Brandon, C. (2000). Is it love or is it sex? Why relationships don’t work (an author’s guild backinprint.com edition) . Bloomington, IN: iUniverse.
About the author
Carla Wills-Brandon is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and has published 13 books, one of which was a “Publishers Weekly Best Seller.
She has lectured across the U.S. and U.K., and has appeared on numerous national radio and television programs, such as Geraldo Rivera, Sally Jesse Raphael, Montel Williams, Art Bell’s Coast to Coast Radio Show, Uri Geller’s Coast to Coast Radio Show and Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher.
Considered a relationship and trauma expert, many of her media appearances have been dedicated to discussing intimacy, healthy sex and healing from trauma. Carla has also appeared on several programs with her husband Michael, a LicensedPsychologist.
The two clinicians often see couples in their private practice as a couple.
Visit Carla at www.carlawillsbrandon.com
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