Relationships Archives - Embodied Living

During a crisis situation, like Covid-19, our tendency to take risks can increase. Trauma can trigger states where risky behaviour has a kind of softening effect on the crisis we are experiencing. Invariably, it can also make us feel more alive. However cheating on our partner only brings us more problems in the long run. So why do we cheat?

Why do we cheat?

I have many people who come to me who are in an extra marital affair currently, or who have had one. And this situation invariably affects self-esteem. Yes the new relationship makes them feel loved and valued. Perhaps because these needs are not being met in the primary relationship. But close on the heels of that pleasure is the cauldron of problems that beleaguers the person. And for some the guilt and shame can be unbearable.

Who cheats?

According the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy (9.8.2013) 57 per cent of men and 55 per cent of women will have an extramarital affair. So, considering the total number of marriages involved at least one partner will have an affair in approximately 80 per cent of all marriages. (stats here: With this many marriages affected, it’s unreasonable to think affairs are due only to the failures and shortcomings of individual ‘bad’ partners.

Why we cheat

Why do we cheat? It is always because of some need that is not being met in the current relationship. Perhaps your wife is cold and distant and doesn’t want sex anymore? Perhaps your partner is unable to express himself emotionally, or doesn’t do feelings? Or perhaps he is too needy and since the baby has come along, turns elsewhere for attention. We all have needs for connection, for intimacy. As well as for touch and for passion.

Things are different these days. Women in their 40s are doing a lot of the initiation. And divorce is on the rise for couples in their 60s. We change. And sometimes the other does not change so much. So we feel stuck or not understood. We need to be seen by another. We all long to be validated, and recognised on a deep level by another soul. This is especially true if we did not have these needs met in our childhood.


Attachment theory

And then there is attachment theory.  It is said that 40-50% of us are insecurely attached. We may be avoidant, with an almost obsessive need for independence as we had to rely on ourselves so much in childhood. Or we were abused physically, emotionally or sexually. Or we may be anxious-ambivalent (preoccupied) in our attachment. This is because we got inconsistent care in childhood. Needless to say, our ‘hope’ for love and care was dashed time and time again, by a mother who was unavailable herself (depressed, alcoholic etc).

So we cope. We are excellent at coping from a very young age, we have an inbuilt survival mechanism. The need for love and being cared for can feel like life or death. This desperate need for intimacy or sexual connection ends up making us fearful (literally) of intimacy or too needy and dependent on it. Both styles, I find, set us up for affairs. Insecure attachment style goes hand in hand with lower self esteem. So, the self esteem was already low, before the affair.

Intention and behaviour

I am not excusing the behaviour in any way. but the ‘intention’ behind it is positive (and to the limbic brain, can feel like life or death): to get the person what they truly, deeply need. This is not a conscious, rational choice (this need) it is wired into the circuits of the right brain, wired so deeply that it can override the superego’s objections to having an affair.

Nevertheless, the judgements of society and culture, pale in comparison to how we judge ourselves. Affairs can shatter marriages. And make the one who strayed, and the one left behind deeply unhappy. So, given that, the behaviour needs changing.


Healing the wounds

People need help to heal the underlying wounds in the relationship to change the relationship so needs are met. Surprisingly, 30% or more of marriages with a known affair, do survive. But usually both of them also need help in healing the underlying childhood ‘scars’ that created the impetus. The low self-esteem which is a presenting factor in most, has now usually gotten far worse post-affair thereby setting a sensitivity for more affairs.

Our relationship can survive an affair – with help

But the truly beautiful thing is, that for the bravest of couples, who honestly, authentically, courageously work through all this (themselves, the marriage) this crisis can be the catalyst for changing the relationship. The old stagnant relationship can be changed to one that is unrecognisable from the one that was decimated. It can be a route to individuation, differentiation, growth to self – for both partners. Although I am certainly NOT advocating an affair in the cause of ‘personal growth’. Given that most of us in the West today will have two or three committed relationships in our life, ‘for those daring enough to try, they may find themselves having all of them with the same person.’ (Esther Perel, After the Storm)

Resources: A Passionate Marriage by David Snarch


  1. More about relationships on our blog
  2. More about David Snarch and how sex inevitably dies in long-term relationships
  3. A wonderful video from Esther Perel

Long term relationships are not easy yet it is precisely these relationships that hold the key our growth.

“We are born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship, and we must heal in relationship.”

