Relationships are sometimes complicated. Finding out that their cheating sucks big time. I know it doesn’t make too much of a difference, but maybe it helps to know you’re not alone. According to the infidelity statistics, about 40% of unmarried relationships and 25% of marriages see at least one incident of cheating.
I am not trying to make light of this, it’s a horrible thing. Honestly, I would love to get revenge in some way on my cheating bastard of an ex, but then my stupid conscience goes, “They’ve been through hell and back, they’ve had enough.” I’d still like to punch them, they deserve at least that much.
Anyways, I’m here to discuss why people cheating in relationships may be getting worse. Let’s get started.
They Have A Self-Esteem Problem And They’re Seeking Validation…
“Sex is not the primary reason for people cheating,” says Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of Fragile Power: Why Having Everything Is Never Enough. “The primary reason is that there’s a deficiency in their life and specifically, in their ego. They feel incomplete.”
According to Hokemeyer, the thrill of an indiscretion and the work it takes to keep it a secret can be as exhilarating as the person they’ve cheated on you with.
“This expenditure of energy is a distraction from the hole they feel in their soul. The complex and exhausting process of managing an affair enables them to soothe an ache through an elixir of power, sexual validation, and endogenous opioids like dopamine and oxytocin, which our body produces when we connect romantically and sexually with another human being,” he continues. “It also creates a huge distraction that keeps them from looking at the real problem and taking responsibility for it.”
Why would someone who’s in love with their spouse or significant other, cheat? As with so many poor decisions, the choice is often fear-based. Hokemeyer says they might be afraid that “they’re not worthy of love, that they’re losing their sex appeal, or they’re being discounted or outright dismissed by others. In short, they feel unseen and unable to find enough validation in their relationship.”
“Whatever their fears are, the job of “fixing” it is up to them (and ideally a therapist), and doesn’t fall to you to manage—especially if it isn’t something the two of you have discussed before.
Or they want to end things, but sabotage the relationship instead.
Decimating as breakups can be, it isn’t “nicer” to stay with someone when you’re unhappy; it’s dishonest. You probably know that sabotaging a relationship in order to avoid initiating an awkward or painful breakup is even less nice. Oh, if only everybody knew this.
“Often this is a type of person who doesn’t want to be the ‘bad guy’ and break up and instead cheats, allowing their partner to find out in hopes the other person will do the breaking up,” says Caroline Madden, Ph.D., a marriage therapist specializing in infidelity issues and author of Blindsided By His Betrayal. “See also, ‘Men who cheat at their bachelor party and then confess'”
Hokemeyer says the thought of leaving a relationship can drive some people too much worse behavior (there’s that fear, again). “Even if we know, deep in our hearts, that our current relationship is wrong, or even abusive, our neurophysiology compels us to play it safe and avoid interpersonal conflict,” he says “To manage this terror people act out sideways to destroy a relationship. One of the most destructive is to have an affair.”
They Feel Neglected By Their Partner, Sexually and/or Emotionally
In Madden’s experience with clients, women tell her that they acted on the temptation of infidelity because they felt “their husband doesn’t pursue them enough.” These women, she says, yearn for small tokens of appreciation—such as flowers, or compliments on how nice they look—and resent their spouses for being so withholding (leading them to, as Hokemeyer put it, feel unseen).
Mostly, Madden treats married couples who are grappling with the husband’s infidelity. And those husbands often point to a largely sexless marriage as their motivation. As she puts it from their perspective, “What does a man do when his wife has unilaterally shut down sex in their relationship? Or sex is so infrequent that it’s full of anxiety so it isn’t enjoyable or connecting? Does he break up the family, so that he can have his adult needs met?”
Even when these husbands have broached their frustration, “frankly, she counts on him being a good family man who would never cheat. She takes him for granted. Then someone at work smiles at him. Laughs at his jokes. Says that his wife must be lucky to have him…” The bottom line? Never feeling appreciated may, in some cases, lead to cheating, Madden says.
They Truly Didn’t Think Through The Consequences
While this may be more likely in a shorter-term relationship than in a long-term partnership, such as a marriage, giving into a fling on a business trip or a mutual attraction with a friend might feel thrilling at the moment. The fallout doesn’t feel real, until it is.
“Often people get caught up in the fun of cheating,” Madden explains. “What they aren’t prepared for is the devastation it causes. That their strong partner will be in the fetal position crying on the floor. They simply aren’t prepared for the pain that they could cause another individual.”
They craved variety and acted on it.
Developing attractions outside of your relationship and having sexual fantasies are both perfectly normal. It’s when one decides to act on an outside attraction, that the trouble begins.
“We all have innate sexuality, and in a committed relationship we agree to only express that sexuality within the relationship,” Madden says. “Sometimes we are looking to that other side of ourselves. Different people bring out different aspects of our personality.”
They Met Someone Else
Of all the causes of infidelity, this might be the most crushing (and the most straightforward). As brutal as it is, a person leaving their spouse or significant other for someone new is far from unheard of: Part of America’s endless fascination with the old Jen-Brad-Angelina story is the underlying idea that it could potentially happen to anyone. That said, no one can “steal” anyone who doesn’t want to be stolen, whether they’re in a casual relationship or an unhappy marriage.
There Are Many Different Types Of Cheating
The term “cheating” isn’t necessarily limited to sexual contact or connecting physically. The truth is, there are different types and levels of infidelity. In today’s digital age, with so many opportunities to connect both with people who we know in real life and others who we get to know only virtually, there are plenty of opportunities to stray simply using our words and emotions.
“Emotional cheating is when there is a level of intimacy without necessarily being physical,” explains Dr. Stubbs. “This can be something like a relationship you build with a coworker, but you never (or haven’t) engaged in physical acts.”
