Cheating. Ever since there are relationships, there is cheating. That’s why it’s a common topic on Netflix, in movies and documentaries and in songs. Plus, most people know someone that has cheated on their spouse. The consequences can be dramatic, but they don’t have to be!

What is cheating?

You cheat when you have sexual contact with someone other than your partner, without him or her knowing. This might sound like a clear explanation, but think of Bill Clinton who stated the following under oath: “I did not have a sexual relationship with that woman…”. The semen stains on her blue dress suggested otherwise, but Clinton got away with it. It’s all about what you conceive as a sexual relationship. So, we might wonder if kissing, secretly staying active on dating apps, or sexting is in fact cheating. 

The human behaviour behind cheating

But why do people cheat? Esther Perel, a well-known psychotherapist in this field, gives us interesting insights in her Ted Talk: Rethinking infidelity: for anyone who has ever loved. According to Perel, in current society we are constantly looking for the things that make us happy and those that desire us. In conversations she’s had with people from around the world, she noticed that those who cheat often state that they feel like they have come back to life. Someone who has experienced an intense event (such as losing a loved one, or some other event that impacted you greatly), might stop and wonder: “Is this all?”. People who cheat are often looking for desire, attention, adventure or excitement. On one hand they’re looking for stability, but on the other they are looking for passion. According to Perel, someone who cheats is often not looking for someone else, but for another part of themselves.

Monogamy

By nature, we as humans are not monogamous, even though we often try to be. Where a marriage used to be an economic deal, now partners are less dependent on each other. Cheating has always existed. Perel states that people cheated before because most marriages were loveless. Now that we often do get married out of love, the reason for cheating has shifted. Now, it is about compensation for missed passion, a lack of attention, a rut, boredom or other things.

That people aren’t monogamous by nature also explains why some people look for sex outside from their marriages. According to Perel, women aren’t more monogamous than men; rather, even less. Sexually, women need more imagination and fantasy than men. An affair can give a woman just the energy she needs to have a good sex life.

The end or a new beginning? 

Cheating can lead to several emotions such as sadness, anxiety, anger and desperation. Having someone so important to you hurt your feelings, has an enormous impact on the emotional foundation of your relationship. Besides that, the person who was cheated on can start thinking: “Am I not good enough?”. These type of negative thoughts can cause a negative self image.

Sometimes people say that they do not regret the affair. They do regret the painful consequences; especially hurting their partner, because that is often not their intention. It helps if the person who has cheated, acknowledges that he or she is sorry that the other person is hurt. It will make the other feel heard. Those who feel heard, will feel understood and that creates space for a solution.  

Moving forward

After acknowledgement comes the space to look at whether you can move forward together, and how. Maybe you will now find out that the relationship hasn’t been that great for a long time. In that case the affair may be the deciding factor in ending the relationship. Or, the affair can give you new insights in yourself and your relationship, and ends up being the incentive for both parties to talk to each other. In an open conversation all frustrations, thoughts and desires that couldn’t be discussed before, can now be talked about. Both partners have their own story. Having good conversations about this will help you to properly understand each other. That will make your relationship a lot stronger!

Better understanding each other

After acknowledging the pain that has been caused, it can help to better understand each other by asking the following questions:

  • What do we appreciate about each other?
  • What did you feel when you found out about the affair?
  • What led you to having an affair?
  • What are our expectations and desires in a relationship?

Therapy

If you find you can’t work it out together, relationship therapy might be a good option. In relationship therapy, with the help of a psychologist, you can discover what the recurring patterns in your relationship are, what effect they have and how you can change them. It will give you insight into yourself and your relationship. Would you like to find out whether relationship therapy could be helpful for you, and discuss the possibilities. Click here for more information.

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Maaike van der Kaaij

My name is Maaike and I am a psychologist at NiceDay. During sessions with my clients I find it really important they feel free to tell me everything. I am interested in people's behaviour and enjoy helping people gain new insights! Besides my work, I love my family, travelling, working out and going out to dinner.

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