Why people really cheat
It’s time for us to re-evaluate infidelity
Even if you’ve never cheated or been cheated on, it’s likely you’ve been affected by infidelity at some point. And yet it remains so poorly understood and is still shrouded in secrecy and shame. Cheating is the elephant in the room. This makes it difficult to have open conversations with our partners about our relationships. And that’s why it’s time to rethink it. While writing my new book, The State of Affairs, I discovered surprising things about cheating that can help get these discussions started. Here are just a few of the realities I unearthed.
A PRE-CHEAT TALK IS A MUST
Discuss your definition of monogamy with your partner before sh*t hits the fan. Everyone has a definition of cheating
– a stripclub visit can devastate one person as much as a 10month affair hurts another. Get to know each other’s opinions now to avoid being blindsided later. It’s also vital to talk about how you’ll handle it when you’re attracted to another person. Usually, couples don’t address this when the tide is low – they only do once they’re in crisis.
YOU CAN’T TELL WHO WILL STRAY
So many young women tell me, ‘I picked this guy because he’d never cheat.’ But you can’t always tell that in advance. Instead of trying to avoid infidelity by guessing who will be faithful, talk to your partner, acknowledge that sexual desire exists and commit to monogamy for the sake of the relationship.
WE WANT INSTANT GRATIFICATION
These days, we’re used to getting anything we want right away, so we think it should be easy to transition from hooking up with different people to only one person. It isn’t. We have to navigate lots of temptation.
‘ONCE A CHEATER, ALWAYS A CHEATER’ IS NOT THE RULE
There are some repeat offenders. And their actions are more than just cheating – they have a lack of respect for you and the relationship. But in general, just because someone’s been unfaithful once doesn’t mean they’ll do it again. In fact, if your partner does show genuine remorse for hurting you the first time, they’re more likely to own their mistakes and remain dedicated to earning back your trust.
BETRAYAL HAS MANY FORMS
We’re taught that the one who strayed is always at fault. That’s because we look at these situations according to the cheating bias – the idea that going outside the relationship is the worst thing a person can do – not according to what actually happened. When someone’s repeatedly mistreated or neglected in a relationship, an affair is less about infidelity and more an attempt to reclaim respect and selfesteem. Sometimes, the person who has been cheated on doesn’t actually have the moral upper hand.
EVEN PEOPLE IN LOVE CAN CHEAT
In our society, the ideal relationship is one in which our mate is The One. We think if we have everything we need at home, we have no reason to look elsewhere. So when our partner steps out on us, it’s easy to feel that we’re not enough… But an affair isn’t always a symptom of something missing in your relationship or in you. And it doesn’t always mean that your mate doesn’t love you.
AN AFFAIR ISN’T ALWAYS THE END
There are a few factors that determine if infidelity will be a nail in the coffin. First, is the person who cheated able to acknowledge what they did without justifying or blaming it on someone else? Second, are they able to acknowledge that cheating hurts, and can they resist the urge to rush past the pain they’ve caused? Third, are they able to say ‘What can we learn from this?’ While one person was responsible for the affair, the couple is responsible for the relationship. Twosomes who learn from this crisis together can use it for good.
Esther Perel is a sex and relationships therapist, author of
Mating in Captivity and
The State of Affairs, and host of the audio series Where Should We Begin? Her TED talks have been viewed more than 17 million times. Visit estherperel.com or @estherperelofficial for more from Esther.
The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity by Esther Perel ($29.99, Hachette), is out in bookstores now.