Relationship counsellor, clinical sexologist, and author of Seasons of Sex, Leandie Buys talks about one-night-stands and whether or not you should tell your long term partner about it, and how the infidelity will affect your relationship going forward.
So you went away with some friends, and met a person that gave you butterflies in your stomach for the first time in years…
There was so much sexual chemistry between you, and even though they were a stranger, it felt like you’d known them for years. You kept telling yourself ‘this is so wrong’, but got swept away in all the attention, and as the night went on, your thoughts became clouded. You end up in bed, having “the greatest sex ever”. Or not? And then you realise – you’ve just had a one-night-stand.
Waking up next to a stranger, the guilt is overwhelming. You’ve just betrayed your partner.
Do you keep this secret for life, or do you come clean?
I often get asked this question. And it’s such a difficult one to answer, because I can’t enforce my own value system on my clients. The choice of whether to tell or not is entirely up to them.
Should you tell your partner of the betrayal, your relationship will never be the same again. However, if you don’t, the guilt will eat away at you for ever.
What defines a one-night-stand?
A one-night-stand can be both physical and emotional. You may have spent the night having sex with a stranger (or someone who isn’t your partner), or you made out with someone, and there was sexual touching involved.
I often get asked whether connecting with someone else on an emotional level is considered cheating.
My answer is always “absolutely yes”. Whether you had sex or not, I see this as an affair because it has created a barrier between you and your partner. Another person has come between you, and affected your intimacy, and endangered your relationship.
I want to share what happened to me about 5 years ago:
When I was in my twenties I was engaged to a man that was ten years older than me. He broke off the engagement after he met someone else that was closer to his age.
About five years ago he phoned me on my birthday, completely out-of-the-blue. He told me all the nice things that one likes to hear, like how proud he is of me, and how well I am doing in my career and so on.
After he said goodbye, I wrestled about whether to tell my husband that my ex had phoned me. I thought about it throughout the day, and decided that if I kept the phone call a secret, then it would mean that there was more to the conversation than ‘just a phone call’.
So that evening I told my husband that my ex had called.
I also told him that I really enjoyed our conversation because of the praise that I received. I realised that I needed my husband to give me similar praise and attention, and he was happy to oblige.
Knowing what is missing in your relationship, and being able to ask for what you need are key ingredients to a long-lasting marriage.
I often share this story with my clients to illustrate that point. We all need to know when we are feeling vulnerable, and disconnected from our partners.
What are the potential dangers of a one-night-stand?
1. Damage to your relationship
Should you decide to tell your partner about the one-night-stand, your relationship is going to suffer the consequences of an affair.
You and your partner will need to work through the betrayal with a qualified relationship therapist. You will have to deal with why this has happened and what is going on in your relationship with your partner.
Trust will have to be earned, and your partner might decide that the effect of this betrayal is too much to deal with and might decide to end your relationship.
2. Confusion about your relationship
You might think that meeting this other person is not a coincidence, and you might feel that you have connected with this person on all levels, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
You might think that you should leave your partner and pursue a relationship with your one-night-stand. BUT don’t be fooled by this temporary euphoria.
It is easy to show all your good qualities in just one night. You haven’t seen each other grumpy, angry, or frustrated. You haven’t known each other long enough to be sure that a relationship would work.
3. Harassment from your one-night-stand
The person could become so infatuated by you that they might stalk you on social media. Even if you didn’t give them your personal details, it is very easy to find someone by Googling them these days.
If the harassment becomes an issue, you might need to get the law involved, change your contact details, and delete all of your online social media accounts for a period of time.
4. Contracting an STI
When under the influence of alcohol, we lose our inhibitions. The one-night-stand might “look clean” and “decent” and you might decide not to use a condom.
Remember that when you don’t use protection, you are “sleeping with all the other people” that this person has slept with.
When I was still doing my radio show, Sensually Speaking on Algoa FM, we once joked that, “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas but herpes follows you home”.
You may not contract HIV from your one-night-stand, but herpes is also a lifelong disease. Not to mention chlamydia and other STIs.
5. An unplanned pregnancy
You really thought “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”, but weeks after your one-night-stand you might discover that it resulted in an unplanned pregnancy.
If you are a guy, and you have impregnated someone else, it is incredibly important to come clean with your partner, because you need to honour the responsibilities that a child brings. You also need to know that you and your partner’s life will never be the same again.
My best advice if you have a one-night-stand, and you want to save your long term relationship, is to seek professional help because no matter how you look at it, you will need a safe place to vent your feelings, and work on your relationship.