City Research Online

“It was a way of surviving”: Searching for meaning in accounts of infidelity

Lord, K. (2019). “It was a way of surviving”: Searching for meaning in accounts of infidelity. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


The Western relationship ideal of monogamy influences the way infidelity is understood and experienced. Consequently, infidelity can be experienced as destructive for relationships, shattering trust, self-esteem and security, eliciting feelings of shame for all involved, and is a frequent presenting problem in couples’ therapy. Although there is an abundance of research examining this phenomenon, the experience and personal meanings of infidelity are still poorly understood. This qualitative study utilised interpretative phenomenological analysis to examine individuals’ experiences of engaging in infidelity, specifically affairs, and how these were shaped by Western society. Seven semi-structured interviews were conducted with 4 females and 3 males who had engaged in an ongoing romantic relationship alongside and not agreed in their monogamous relationship. Participants were aged between 25-55 (M = 32.29, SD = 5.60) at the time of their affairs. Three main findings emerged from the analysis: Something for Me; Coming to Life; and Negotiating Tensions. The findings highlighted how participants understood their affairs as a way to focus on their needs, and appeared to heighten their senses, eliciting a sense of feeling alive. Participants also experienced a number of internal conflicts during their affairs, arising from maintaining the secrecy of their affairs, and negotiating societal expectations with their experience, which could elicit feelings of guilt. Participants’ understanding of their experiences appeared to be filtered through dominant societal discourses, and provides useful insights into the nature of romantic relationships in the UK, and how they interact with social processes. Implications for Counselling Psychology and practice are discussed.

Key Words: infidelity, affairs, monogamy, romantic relationships, mononormativity, IPA, contextual constructionism, discourses

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences Doctoral Theses
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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