Cheating & Coping
WHY DO PEOPLE CHEAT?
Human survival is contingent upon connecting – this is why our infants can’t make it on their own, unlike other species. As such, when a disconnect happens, there’s a void that can only be satisfied by reconnecting – either with the original party or someone else. That said, often what starts off as an innocent connection with someone other than our partner can easily gain momentum and pull us into something we never expected. … So what exactly is it about an affair that gives it that power which makes us risk everything, lie to the most important person in our life, not to mention hurt them more severely than their worst enemy ever could?
- Ego versus Libido: Contrary to popular belief that affairs are about better sex, more often than not they tend to be about someone making us feel special, when we’d stopped feeling that way at home. It is said, “If you want to kill a marriage outright, have an affair; if you want to slowly bludgeon it to death, start ignoring your partner’s needs!” – both of which yield the same end result.
- Quality versus Quantity: An affair, like a long-distance relationship, consists of a few stolen moments, so people tend to make an effort to make their time together extra special – indeed it becomes that! A spouse, on the other hand, is always around, so it’s easy to take them for granted, not to mention associate them with hard work and tough realities. With or without that person, you’ll still have to generate an income, pay bills, manage a household, juggle commitments, and so on, but since they happen to be around, they end up taking the brunt of your negative feelings as they become associated with them.
- Expectations versus Reality: We all enter a relationship with a set of expectations – why would we commit to it otherwise? These expectations come from the media, books, our environment, and most importantly what we saw in the family we grew up in – nothing gives us a better idea of what we love and hate, want and don’t want! It goes to reason then, when two different sets of expectations clash, or expectations clash with reality, detachment occurs, leading us to seek out someone who truly “understands” us, because they happen to have similar expectations.
- Negative versus Positive Framing: When people become disillusioned with their partner, they start to put a negative spin on everything, keeping track of all that’s wrong, ignoring what’s right. They’ll even go as far as to attach major weight to minor events, by imposing inaccurate meanings, based on triggers from other relationships. And once that happens, they start to feel justified looking for love elsewhere, even though they’re the ones who buried the relationship in a negative vicious cycle.
- Attitude: Choice Versus Obligation: There are certain things that are crucial to the survival of a healthy, happy relationship. Some view them as stifling, burdensome compromises and obligations; others see them as choices they make to make their relationship better and more enjoyable. I choose not to flirt on the Internet because it’s damaging to my relationship is an active choice, freely made, versus I hate being stuck in a relationship that deprives me of doing what I want. It’s all about how you look at it – burdens bury you, choices free you!
HOW CAN ONE RECOVER FROM AN AFFAIR?
Despite their brutal similarities, no two affairs are alike. As such, no two post-affair journeys can be identical. From the nature of the betrayal, to whether or not the unfaithful party came clean on their own, to the degree of commitment from both parties to try again, every relationship has a different outlook, beyond the obvious devastation. But the following steps are crucial for all relationships:
- Taking Responsibility – Acknowledgment & Validation: First and foremost, the unfaithful party needs to come clean, acknowledge the magnitude of what they’ve done, and validate all the ways it’s affected and will affect both the relationship as well as the injured party – not knowing their place in the world, self-esteem issues, inability to trust again, etc.
- Offering an Explanation: Next, the unfaithful party needs to explain why it happened, without putting any blame on the injured party. No matter how embarrassing a confession of their shortcomings feels, they owe it to their partner to help them understand that they did wrong. At this point, all triggers, financial repercussions and addictions must be revealed, particularly sex addictions. And just because something has been addressed unsatisfactorily, doesn’t mean it needn’t be addressed again. That said, if the injured party simply can’t let go, no matter what, they need to consider professional help, to decide if their response is acceptable or over the top, and whether or not they can ever get past it. In general, therapy is a great idea – if not an indispensable one!
- Devising an Action Plan: The next stage is an action stage. From quitting tempting precursors – Internet, booze, pornography, being in close proximity with the other party – to seeking therapy, to starting a spiritual journey for self-betterment, the unfaithful party needs to commit to ways that’ll help them avoid a future affair, and the injured party needs to help them change the context that made their marriage vulnerable in the first place.
- Rebuilding Trust: The only way trust can be rebuilt is over time, with consistent proof. This means, the unfaithful party must stick to the promised action plan, offer transparency, etc. – irritating as interrogations can be, since they’ve given their partner reason to doubt them, they need to come clean when they have nothing to hide, sans the drama. Why and how else can someone trust them again?
- Creating Accountability: Finally, the unfaithful party must agree to accountability and vigilance. The injured party should be able to reach them easily, within reason. In exchange, the injured party must commit wholeheartedly to rebuilding trust in the face of their partner’s commitment to the above steps. Asking a question for clarification is one thing, constant doubting and berating for the sake of punishment quite another.
Now before you get too discouraged from the hard work that must be done, I want to reassure you that when both parties are seriously committed to salvaging a relationship, it can be done, and may in fact lead the couple to a stronger place than ever before – the wakeup call makes them realize how precious their relationship is, so they start to actively work at it for perhaps the very first time in their lives! It’s all about giving the relationship you have an honest shot, versus finding a new one – a new partner has higher odds of cheating than an older partner who’s already witnessed how it could tear apart a perfectly decent life. But you have to work together, focusing on what’s best for the relationship versus either party – isn’t it time you became a team again? A therapist can help you with that as well as building a deeper connection and a more robust relationship!
- After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner has Been Unfaithful, by Dr. Janis Abrams Spring.
- Getting Past the Affair: A Program to Help You Cope, Heal, and Move On, by Drs. Snyder, Baucom and Gordon
Psychotherapist, Couples Counselor