In the Orthodox Jewish community, we like to think of ourselves as immune to the problems that plague the wider society. This is especially so when it comes to areas of life affected by the sexualization of society and its ‘do whatever you feel like’ attitude. To a great extent, this is true, but it’s not always true for everyone at every time. Being observant doesn’t mean you don’t have a yetzer hara, including, perhaps, the strongest yetzer hara of all.
Unfortunately, frum Jews who find themselves trapped in a pattern of infidelity often do not seek culturally and religiously sensitive professional help because they assume it is not available or because they are too ashamed. Frum people struggling with infidelity often fear feeling judged and lectured about how incompatible their behaviors are with their professed religious life. This fear keeps many people from reaching out for help and keeps them stuck in a cycle of shame and loneliness. Feeling like you are the only one in such a situation intensifies feelings of guilt and makes it even harder to reach out. But you are not alone; the help you need to leave behind infidelity is available.
How loneliness leads to infidelity
I have worked with many clients who are having affair, often not for the first time. The common link that I have found in the vast majority of cases is that the motivating force is not sexual desire as much as it is the urge to escape loneliness. Many people in our communities feel a deep and abiding sense of loneliness that is only intensified by the strong community life that surrounds them. The feeling of being alone in a crowded community can express itself in feelings of anxiety, depression, and despair. Some people may find themselves overworking, volunteering to the point of exhaustion, shopping excessively, or using alcohol, while others become involved in inappropriate relationships to numb their loneliness. The desire to escape loneliness through any form of connection can become so intense that no cost seems too high, even the risk of losing your parnassah, your good name, or your family.
The good news is that therapy can help you to address the underlying causes of the loneliness that drove you to infidelity, giving you the ability to make meaningful and fundamental changes in your life. By gaining a broader self-understanding you can find a way to escape the vicious cycle of shame and escapism that keeps otherwise good people trapped in infidelity. Where possible and appropriate, couples therapy can help you to build a satisfying and meaningful marriage in which you both find the emotional support you need.
Today there are many options to address loneliness and infidelity. Individual, couples and group counseling is widely available. Not all sexual acting out is an addiction; yet, for those struggling with an addiction, there are culturally and religiously appropriate 12-step groups, ones that address the specific concerns, unique to the Orthodox community.
Marcia Kesner, MS, LPC, LMHC is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Mental Health Counselor who has provided psychotherapy in the Orthodox Jewish community for over twenty years. She can be reached at 212-887-0916, 718-391-4608 or by filling in the contact form.Please share this post!