Celeste and Danielle, Creators of the Somatica Method of Sex Therapy and Relationship Coaching

Whether you acknowledge it or not, some desires get met in your primary relationship, and some desires you outsource. We are not talking about the kind of economic outsourcing that Donald Trump promises to end if president (even though his own line of suits is manufactured overseas), we are talking about how desires can be fulfilled across different relationships. If this is negotiated openly and honestly it can be wonderful, and non-exploitative, for everyone involved.

Outsourcing can allow you to get what you need without putting all of the pressure on one relationship to give it to you. Many times you outsource desires without even thinking about it; the outsourcing doesn’t even show up on anyone’s radar because you are both fine with it. For example, perhaps you love salsa dancing but your partner hates it, so you have a group of friends who you go dancing with. Maybe your partner is relieved to never have to go again. Or maybe you like to talk a lot about your feelings, but your partner has a lower tolerance for feelings-based conversations, so you have a best friend you call when you are emotional and need some support. Problems arise when you have a desire that is not being met in the relationship but that you or your partner are not okay with you outsourcing. There is a big cultural taboo about outsourcing sex, but sex isn’t the only thing that people feel uncomfortable outsourcing.

The same examples as above can play out very differently, causing friction and long term issues. Let’s say you still love salsa dancing, and your partner still doesn’t want to do it with you but also doesn’t like the idea of you doing it with someone else. Or you may not feel very supported by your partner emotionally, but they don’t want you to share feelings with your friends, especially if you are talking about your relationship. You might be very extroverted and want to go out a few nights a week, and your partner only wants to go out once a month but gets very sad and frustrated when you go out without them. These are all examples of places where you could outsource, but doing so feels threatening or hurtful to your partner.

In all relationships, we are in an ongoing negotiation of desires, boundaries, and capacities. Each of us needs to honor the other’s desires and be as honest as possible about our own, knowing that we will sometimes feel disappointment in the face of differences.

In the following series we will talk about how people handle sexual outsourcing in their relationships in a variety of ways (polyamory, non-monogamy, open-relationships, infidelity, affairs, cheating). Some people choose to outsource dishonestly which can have many negative ramifications even if this outsourcing is never discovered. We encourage everyone to try and negotiate outsourcing honestly. While this might bring up fears, in the end, being open and honest about your needs brings the highest likelihood of long-term connection and personal fulfillment.

Many have outlined the lessons that can be learned from the Ashley Madison hack in terms of personal privacy and internet security. Others see the site hack as an example of justice being served in what they see as an increasingly immoral world. While we always promote honesty in relationships, we are less interested in passing judgement and more interested in the relationship lessons that an affair can bring to the surface and how these do not always end in despair or divorce.

Ashley Madison’s cleverly manipulative tagline “Life is short: Have an Affair” is appealing because it offers a shortcut to getting certain needs met. Instead of communicating your desires with your partner, it implies an easy fix for getting your sexual desires fulfilled. This equation does not take into account how time consuming and heartbreaking it can be to process an affair with your partner. This is a lesson many Ashley Madison users are now learning the hard way, and maybe others can also take this lesson to heart before they cheat.

As a society, we think of cheating as the ultimate, unforgivable sin. But we see so many different problems surface in relationships that can be just as damaging such as withholding love, sex, or affection. As the “injured party,” the person who was cheated on may feel self-righteous and refuse to consider how their behavior may have contributed to problems in the relationship in general. They may refuse to have any compassion for the ways that their partner’s denied desires or fears and wounds led to the affair. When this happens communication becomes limited to a loop of apology and blame, which does not allow for a couple to reconnect.

It is undeniable that finding out about an affair can be extremely painful. Your partner, in whom you’ve invested so much trust, has lied to you and broken an agreement. At the same time, if you want to recover from an affair, it will not help to think of one of you as the helpless victim and the other as the evil perpetrator. Once cheating has been discovered or confessed, both parties need to decide if they want to face the process of looking at the issues in the relationship (and the affair as a symptom of these issues) rather than labeling the person who had the affair the cause of the problem.

