I can't tell you how many times I have engaged in thoughtful conversations with men and women alike about the foundations of cheating and whether cheating is or is not avoidable.
I've heard arguments suggesting that when two people are married, cheating is inevitable, or that when you're single cheating is a way to "identify" whether you are committing to the right person. I've also heard arguments suggesting that cheating is just natural and something that every man does, with women arguing that since men do it, we can do it too, operating under the notion that women do it better... Sadly, despite all of these assumptions, myths and rumors surrounding cheating, I do believe that there is a culture of promiscuity that promotes cheating, without consequence. Therefore, cheating has become more of a fad and more accepted than exclusivity or monogamy in most cases.
Now, for the sake of inclusivity, if you and your partner choose to live a life of promiscuity that is mutually agreed upon and beneficial, this post is not for you. I would just say that I hope you and your partner are thoughtful about communicating your intentions and goals with others, to allow them the opportunity to choose their fate with all of the information.
With that being said, I'll continue because I've heard cheating rationalized in a number of ways, with lack of self-accountability and or lack of self-discipline (self-control) barely discussed. Why is that? I am not entirely sure, but if I had to guess, I would say it is because many of us do not understand the foundations (roots) of cheating, thus we rationalize it as best we know how. And, similarly, social constructs enable those rationalizations.
That aside, if you are like the majority who cling to assumptions and myths about cheating, that negatively impact one's ability to commit in a relationship, I have created this post to weigh in on existing myths and common questions, from a psychological perspective, about cheating.
Myths & Questions About Cheating
Is cheating natural?
Cheating is NOT a natural thing, cheating is a learned behavior. Just like many things cheating is taught through observation and reinforced through insecurities, lack of self-awareness and is a product of self-sabatoging behavior. Therefore, if you don't have good examples of commitment, loyalty and or faithfulness, how can you be faithful? Or any of those things. Thus, you can not assign value to loyalty, commitment and or faithfulness. There is no way you can possibly be something you have never seen or know anything about.
A common misconception is that over time we learn to figure things out on our own. The problem with figuring things out is that we only "figure it out" based on our own experiences, obtained knowledge and observations up to that point. Therefore, if we don't have the appropriate experiences to call on, or vivid examples of behavior to model, we can't assume that when we "figure it out", it will be in the most healthy (appropriate way).
Now for the individual thinking "my parent cheated on the other and for that I never wanted to be a cheater", that may be true, but wanting to be a cheater and becoming what you have observed are two different things. Additionally, the desire to not become a cheater, while it can motivate you to be faithful and loyal, does not guarantee that you will never cheat...
Does marriage give way to cheating?
NO! I think it's interesting that I've heard from more married people, than not, that cheating is inevitable. And I won't say that it's from more men than women, but I will say that, for example, when you go into a marriage anticipating being bored and cheating, you will essentially get bored and rationalize that cheating with boredom.
So, what I find interesting is that most married people get married and assume that their spouse/partner is supposed to entertain them for a lifetime. Therefore, the perception of marriage is misconstrued to a point where we anticipate and establish unrealistic expectations of our partners prior to, so when those expectations or unmet, we result to finding someone who can temporarily meet those expectations in order to feel fulfilled.
Now that example is two-fold so let me break it down a bit. Issue one is essentially with the expectation because marriage is not about having a spouse to give you everything you won't give yourself. You need to be whole when initiating a marriage that way you don't establish unrealistic expectations for your partner to entertain you or fill you up in a way that you feel "whole". The second part of that issue is that we rationalize not finding someone who will completely be everything that we think we need, with cheating, to fill voids. However, the misconception is that the void is within our partnership or partner when essentially the void is within us...
Once a cheater always a cheater, right?
The answer to this question is NO! Just because you've cheated once, doesn't predetermine that you'd never be able to be faithful. This may be true for those who are compulsive cheaters and have a greater issue than the act of cheating alone. But to just say that because someone cheated once, they are likely to cheat again is an incorrect assumption to make.
What I do encourage those who have a history of cheating to do is identify the similarities in the individuals/relationships in which they have cheated. This will allow for an appropriate analysis of why you are being drawn to people/relationships that do not fulfill you to the point where you don't desire to cheat.
What Prompts Cheating?
Cheating is an individualized thing. There are assumptions that people cheat out of anger, frustration, to fill a void of sexual intimacy, for attention (when neglected by partner), low self-esteem and or to develop self-worth (where interest and attention from others strokes ego and increases self-esteem) etc. And many of us would agree, that on the surface these assumptions accurately justify motivation for cheating, however, if I had to compose a generalized definition of what contributes to cheating it would go something like this....
People who cheat, do so to fill voids within themselves left unaddressed, with hope to distract themselves from addressing existing underlying issues...
As I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, this makes all the sense in the world to me. However, if this is the first time that you are hearing such a thing, and you have once identified as a cheater, do you find this to be true?
Can you agree that you had issues within yourself that you didn't want to deal with so you projected those insecurities onto your spouse/partner to rationalize your cheating?
I believe that the greatest tasks associated with understanding what prompts cheating, is self-analysis and self-accountability...
Alternatives to Cheating
What is typically left unsaid, with regard to cheating, is alternatives and how to recover from it cycles of cheating. An initial response/reaction to cheating is to let go of someone (break-up or get a divorce) however, that is not always the best case when you married a broken person and choose not to see all of their deficits. You'd have to own your part in marrying someone that never had the ability to discontinue cheating.
Thus, the first alternative to cheating can be summed up in one word, COMMUNICATION!
I highly encourage you to communicate with your partner/spouse about your challenges and issues and what you are feeling. You may be surprised at how one conversation pre-cheating, can change the entire dynamic of your relationship in a positive way!
A second alternative to cheating is of course therapy. And based on my background you should have known that was coming.
Lastly, a third alternative to cheating is becoming more self-aware. As I mentioned prior, conduct a self-analysis and hold yourself accountable for all of the issues, trauma, and observations you've witnessed that make you more inclined to rationalize negative behaviors.
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