A large part of my practice is helping couples deal with the impact of infidelity or cheating in their relationship. Whether it is a happy-ending massage, a blow job by a KTV girl, sex texting, emotional relationship or prostitute sex, a one-stand from a bar or short or long term relationship with a co-worker, the impacts to the individuals in the relationship and the couple are enormous. Often the recovery period takes so much longer than the event itself.
One thing that I see people struggling with are myths or over simplifications of what has “caused” someone to cheat, either once or repeatedly. For simplicity sake, I’ll refer to all forms of cheating or infidelity as cheating going forward.
Myth #1 Infidelity, cheating etc. “just happened”
Infidelity, cheating, happy endings or whatever you did outside the bounds of your marriage did not just “happen.” People make choices. It is a choice to cheat. Sometimes people CHOOSE not to think about what they are doing or not think about the impact of their choice. In fact, most people who cheat only think about the immediate satisfaction of the act, they unfortunately are never evaluating how this would affect their partner or their marriage.
Myth #2 A Bad Wife or bad husband CAUSED the man/woman to cheat
People want things to be simple, like a cause and effect or stimulus- response. The reality is that humans make CHOICES, nothing CAUSES us to do anything. A bad marriage, an overweight spouse or nagging spouse does not CAUSE someone to cheat. A cheating spouse is solely responsible for his/her choice. No one caused them to do it or it would be called rape. To be clear, both people are responsible for the quality of the marriage and being a partner that someone wants to choose and be faithful to. However, a spouse, regardless of what they do cannot cause their spouse to cheat. People always have other choices in response to a bad marriage or unloving spouse.
Myth #3 A bad marriages causes someone to cheat
By now you may notice a pattern. People are looking for what causes someone to cheat. NOTHING CAUSES SOMEONE TO CHEAT. People make choices. Even if you have a horrible marriage you have lots of choices other than to cheat such as confront your spouse, seek out counselling, seek a family member to intervene or friends to intervene, read a book, give the book to the spouse, and seek out a lawyer and so on. Even if you exhausted these options this still doesn’t cause you to cheat. At the end of the day people may look at a bad marriage and feel that cheating is the only option they have but they still CHOOSE it.
Myth #4 “Being that kind of person”
If you listen to people talk they’ll say “Oh did you hear that Mark cheated on Sally…I didn’t think he was that kind of person.” People think there is that kind of person. The reality is everyone is capable of choosing to cheat, some do and some do not. The fact is that every person who has cheated for the first time has no history of cheating. People react to unhappy and dissatisfying situations in the best way they know how, and sometimes the choices they make are terrible, like cheating. But there is no type of person who cheats.
Myth #5 Porn and masturbation cause cheating
Nope. Again nothing causes someone to cheat. Everyone has drank milk as a baby, all cheaters have drank milk, and therefore drinking milk causes people to cheat. Be careful about your line of thinking….again people choose cheating, it’s a solution, not a great one, but the best one the person knew at the time.
Myth #6 Alcohol caused the cheating
Nope. Most people will drink or be drunk when they first cheat – often to make it easier to not think about their choice. First a person chooses to drink to relieve themselves of responsibility of thinking about consequences. But alcohol doesn’t make us do things, it simple removes our inhibition. If you have no intention to cheat sober, alcohol won’t cause it. The desire preceded the alcohol. The alcohol was consumed to relieve the person of their sober consciousness.
Myth #7 The betrayed person is responsible for the cheating person’s behavior
This sets up a really awful scenario where the betrayed party takes on the responsibility for the cheating person’s behavior. Often the betrayed party will feel huge amounts of shame and failings as a spouse or a person. But you are not responsible for your spouse’s cheating. Nor are you responsible for solely fixing the problem. The only thing you are responsible for is being the best person you can be in life and in your relationship. Sometimes people do not value or take for granted the way you may choose to show love. This is an issue to be worked out through therapy or discussions. However, it is not your responsibility to control or fix your cheating partner.
Myth #8 Forgiveness is all that needs to happen
I hope you are starting to see that infidelity or cheating isn’t a simple cause – effect problem. Often the reasons a person chooses to cheat are very complex and a combination of person dissatisfaction in their own life and possible with their relationship. There is no single simple reason – most of the time. So when your cheating spouse asks you to forgive them, you must first understand what you are forgiving and understand how they made the decisions to do what they were doing and what they were solving for. Many people who cheat just want to brush it aside ask/demand forgiveness, which puts burden on betrayed partner to fix the problem. Forgiveness is only part of the solution. If a couple cannot work out how the cheater made decisions to cheat, it will leave a fester sore in the relationship that will flare up over time.
If have learned your partner has betrayed you by going outside of the marriage sexually and/or emotionally you’ll have a lot of decision to make both individually and together. Counselling can help create a safe frame to manage emotions and work through issues such as:
Is there enough in this relationship worth saving
Who should we tell and who can we seek for support outside the marriage (there are lasting consequences to telling people)
Whether or not the betraying person has a right to stay in the marital home
How to manage the shock, hurt, fear and mistrust
Learning how to talk about and understand BOTH people’s sides to the story