In popular culture, affairs are portrayed as the ultimate, unforgivable relationship sin. The person who cheats is thought of as untrustworthy at best and, at worst, as downright evil. Yet, affairs happen all the time in relationships. In our work, we have found cheating to be more of a symptom rather than the problem. And while it is easy to blame the people who have affairs as the one who has betrayed the relationship, in our sex therapy and relationship coaching practice, we have found that people don’t cheat because they are bad people. But, they do cheat and they cheat for many reasons.
Sometimes people have affairs because they feel that something is lacking in their current relationship and they don’t feel that it is ok to ask for what they want. Sometimes they want to but are afraid to ask to be with someone else. They may still love and want to be with their partner (or they may not), but whatever is missing is something they feel they can’t live without, something that makes them feel truly themselves. Sometimes their partner has refused to have sex with them for years, but still expects monogamy. For some people, cheating is an expression of desire to be seen in a different light that they are perceived in their relationship or to explore a different aspect of themselves that isn’t expressed in their relationship.
Many people have affairs to make up for a lack of emotional or sexual connection. It may be that they don’t feel accepted or desired by their partner, or they may desire sex that is different from the kind they can have in their relationship. Maybe the sex they are having is not arousing to them, or there is little or no sex at all in the relationship. Some people simply have a strong desire for novelty and excitement despite a great sex life and connection with their partner. Cheating can be a way people fight the boredom and frustration that can arise when you are with one person for a long time.
For some people, affairs are a way to escape the responsibilities and criticisms of daily life. They want to feel, for a moment, that there is nothing they have to do and that someone is crazy about them just as they are. Some people have revenge affairs to get back at a partner who has cheated. Others have affairs to make up for a feeling of having been taken advantage of or as an expression of their unexpressed resentment. For example, if you feel pressure to provide and make everyone in your family happy, you may feel that the burden is unfair but not share your needs and feelings about it. Instead, you feel justified in getting your emotional and/or sexual needs met somewhere else.
Stay tuned for our next installment on how to avoid cheating!