Harville Hendrix

Changing attitudes

We are living in an era of changing social attitudes, with more people cohabiting prior to getting married. Nevertheless this year divorce rates have increased for the first time in a decade. The statistics attribute this to the increase in the number of ‘silver splitters’ – those aged over 50. Whilst men are increasingly more likely to ask for divorce, the phenomenon is largely attributed to longer life expectancy and the greater financial independence of women. Divorce is not easy – it is a process often loaded with conflict, fear and anxiety.

Divorce is not the only option

However it does not have to be the only option. Intimate relationships are complex systems and sometimes we will need some help to navigate them. This is equally true whether of same or opposite sex couples, cohabiting or married, monogamous or polyamorous relationships.

People growing machines

Our closest relationships are actually people growing machines. In that, unconsciously, we ‘choose’ our partner to heal our historical ‘wounds’ and help us become the person we can be, complete. What attracted us to our partner is often outside of our conscious awareness and beyond the obvious physical characteristics. Nevertheless that very attraction often becomes that which ends up bugging us about them. The shy man who marries the extraverted woman, and who then gets tired of the continuous social diary. The needy woman who lives with her strong partner and then is triggered into jealousy or insecurity with his independent nature. The creative female who marries the logical and rational man, but then they both start to get on each other’s nerves.

The 3 phases of relationship

Intimate relationships go through three recognised phases:

  1. romantic love
  2. the power struggle
  3. and finally (for the lucky few) the real deal of a truly conscious relationship.

The romantic love phase, where we are infatuated, or ‘in love’, with the other takes up the first six to 18 months of a new relationship. Then we hit the ordeal phase where conflict increases and we experience the power struggle. This is a phase where the other becomes the ‘enemy’, we see their faults and there is increasing conflict. Conversely, some couples experience this phase as increasing distance and withdrawal. In this case they feel like they are ‘drifting apart’.

For our relationship to grow into the final stage of a conscious relationship we need to embrace and navigate the necessary conflict of the power struggle phase. Moreover in this ‘real deal’ phase  we become equals, and experience a deeper and lasting trust, and a more enduring love where we feel comfortable and secure.  It goes without saying that most couples need some help with this.

Why couples therapy is so important

Couples therapy has an important place in many couples’ lives. Not least this is because ‘romantic love’ does not last (we have been brainwashed by Hollywood!). Nevertheless if couples don’t use this current relationship, with all of its conflicts and difficulties, to work through the issues they will just find themselves repeating the same pattern in their next one. Working through this phase in a relationship is certainly not the easy option. In fact, such work requires each party to be an active partner in the process of change.

To be able to grow and move to the ideal phase requires us to access thoughts, feelings and emotions that we may prefer to keep buried – such as guilt, shame, anger or sadness. It is difficult and challenging work, as all personal change is. But if, perhaps with some help, we can be brave and (sometimes) brutally honest with ourselves and the other we can own our unhelpful patterns, heal the past and move to real love.


Sue Tupling is a psychotherapist at Embodied Counselling in Stafford.

This article was first published in the Staffordshire Newsletter

Read more about relationships

Coercive, manipulative and controlling behaviour can be insidious in a relationship and often goes unreported. Here is an article that I first wrote for Psychologies Magazine LifeLabs

Domestic abuse is an all too common story in the news: a woman is killed by a man she knew. This type of case can be the ultimate culmination of domestic abuse. Despite these horrific headlines, this type of abuse largely remains hidden. Yet the statistics show that 13 per cent of women in the UK have experienced domestic abuse at some point in their lives. 

Men can be victims too

Men can also be the victims of abuse, but women are statistically far more likely to suffer. Such abuse is often thought of as being physical or sexual, but emotional or psychological abuse is far more insidious and widespread. At the end of 2015 a new law on coercive control was introduced to help victims and instigate cultural change around this lesser-known side of domestic abuse. 

How to identify coercive control

People in unhappy relationships need to be aware of this type of behaviour and question whether they are experiencing emotional abuse. 

Here are some things to consider about controlling or coercive behaviour:

  1. The perpetrator sees their partner as an object to control

Whether the person is aware of their behaviour or not, emotional abuse is all about control. The perpetrator feels that they have a sense of entitlement over their partner. This control may extend to the use of the victim’s mobile phone, including putting tracking apps on or having access to passwords and looking at their partner’s phone regularly. It can also extend wanting to know about all their partner’s movements or whereabouts, or perhaps paying too much interest in the other’s choice of clothing and what they wear. Some abusers even focus on body shape – insisting that their partner is too fat or too thin. It can even include control over sleep by deliberately depriving the victim of sleep. Slowly, over a long period of time, this type of behaviour reduces the victims control over aspects of their life, ultimately it can lead to them being isolated from family and friends. It can be incredibly insidious, and often not obvious to those outside the relationship. But when looked back over time there is clearly a purposeful pattern of control that, concsciously or unconsciously, the perpetrator is choosing to do.