Drinks with a coworker may seem innocent enough, but to get to the bottom of whether or not what you’re doing constitutes emotional unfaithfulness, take a look at the context of the things you’re sharing. Are you finding yourself confiding more and more in your coworker, to the point that you’re not sharing as much with your partner or spouse? Are you opting for multiple nights out per week at happy hour over spending time at home with the person you’re in a relationship in? If those lines start to blur, it could fall under this category.
Then there’s the type of cheating that falls under the category of a one-night stand. “One-night stand is an isolated incident when you engage in sexual acts with someone,” Dr. Stubbs explains. “The key to this type of cheating is that it happened once and may or may not have a strong emotional attachment.” This one-off type of infidelity means you don’t have a lasting vested interest in the person you cheated with, but it’s still beneficial to take a look at why you felt compelled to go through with it in the first place when the opportunity presented itself.
Once you’re in affair territory, you’re cheating on your partner with the same person. “Short term affairs are when you have sex with the same woman a few times (or maybe over the course of a few weeks or months) and then end it to go back to your primary relationship,” Engle says. “A long-term affair means you’re having sex with the same woman regularly for a prolonged period of time — years even.”
In the case of chronic infidelity, being unfaithful is considered the norm for the cheater — and can be an indicator of a deeper issue. “If cheating is a way of life, even though it’s destroying your life, then it’s sex addiction,” says Dr. Tessina. “This also may be a learned pattern from a father who was unfaithful.”
“Every relationship is different,” says Lynn, 27. “Every cheat. Every motivation behind cheating. They are all different. I really believe there are times when it’s not worth it [to tell your partner]. Like a kiss at an office Christmas party. Or a hook up when one of you has been traveling for work for many months. Or the guy who’s visiting his corporate office in Thailand and goes to get a ‘massage.’
These are all places I don’t believe it is necessary to say anything because they are one-offs and don’t necessarily reflect the state of the relationship itself. However, if you have lasting feelings for someone, or are repeatedly drawn to unfaithfulness, then it’s time to look at the relationship and be honest with your partner. But chances are, if you are drawn to cheating often or in a compulsive way, you need to take a harder look at yourself and the real reasons behind it.
It Can Lead To Depression
Part of the reason cheating comes as such a huge blow is because it actually impacts our mental health, causing increased symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as other distress.
“Infidelity is one of the most distressing and damaging events couples face,” M. Rosie Shrout of the University of Nevada, Reno, told PsyPost following a study she co-authored on the impacts of infidelity. “The person who was cheated on experiences strong emotional and psychological distress following infidelity.”
In the study, which was published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Shrout and her research partner Daniel J. Weigel interviewed 232 college students who had recently experienced infidelity. Not only did their research discover adverse mental health consequences, but those who had been cheated on increased symptomatic behaviors such as poor eating habits, substance use, unsafe sex, or over-exercise.
When we look at what causes psychological distress, it largely comes down to broken trust, decreased self-esteem, feelings of abandonment, and a loss of control, according to New York-based psychotherapist and relationship expert Lisa Brateman. We question how we could have missed the signs and often blame ourselves for the cheating partner’s behavior.
Blame also plays a huge role in the mental health consequences of cheating. In their study, Shrout and Weigel found “that people who blamed themselves for their partner cheating, such as feeling like it was their fault or they could have stopped it, were more likely to engage in risky behaviors.”
Taken together, all of the factors of infidelity comprise a challenging and charged situation that is bound to affect our mental health. So after the discovery of cheating, now what? This is a big question and one that will have a different answer for every couple.
It Can Lead To Trauma
When a trusted partner in a committed relationship betrays the sacred trust of the other, the relationship will undergo severe instability.
The partner who has been betrayed is emotionally tortured and humiliated when knowledge of the infidelity emerges. They are clearly in trauma and experience the same array of symptoms that professionals now describe as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Similar to any others who have suffered threats to their physical or emotional well-being and security, they are disoriented and confused by what has happened.
The trauma of betrayal can also trigger memories of buried or unresolved emotional and spiritual damage from the past. When those prior traumatic experiences are triggered and re-emerge, they significantly complicate the healing process.
For there to be any chance that the couple undergoing this situation can ever transcend the distress of broken trust, they must deal with two simultaneous challenges: The first is to understand and work through the combination of both current and re-emerging trauma responses of the betrayed partner. The second is for both partners to commit to specific roles in the healing of their mutual distress.
Given the seriousness of these potential emerging issues and the ways they may combine, it is understandable how much influence they may have on whether or not the relationship can heal and over what time.
How do two people who do not want to lose their relationship navigate the process of broken trust to a possibility of reconciliation?
How does a betrayed partner ever learn to believe the other again?
How does the partner who chose to act this way get past his or her guilt and remorse?
What must happen for recovery and recommitment to even be possible?
Once both partners understand how likely it is that a betrayed partner will evidence the symptoms of PTSD, they realize that the healing process is the same for all traumas. The betraying partner must simultaneously play the dual roles of an ally to his or her partner’s healing and a seeker of absolution from the very person they have carelessly wounded. The other must survive the trauma and learn to love again.
Feeling devastated, humiliated, and broken are hard experiences to survive. Though the traumatized partner has every reason to be upset, he or she must work through those responses in a sincere and committed way, alongside the other partner’s commitment to do whatever is mutually needed for healing.
The partner experiencing PTSD will most likely have wildly swinging mood changes, emerging experiences of underlying, unresolved issues, and agonizing waves of grief. While simultaneously feeling the need to strike back, run away, or feel immobilized, they must learn to self-soothe, create resilience, seek outside support, and commit to a renewed faith in a better future.
If additionally, they’ve been the object of previous trauma, they must also sort out what is happening in the present from what they may have endured in the past, so as not to blame their partner’s current betrayal for something they did not cause.