Infidelity: Can Couples Move Past It?
Try screaming into a sink full of water; it absorbs the sound.
That’s an exercise that relationship guru Laura Berman suggests to couples coping with infidelity. The need for, and agony of, such a release reflects both the immense trauma of romantic betrayal and its flip side: the deep capacity of human love.
But given the emotional toll it takes, can anyone truly get past an affair? Can trust ever be restored? Should it be?
For Helen Fisher, a Rutgers University anthropologist who studies the biological underpinnings of love, her male partner’s affair 15 years ago didn’t end their relationship. But it certainly changed it. “You can get over it. You can get over all of the feelings; but in my experience, you never forget it,” she says. “You’ve got to have enough pulling you toward the relationship to want to make this thing work,” she says, “but romantic love is one of the most powerful brain systems on earth.” In fact, it fires up the same neurological response as serious addiction—“a perfectly wonderful addiction when it’s going well, and a perfectly horrible addiction when it’s going poorly.”
Fisher, who has studied 42 societies around the world, theorizes that humans have evolved three distinct drives—for sex, romantic love, and the stability of attachment—all of which can coexist for what anthropologists consider the ultimate human drive: propagating the species at any cost. When it comes to adultery, that cost can run quite high—from excommunication to execution, in some cultures. However, multiple lovers have given humans a “dual reproductive strategy,” Fisher explains. So, for example, the prehistoric woman might have exploited a liaison to confuse her child’s paternity and gain resources for her brood, or perhaps another lover created a back-up plan should her primary partner fall out of a tree.