  1. It’s a form of brainwashing  

It might sound extreme to say this, but think about it. Brainwashing is the concept that the human mind can be altered or controlled by certain psychological techniques and behaviours. In this type of abusive relationship, the controlling person can fluctuate from being delightful and charming one minute then nasty or abusive the next. This ensures that the victim is not only left confused and doubting, because the behaviour is confusing and unpredictable, but also on guard and constantly watchful. By keeping the victim watching and hyper-alert all the time, the abuser has control. The abuser may use the children as ‘weapons’ in their tactics of abuse, perhaps manipulating the kids to side with him or using threats to his partner if she retaliates. Gaslighting is another common tactic, this is when someone exhibits abusive behaviour and then pretends it didn’t happen – or convincingly switches blame on to the victim. This can cause the woman to doubt herself, particularly when she is repeatedly told that she is the one ‘going mad’ or being abusive.

  1. The person who suffers abuse doesn’t love themselves enough and doesn’t tell

People can spend many years in the abusive relationship and not tell anyone. They may be protecting that person, or may be deluded in thinking that ‘if I just love him enough he will change’. But also there is deep personal shame experienced by what is happening to them; such depths of shame will keep the person quiet or even in denial. They may, of course, also feel they won’t be believed and this is often because the abuser puts on a very different face to the rest of the world.

  1. The perpetrator is often seen by others as charming and widely loved

Abusers are often charming and charismatic people. Their partner may have been seduced by this charm in the relationship.  But this makes it even harder for the victim to get support. Perpetrators of controlling behaviour are often loved by others and are good at seducing with their charm. They can be pillar of the community, and may have a degree of power and influence. This makes it even harder for the victim to seek help because she may fear she won’t be believed.

  1. It happens to strong women

Emotional abuse often happens to seemingly strong women, which adds to the shame experienced and makes it even harder for the victim to accept. In addition, if the woman (or man) is a typically strong person, they may be more likely to dismiss the controlling behaviour, particularly in the early stages.

  1.     Any attempt to fight back can escalate the behaviour

Care must be taken to make changes in such a relationship, because the nature of abusive partners (who are often highly narcissistic) is that any attempts to stand up to them or to put them in a bad light, will escalate their behaviour. If you try to instigate divorce or separate it will not be accepted, and the abuser will increase his difficult behaviour. And don’t just leave. Once narcissistic rage is triggered, any type of dangerous or violent behaviour may be possible. Get specialist help from the likes of Refuge or Women’s Aid, and of course the police. All this can be treated confidentially. It will be important to have a plan that maximises safety.

Whilst it is obvious that the (mainly) men who show tendencies to controlling behaviour need specialist help to understand their underlying belief structures and behaviour behind their actions. The victims will also need help. Simply leaving the perpetrator will often risk an escalation in their behaviour, sometimes to dangerous levels, so specialist help should be sought.

Embodied Counselling offers a helpful psychotherapy and counselling service for victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse.


Places to go for help:


National Domestic Violence Helpline

Women’s Aid

Respect (male victims of domestic abuse)

Relationships are one of the most important things in a person’s life. Yet all relationships reach a difficult phase at some point. This is where couples therapy can really help.

As human beings, a sense of connection is one of the ‘fruits’ of a happy life, vitally important to our happiness.

We need connection

No matter how much we might try to kid ourselves that we want to be alone, we need contact and connection for our very survival.

We’re made to be able to be happy, in an imperfect world, that is endlessly unfolding, and we on earth are the local agents of that cosmological unfolding“

~ Al Pesso

From the moment we are born it is only in relationship with other human beings that we develop our sense of self. Through moment by moment reciprocated interactions – verbal, visual, visceral – with parents, particularly the mother, we develop our ego and our sense of who we are. Throughout our entire lives, good relationships are integral to our successful sense of self.

When relationships go wrong

However, when relationships aren’t working it is painful. Regardless of whether this is friendships, romantic, or work relationships, it can lead to feelings of loss, despair, hurt, alienation, frustration and more when they go wrong. It can even mean that we learn to avoid relationships, but that too fails to make us happier.

Present consciousness is a tapestry woven from the threads of memory

~ Al Pesso

Couples therapy can help

Counselling and psychotherapy can help us to see how difficult past relationships, often those earliest in our life, can have a negative impact on our present relationships. And talking about issues helps us to make connections and develop awareness so that we have more choice and control in healthy, fulfilling relationships.

Keep up to date with my blogs on relationships