Welcome Glassies, to your guide to life. This series takes a deep dive into all your pressing need-to-knows (how to contact your local MP, how to make the perfect cocktail, and how to get over your ex, goddamnit) and offers comprehensive guides so that you can live your Best Glassie Life™.
This edition is A Glassie’s Guide to Infidelity.
This week, my friend Nina sent me a message.
‘I have something to tell you,’ it read.
Juicy, right? Completely tantalising.
The something was this: Nina had slept with someone. I know what you’re thinking. Good for Nina??
The problem, however is Nina has a boyfriend. The same boyfriend she also had on Monday night, when she drank herself silly and invited another woman home and into her bed. Important context to this story is that Nina and her boyfriend are in a monogamous relationship, and this was way beyond the boundaries that they were both comfortable within the relationship.
When Nina called me a few days ago, we were both still in shock that it had even happened. ‘I still don’t even feel like it’s real,’ she said to me. We both blinked at each other, silent.
It made me wonder. How do we move on from experiences like this, both when you are the cheater and when you have been cheated on? Is there a right way to navigate infidelity? What is it like, for those who have never experienced it up close?
And so, with the personal experience of my good friend and your fellow Glassie Nina behind me, and with contributions from Glassies just like yourself, we present A Glassie’s Guide to Infidelity.
Firstly, recognise that cheating means different things to different people. But ultimately: you and your partner’s definition is the only important definition.
When I asked Glassies how they defined infidelity, they had a range of responses for me. My friend Nina said infidelity was ‘kissing or having sex with someone else’. Other Glassies mentioned that they believed ‘emotionally cheating is no better than physically cheating’ and referenced how hiding your infidelity can constitute cheating itself.
Ultimately, you might have to come to terms with the fact that you and your partner have different definitions of what infidelity is.
For example, you may think that liking photos of half-naked people on Instagram is cool beans, and your partner may find this practice abhorrent and hurtful. Work out for yourself if you believe your relationship can weather the work of coming to terms with your different definitions of infidelity if this is the case. If not, make a point of discussing your boundaries candidly at the start of any new relationship as it blooms.
This second pillar of advice is equally important for both the cheated and the cheater.
Leo Tolstoy once said ‘every lie is a poison’ and this Glassie’s Guide is partial to agree. Dishonesty from either side about how each partner is feeling, what actually happened, and what they want to do next can only be corrosive to yourselves and your relationship in the long run.
Some people might never be completely honest to their partners in the wake of infidelity. If this is you, take a moment to consider what good this practice actually achieves.
Research presented at a convention of the American Psychological Association in 2012 even found that lying less is even linked to better health outcomes.
So do yourself and your partner a favour, and ‘fess up. This may even be the hardest part. Take a deep breath and just do it.
While you’re doing it, it may be helpful to remind yourself to ground your conversation in “I” statements, which ensure that you’re communicating necessary information about how you are feeling, rather than accusations.
Understand why it happened.
‘And I looked at her and I thought, what if this never happens to me again?’
This is what Nina believes was at the crux of her infidelity: a noxious mixture of her unexplored bisexuality and a stupidly high blood alcohol content. Understanding this is not an excuse, but it provides a springboard from Nina to start from as she reflects on her behaviour in therapy and starts to rebuild her trust with her partner.
So, if you were unfaithful to your partner, take some time to explore and come to terms with why it might have happened. This takes a fair bit of self- awareness, and you may not get it right the first time. You might need to enlist a range of resources (below!) to understand the experience and come to terms with it.
This process can also be helpful to those who have been cheated on. Understanding why your partner was unfaithful, despite how trivial their reasons might be, might allow you to get closure on the situation.
You may realise that your partner’s honest reasons for why their infidelity happened don’t align with your values, which can be helpful in itself. If this happens, don’t make excuses for them. This is a sign to move on.
There is one piece of advice I dish out liberally and over and over again, like a cold cream on dry winter skin. Start therapy now. Even if you don’t think you need to. Even if, in the context of this Guide, you haven’t had an experience of infidelity that is troubling you. By taking the time to build up a relationship with a therapist, you are building a solid foundation that you can ground yourself on when life gets complicated. We recommend headspace (the National Youth Mental Health Foundation) which offers affordable or free counselling sessions for young people under the age of 25.
I also highly, highly recommend Cheryl Strayed’s book Tiny Beautiful Things, which is a compilation of essays from Strayed’s time as the advice columnist behind Dear Sugar. The book is tender and achingly beautiful, made up of anonymous readers sharing their most intimate troubles. Strayed responds with compassion and honesty, with stories from her own life intricately woven through. It is a balm for the heart.
Esther Perel, the Belgian psychotherapist, is also renowned as an expert in this area. I’d recommend giving her books a squiz, as well as her podcast, Where Should We Begin?, which features recordings of real couples, some of whom have experienced infidelity, as they sit in therapy with Perel.
If you are struggling with the aftermath of infidelity, I’d also recommend reaching out to your friends and family, opening up about what you’re going through, and asking for their support. Remember to be judicious about who you choose to open up to, however. Not everyone will be emotionally available or mature enough to support you fully and without judgement. Look for the ones who are.
Infidelity is hard, Glassies. But we know you can wade through these rough waters and swim your way to shore, ready to live your Best Glassie Life™ anew.