Angela Leong
Written & Posted by Angela LeongRegistered Clinical Counsellor, Founder of AEM

Unraveling the Knot: Navigating Betrayal in Love

05 Dec, 2018
A heart with the text: Not yours

To Begin Thinking And Talking About An Infidelity, There Are Three Criteria To Consider:

01. Secrecy.

02. Sexual alchemy.

03. Emotional involvement.

An infidelity must always contain some element of deliberate deception and some combination of the other two. However, this isn’t an article to assuage the “betrayed” and crucify the “betrayer”, there are caveats to consider for each of these three categories. The words “betrayed” and “betrayer” are in quotations because these two words are used to more easily refer to one versus the other in writing, but it is not a license to begin to attribute all bad connotations to one person and all good connotations to the other.


To be considered an act of infidelity, there has to be an element of secrecy, a desire to hide the activity from your unknowing partner. Most couples will consider a withheld secret to be an act of betrayal but you may beg to differ. The opposite of secrecy is full disclosure, but if one fully discloses the moment after it happens, it is still a secret? Is it still a betrayal? If you had hidden the act prior to committing it, then perhaps. If you had discussed with your partner that it is not a betrayal as long as you confess as soon as it happens, then no. You can see how defining infidelity is a value-laden activity and can be very personal.

When Bringing Up Secrecy, We Also Need To Discuss Where The Line Is Drawn Between Privacy And Secrecy. Psychiatrist Stephen Levine Explains That Privacy Is A Functional Boundary That We Agree On By Social Convention, Such As Matters Of Masturbation, Fantasies And Natural Bodily Cycles. Secrets Are Matters Which Deliberately Use To Mislead Others.

When considering the matter of secrecy versus privacy, it is also important to note that not all cultures perceive truth-telling to be honourable. Some cultures place more value on a well-intentioned withholding of the truth. What sort of things are better left unsaid can depend on the context, culture, and social position. In Western culture, the truth-teller is freed from guilt after telling the truth, and is often socially rewarded for having the bravery to tell. Other cultures subscribe to the “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” and if freeing oneself from guilt is the only reason the secret was revealed, then it is seen as selfish.

Sexual Alchemy

An ‘infidelity’ that bring a couple into a tension can involve sex or not, and it can involve physical contact or not. Hence, the name sexual alchemy, rather than just sex. The kiss that we imagine giving can be as erotic as actual lovemaking. Francesca Gentille compiled a list of things that infidelers have used to justify how it wasn’t infidelity: “It wasn’t cheating because…”

“…it was on the internet.”

“…it was just porn.”

“…it’s just texting.”

“…I didn’t know her name.”

“…no one came.”

“…I was drunk/high.”

“…I didn’t enjoy it.”

“…I’m not sure I remember the details.”

“…it was with a gender I don’t usually have sex with.”

“…no one else saw it.”

“…we still had [some of] our clothes on.”

“…one foot was on the floor.”

What is or is NOT considered an act of infidelity is something that needs to be defined between two people. Where the line between innocent self-expression and deliberate infidelity is drawn can differ between each couple and is a boundary which deserves a thorough discussion in this modern day and age. When thinking about this boundary, we need to think about our “erotic freedom”. Do we expect our partner’s erotic thoughts, fantasies, dream, memories to be focused only on us? Some of you may say that it is impossible and not necessary. What about the freedom to self-pleasure? Perhaps for some, the idea that your partner self-pleasure may be a turn-on; for others, a threat.

Esther Perel Says That In Her Decades As A Relationship Therapist, The Most Successful Couples Are Ones Who Allow A Degree Of Mystery In Their Relationship—A Maintenance Of A Certain Degree Of Elusiveness About The Other That Keeps One Coming Back. These Couples Recognize That They Do Not Own Each Other’s Sexuality.

Emotional Involvement

The third element that plays a role in infidelity is the degree of emotional involvement. Perel writes that most illicit sexual encounters contain some degree of emotional involvement. Such encounters range from casual, paid, anonymous and/or virtual sex to deeply involved affairs that claim enable one to transcend a new meaning of love and human existence—the so called, ‘I thought I knew what love was until I met ______’. “For most, sex and emotion are difficult to untangle”, writes Perel, so to have sex with another means an inevitable sharing of energy and human emotion. An affair that does not involve sex is the emotional affair, and can be applied to relationships that are genuinely platonic but is perceived to be “too close”. Human beings rely on the emotional closeness with others to feel regulate and often, we have chosen our partners to be our exclusive and personal holder of our deepest dreams, regrets and anxieties. When the availability and consistency of this “safe haven” in our partners become threatened, it can feel like a betrayal. According to Perel, this emotional exclusiveness is still a foreign concept in many places in the world and was not present in earlier generations.

This article was inspired by content in The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity by Esther Perel.

If an infidelity has occurred in your life, contact us today. Call 604-800-9285 or email

Learn more about Couples Counselling at An Elegant Mind Counselling in Vancouver, BC.

Ready to Start Therapy?