For some people, those who find it unthinkable to actually communicate their desires to their partner, an affair might present a unique moment of crisis that can help save a struggling relationship. It can be a moment where honesty comes flooding out in all directions. We have helped many couples turn relationship crisis into an opportunity, and finding out about an affair, or even an attempted affair, puts most couples in a crisis. We agree with Ashley Madison in that “life is short”, which is exactly why honestly communicating your desires is so important.

​OK, let us start by saying that these may not actually be easy, but neither is having an affair and all of the residual problems that follow which can lead to a break up that neither party truly wants. So now that we have been honest with you, we think you can tackle number 1.

​1. Be honest – The best way to avoid an affair is to be honest about your desires up front as soon as they arise or once you have overcome your sense of shame for having them. For this to work best, you and your partner must create an ethic of acceptance around each other’s desires, even those that are scary or threatening. Some people are afraid to even share their sexual desires or talk about the possibility of being with someone else because they fear that their partner will judge them, stop loving them, resent them, or begin watching their every move to make sure that they are not seeing anyone else.

​2. Negotiate your Relationship Contract – Evaluate your Relationship Contract frequently and look at the boundaries you have set in your relationship or your resistance to certain sexual desires and practices. See if there has been any movement in those boundaries or if you are willing to explore the possibility of shifting them. If you do decide to expand your boundaries, it is important to do so slowly and with lots of communication. It is also important to remember that trying something out to see if it is okay with you does not mean agreeing to it forever. When working with couples on shifting boundaries, we always emphasize how important it is that people not go beyond their boundaries and shift into resentment.

​3. Make room for disappointmentt – Make room for each other’s disappointment when yours or their needs are not being met. Often, if you are merely allowed to openly and shamelessly ask for what you want and receive the support of your partner in having those desires, that can be enough. Then, even if it is beyond your partner’s capacity to allow you to meet those desires out in the world, they at least understand that you are disappointed, and you can feel loved and accepted by them.

​4. Turn a threat into an opportunity – You might also see if there is any part of your partner’s desires that you can play with or explore through fantasy and role play. If your partner wants to have sex with other people, you might dress up, pretend you are someone else, and have them pick you up for a night of sex. You might have a secret affair with your partner, complete with afternoon rendezvous, or you might go out cruising together and check out whom you’d each like to pick up. If your partner desires threesomes or group sex, you might come up with a hot threesome or group-sex fantasy to whisper in their ear during sex.

For some people, just having their desires heard and accepted will be enough. Others might not be satisfied with this solution, and their partners will need to listen to their disappointment or discuss outsourcing. The longer desires go unspoken and unheard, the stronger they are when they come out, so early acceptance is important.

Not everyone is attracted to people other than their partner, but it is normal and common when people are. The idea of being attracted to others or that your partner is attracted to others might scare you, or might feel like something you don’t want. The fact is that many people are attracted to different people other than their partner, emotionally and sexually. If you look at it as a fact of life, talking to your partner about your attractions to others can actually enhance intimacy. You can share what you feel about these attractions and any insecurities or fears that hearing about each other’s attractions might bring up. It is also okay to set boundaries around what you do and don’t want to hear about your partner’s attractions to others. When you make room in your relationship to honor the possibility of outside attractions and the feelings they create, it can help you stay connected and engaged with each other instead of developing separate lives where you keep your attractions hidden. This may help prevent affairs from happening.

Some people are comfortable with monogamy while others feel much more themselves in non-monogamous situations. They may feel fully satisfied with their partner and still want to have sexual or emotional connections with other people. But because there is limited social acceptance of non-monogamy, these people usually feel that they have no choice but to agree to monogamy if they want a long-term relationship. Some people don’t realize that they want to be with more than one person until later in life, when they have already entered into a monogamous marriage. Eventually, their desire to be with someone else may win out and they may end up having an affair.

In this important and timely NYT article, Amy Sohn looks at how some forms of couple’s therapy may not get to the root of sexual issues. A whole new generation of therapists are approaching sex differently and The Somatica Method is at the cutting edge of approaches that teach couples connection and intimacy, but go beyond that to help couples make sex hot and exciting again (or for the first time). In our practice we see so many couples who have a wonderful connection but sex has gone by the wayside.

