Childhood Wounds to Adult Choices: Exploring The Depths of Infidelity | The Indigo Project
Exploring The Depths of Infidelity

Childhood Wounds to Adult Choices

Everyone needs a relationship where they feel safe, loved, and welcome. Everyone needs a relationship where they can relax into someone’s arms and feel like they can fully be themselves. 

For those of us who grew up in a home where we felt accepted and loved by our parents, this style of a relationship will be possible. And it’s possible because our adulthood relationships will reflect much of what we experienced in childhood, where we internalise this feeling of acceptance and love which allows us to be self-confident and trusting of others in our most intimate relationships. 

However, many people associate their childhood with negative experiences, some even traumatic. Others recall an unhappy childhood, with frequently absent parents, feeling alone and undeserving of having their needs met. And then there are those who believe they had a “happy” childhood and that everything was “normal”, only to discover upon further enquiry that they were in denial out of self-protection from experiencing any of their pain.

How Were Your Relationships Modelled?

I see all kinds of people and relationship issues in the space that I hold for clients, many people who will downplay their childhood experiences of insecurity, rejection, or fear. Many of those same people, sooner or later come to realise that there are moments in their adulthood relationships that reveal to them how detrimental their childhood experiences have been.

Lacking role models for truly loving relationships, they have communication issues and self-esteem issues, frequently doubting that their partner truly loves them. They can be self-critical and, at times, avoidant, not knowing how to trust themselves enough to approach what it is that is causing their pain. 

They have intimacy issues, fearing the closeness and vulnerability that comes with progressing and sustaining a romantic relationship. They find themselves in affairs, feeling confused on how they got to where they are in their relationship, and in search of the answers they need to feel at peace within. But here’s the thing, it’s not as “bad” or as “scary” as it all may seem…

I See Affairs Happening In “Good Enough” Relationships

Genuinely good people are having affairs in what I call “good enough” relationships. I’ve sat in my office chair listening to their stories of grief, sorrow, confusion, hurt and betrayal. At least 50% of the people I have seen were grappling with this devastating event in their relationship. There were unmet needs, broken promises, and inhibitors to healthy, open communication. There was mindlessness rather than mindfulness when the choice to stray first became an option. And more often than not, there is either a deeply troubled relationship, or a deeply troubled person, with unresolved childhood wounds that have wreaked havoc on their love life. 


Why Does The Betrayer Do It?

For the betrayer, it’s never just about what they’ve done to their partner but also about what they’ve done to themselves. The betrayal is two-fold in some ways. And so, I’ve found myself asking the question “Why do people stray?”. Here’s a very brief list I’ve come up with:

  • Insecure attachment
  • Narcissism or an undiagnosed psychopathology.
  • Scenarios where it’s an acceptable norm – i.e. where at least one person in work or within our social circle is “doing the dirty”.
  • Societal influence from sites like Ashley Madison that teach people relationships filled with lies and deceit are okay (both of which are inhibitors to true connection).
  • Infidelity as a way of compensating for a “lack” or to fill a “void” in the primary relationship.
  • Infidelity as a form of self-expression where there’s no perceived risk of rejection or abandonment.
  • Cheating as a way of feeling “alive” in a life filled with boredom or rigid, monotonous routines.
  • Commonly, to set up an exit because they don’t know how to initiate a breakup.
  • And often – the client has been stuck in unhelpful, cyclical episodes of conflict and disagreements, lacking the skills to reach a resolution and to foster a truly loving, safe, and stable relationship. 

People have relationship issues, specifically affairs, for all kinds of reasons. Each time I think I’ve landed on the root cause of this dilemma, I come across a new answer that shifts my entire perspective. That said, I’ll admit to you, my dear reader, that my typical train of thought is rooted in Where did they learn to behave in love, or in life, like this?” because no child comes into the world “just knowing” that they will commit adultery in adulthood. It’s a learned pattern, a choice…but from where? 

You Are Not Alone

For now, my dear reader, I want you to know that my experiences, both personally and professionally with individuals and with couples, have compelled me to be curious, to continue my research, to look beyond the surface layer of relationship issues – and to dig deep. 

I want you to know that if this article has brought up anything within you, you are so welcomed into my safe space – alone, or with your partner. It’s a place where you can explore, unpack, and develop a curious approach to your most recent relationship dilemmas. It’s a place where you can learn and develop the skill set to overcome those sticky relationship issues. 

Despite that, I know that for some of you, it may feel tempting to look for the answers you need in the places where it is “easiest” to search for them, like in a self-help book or podcast, in an affair partner, or through some form of an addiction. But it’s highly unlikely that’s where you’ll find “your truth” and the things you need to set you free. You deserve to be heard. You deserve to understand yourself and your relationships. And you deserve love.

And there are steps we can take together to get you there and I am here to walk with you, whenever you are ready.


From one curious human being seeking deep answers about love,


Katie O’Donoghue

Indigo Relationship Coach & Couples Therapist


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