By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
When we started looking more closely at the experiences of the participants in our research who reported sexual abuse within past abusive relationships for this month’s focus on “Healthy Sexuality, Healthy Relationships,” one experience jumped out as common for many participants. Many of these participants reported that their partners had been unfaithful to them once or more throughout the course of their relationships.
Now, the question of whether any form of infidelity is a form of abuse is one that we could debate (for example, see these posts from First Wives World and Your Tango). Infidelity is a violation of the trust and commitment that a person makes to his or her partner. Also, the person who has been cheated on often is emotionally devastated and may face physical health risks (e.g., sexually transmitted infections) and financial losses (such as when the unfaithful partner spends the couple’s shared money on the affair) as a result of the infidelity. Certainly, there are some parallels between infidelity and abuse, but we can save that full debate for another day.
For today, I want to focus on some of the stories we heard from survivors of intimate partner violence who participated in our research. One aspect of their partners’ abuse and mistreatment of them involved infidelity. What’s more, as the following quotes show, often the infidelity was weaved into other abusive dynamics in their relationships. The following quotes came from participants who reported sexual abuse in their past abusive relationships:
All too often victims and survivors are blamed for their partners’ behaviors by their abusers, their friends and family members, and others. We need to continue to work to ensure that every person who chooses to use violent, hurtful, and abusive behaviors within relationships is held fully accountable for those actions. As the experiences of the participants quoted here show, we need to ensure that infidelity is included in our understanding of these abusive behaviors.