In our upcoming book, Making Love Real, we cover how sex can be a big part of the glue that holds relationships together, but that sex and what makes sex hot is largely misunderstood. We help each person in a couple share their unique sexual psyches, their deepest and most vulnerable longings, so that sex can touch into what it truly arousing and fulfilling. We are so excited to be a part of this important direction in couple’s coaching and sex therapy.

No two relationships are exactly alike, yet we often make assumptions about how relationships are supposed to be. There is a lot of societal pressure, for example, to have a relationship where your agreements are assumed instead of overtly communicated and where you are expected to follow a particular relationship trajectory: you fall in love which generally includes meeting, dating, and becoming monogamous, then you solidify the relationship by moving in (and sometimes getting married), then you become a family (which may include children), and then you stay together into your old age.

The more relationships we see in our sex therapy and relationship coaching practice and the more we read the research, the more we are aware that this particular formula does not work for everyone (or even the majority of people). Yet, people judge themselves and their partners on their success or failure based on their ability to make the trajectory happen. We help people replace this static, assumption-based approach to relationships so that people can honor their unique and changing desires and boundaries in service of having sustainable, loving relationships.

We suggest you start with the following assumption: There is no right way to have a relationship and the most successful relationships account for the beautifully unique needs of the people in them. For example, we have seen wonderful marriages where the couple does not live together, delightful relationships that never result in marriage and generous couples who decide that the most loving, supportive thing they can do for one another is break up. We have seen relationships revived by an affair, and ones that were ruined by the monotony and boredom of trying to fit into society’s mold.

We invite you to examine the contract you have with fresh eyes and creativity and to be willing to continue to look at it throughout your relationship as you change and grow. Notice all the ways you have let yourself fall into default settings and see where this is or is not serving you. Even if you want aspects of the trajectory, bring them up and make sure you and your partner’s needs are both heard. Here are a few questions that might help you make your contract more transparent:
* How have you decided to share money?
* How do you approach attending social engagements (together or separate or both)?
* How do you sleep (i.e. in the same bed or not, at the same time or not)?
* Do you assume there is a right way to do some things in your relationship and get angry and blamey if it is not happening the way you want it to?
* What things do you really want that you have decided, consciously or unconsciously, not to ask for because it might upset your partner or it “just isn’t done”?

Once you approach your relationship contract as a dynamic, negotiable and non-judgmental process, we believe you will have a lot less undue suffering and frustration and a lot more of what you really want your relationship to be! Let us know if you’d like some help.

In popular culture affairs are portrayed as the ultimate, unforgivable relationship sin. The person who cheats is thought of as untrustworthy at best and, at worst, as downright evil. Yet, affairs happen all the time in relationships. In our work, we have found cheating to be more of a symptom rather than the problem. And while it is easy to blame the people who have affairs as the one who has betrayed the relationship, in our sex therapy and relationship coaching practice, we have found that people don’t cheat because they are bad people. But, they do cheat and they cheat for many reasons.

Sometimes people have affairs because they feel that something is lacking in their current relationship and they don’t feel that it is ok to ask for what they want or ask to be with someone else. They may still love and want to be with their partner (or they may not), but whatever is missing is something they feel they can’t live without, something that makes them feel truly themselves. For some people cheating is an expression of desire to be seen in a different light that they are perceived in their relationship or to explore a different aspect of themselves that isn’t expressed in their relationship.

Many people have affairs to make up for a lack of emotional or sexual connection. It may be that they don’t feel accepted or desired by their partner, or they may desire sex that is different from the kind they can have in their relationship. Maybe the sex they are having is not arousing to them, or there is little or no sex at all in the relationship. Some people simply have a strong desire for novelty and excitement despite a great sex life and connection with their partner. Cheating can be a way people fight the boredom and frustration that can arise when you are with one person for a long time.

For some people, affairs are a way to escape the responsibilities and criticisms of daily life. They want to feel, for a moment, that there is nothing they have to do and that someone is crazy about them just as they are. Some people have revenge affairs to get back at a partner who has cheated. Others have affairs to make up for a feeling of having been taken advantage of or as an expression of their unexpressed resentment. For example, if you feel pressure to provide and make everyone in your family happy, you may feel that the burden is unfair but not share your needs and feelings about it. Instead you feel justified in getting your emotional and/or sexual needs met somewhere else.

Stay tuned for our next installment on how to avoid cheating!