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Six Mistakes Couples Make That Lead to Infidelity

  1. Ignoring partners needs and emotions and turning away from attempts to share or connect! In healthy interdependent relationships couples make constant requests for support, understanding, and connection. Gottman calls these “sliding glass door moments”, referring to the choice we always have to respond positively, or not, to the partner’s attempt to express feelings or a need, or to connect. It turns out that in the research in stable, happy, relationships, partners respond positively 86% of the time, while couples headed toward potential disaster only respond positively about 33% of the time, the rest of the responses are characterized by either ignoring the partner or by responding negatively or sarcastically. While we cant always meet our partner’s needs for support and understanding, when falling short the couples in the 86% versus 33% category have a much greater ability to repair those times. Also, conflict (in the 86% category) is characterized by more humor and affection.

  2. As tensions arise from unmet emotional needs and lack of support, increased arguing and damaging conflicts occur, each chipping away at the trust level. When partners are either unwilling to express their hurts, and /or unwilling to listen to the others hurts, opportunities for repair are lost. Each partner becomes a trigger for the other’s hurts, often times related to family of origin wounds and sensitivities. When triggers are pushed, couples get flooded, in other words, their bodies respond with strong overwhelming feelings activated by a natural instinct for survival. Neurochemistry changes activated by the sympathetic nervous system make it nearly impossible to problem-solve or even to listen. This is not a good time to have a discussion, because nothing is likely to happen instead damage piles up.

  3. Unresolved issues begin to pile up creating “unfinished business”. Gottman writes that unfinished business leaves unhealed wounds Neuroscience supports this idea wit studies concluding the same thing. Negativity grabs our attention and puts our brain on watch, keeping very alert to further hurts and unsafe situations.

  4. Negative sentiment overrides everything. With broken trust, unmet needs, overwhelming feelings, negative perceptions, feelings, and beliefs about the partner gel and define the problems in the relationship. Negative explanations reinforce the belief that the partner is selfish and thoughtless. Our brain puts positive and neutral interactions in the back row: this is about survival. Gottman calls negative sentiment override a “litmus test” for a troubled relationship.

  5. The Four Horseman: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling create pervasive negativity. The physical distress leads to attacking and blaming the partner, defensiveness, reacting with sarcasm and contempt, and shutting down: all of which are huge predictors of relationship meltdown. There is no ability to constructively mange conflict. (Gottman research says only 30% of couples in these endless battles remain trustworthy.

  6. Negative Comparison: This is when the untrustworthy partner starts comparing the partner to others, with real and imagined people. The partner ends up losing out to these idealized people. This is a key dynamic in betrayal. By stacking up the partner against others the stage is set to establish relationships with others who are seen as more understanding, more loving, more interesting, more fun, and so on, believing “These problems tell me I would just be happier with someone else.” These relationships tend not to be real or realistic. They often serve as fantasies about the relationships: “In this relationship, I feel needed, appreciated…loved.” It’s a lot easier to be in a relationship when all you do is date and not have to manage the responsibilities of everyday life.

Negative comparison stands in direct contrast to partners who see losing their partner a disastrous. In Positive Comparison partners embrace a “We can tackle the world together” philosophy. Positive comparison leaves the partner feeling, “This is the person I want to be with”.

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