1. Reflecting on the meanings of affairs

Described image
Banksy’s ‘Naked man hung from window’; this image depicting infidelity was painted on the side of a sexual health clinic in Bristol in 2006.

The word ‘infidelity’ is a value-laden one. A clue to this lies in the etymology of the word. The Latin origin of ‘infidelity’ is a word that translates as ‘not faithful’: the idea that infidelity involves the immoral abandonment of a faith or a promise. Synonyms include ‘unfaithfulness’ and ‘cheating’ – which have similar connotations – and ‘adultery’ which has a root meaning of ‘corrupted’. The web of meaning around the construct of infidelity is important to note; it can be remarkably difficult when the very terms are so value-laden not to fall into the trap of using language that is far from neutral.

Now try Activity 1.1, to explore this idea further.

Activity 1.1 Metaphors for infidelity

Timing: Allow 5 minutes

Think of an image or metaphor for infidelity and its impact on relationships.

Active content not displayed. This content requires JavaScript to be enabled.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


As an example of the value-laden meanings around the term, in our research we have been struck by how hard it is to find words to describe people impacted by infidelity: the temptation is to use words that evoke guilt and crime, such as ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ (Moller and Vossler, 2015; Vossler and Moller, 2014).

The phrases ‘the person who engaged in the act of infidelity’ and ‘the person whose partner engaged in the act of infidelity’ are cumbersome but at least they are more neutral. In any event, as you go through this course, we would ask you to try to use value-free language and approach the material in a spirit of open inquiry while recognising that this may be very difficult for all of us to do.

Continue to Section 1.1 Unpacking personal meanings around infidelity.

1.1 Unpacking personal meanings around infidelity