Can Experiencing Infidelity Make A Relationship Stronger?

Photo: Lester Cohen/Getty Images.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Jay Z opened up about his relationship with Beyoncé, and said that collaborating on her album Lemonade was crucial to their growth as a couple — so crucial, in fact, that it may have stopped them from getting a divorce.
If you're familiar with Lemonade, you know that much of its content revolves around infidelity and cheating, which Jay Z addressed: "The best place is right in the middle of the pain," he told the Times. "And that's where we were sitting. And it was uncomfortable. And we had a lot of conversations."
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He went on to cite that 50% of marriages end in divorce, he thinks because most people choose to walk away from the relationship. (To be fair, the divorce rate is actually not quite as simple as that misleading and oft-cited stat.) "'Cause most people can’t see themselves," he said. "The hardest thing is seeing pain on someone’s face that you caused, and then have to deal with yourself." While we can't all have Beyoncé as a partner, or have award-winning albums to work on to process our difficulties at home, this does bring up an interesting question: Can experiencing and coping with infidelity make a relationship stronger?
In her book The State of Affairs, couples' therapist Esther Perel explores all the reasons why people tend to cheat, and what happens to relationships after infidelity. One key aspect of cheating is that "it’s about the power of transgression, and doing things that make us feel free and alive, and how that is not often what our marriages are about," Perel told Refinery29 in October. In other words, people don't always cheat because they're seeking something that they aren't getting from their partners. Often, it's done to reconnect with a part of themselves that was lost.
According to Perel, many people who end up cheating actually have no intention of divorcing. "The marriage is fine, and they want to preserve it, but there’s something else that they long for," she said. Over the course of a relationship, people may feel curious about the "lost parts" of who they once were when they were single, but they deeply don't want to hurt their partner by leaving. So they cheat.
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In the past, marriages served a logistical purpose to bring families together and provide people with financial stability — so infidelity and the resultant breakup would not only be taboo, but also incredibly inconvenient. Perel says that nowadays, with more forgiving divorce laws and economic independence, people can more easily walk away. This also means that finding your life partner has way more weight than ever before, so couples rely on their relationship happiness to keep them together. And therefore they are willing to put in work to preserve it — even after someone has strayed.
As Jay-Z speculated — and Perel confirmed — many people choose to leave relationships after someone has cheated, because facing what happened is too difficult. Every couple is entirely different, as is every case of infidelity. But ultimately, Perel says it can be "enormously relieving" to understand that infidelity isn't always a result of one partner being inadequate. And with that acceptance and some introspection, it's possible to emerge stronger as a couple.
Or, as the upgraded old adage goes, when you are served lemons, you can make Lemonade.
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