There is a common saying that infidelity is rarely the main issue; that it instead is a symptom (albeit a very hurtful one) of some other troubles. I’m sure most people wish that wasn’t the case, because being able to isolate the cheating is comforting. Once you name it, like saying you have the flu, you get the sense that there’s a remedy. However, in most cases, cheating isn’t like that. It is instead that persistent cough that could be a cold, pneumonia, or the plague. And with the flu as is with cheating, someone would need to take a look at the rest of your symptoms to determine the diagnosis.
So, why do people cheat in relationships?
Now, what the cause is, that’s the proverbial black hole. Sometimes, yes, people who cheat do so simply for the sex. Sometimes, it’s not about the relationship but just because the cheater doesn’t respect the marriage. It’s just a cough with an easy fix. But in most cases, infidelity occurs as part of a spider web of other things – a feverish connection with some other person that fulfills some unmet need. That need, well…. Perhaps it’s a need to boost self-esteem, and being desired makes them feel good, if only for a moment. For others, intimacy with their current spouse is too frequently rebuffed, and cheating brings them a sense of connection. Sometimes, it’s control. In the marriage, perhaps the spouse feels infantilized; they lose control over what to watch on TV, the ability to choose what to eat, etc., and cheating gives them a sense of power.
Understanding why someone has cheated is imperative to knowing how to move forward, but just as everyone deals with hurt or pain or boredom differently, there is no one path in which to look. Understanding can be a process.
Understanding is just the first step
Maintaining a relationship with someone who has cheated is wholly dependent on whether or not you want and can forgive.
There are reasons a person can have for staying in a relationship with someone who has cheated, and some of those reasons should not be ignored. ‘Should’ you forgive, a question the victim of cheating often hears, is relative. Everyone will have different answer for that. But want to forgive….now THAT is the question. And yes, doing so is difficult; however, being able to forgive is the very crux of maintaining a relationship that has been under the strain of infidelity.
Here’s how to start:
1. Get an understanding of why the infidelity occurred. I would recommend a specialist / third party for this, since sometimes even the person who did the cheating doesn’t fully understand the appeal to which taking that risk seemed worth it.
2. Look for a show of ownership on the cheaters part. Sometimes, the one who cheated blames their partner, an unhealthy practice which can lead to more problems in the relationship.
3. Agree for the cheater to “make amends.” Feeling betrayed is hurtful, but feeling like the person who cheated couldn’t care less that you’re hurt is like getting stabbed twice. And frankly, it’s usually a sign that the relationship might be lacking some fundamental elements.
Go see someone. Honestly, you should try to go as soon as you sense something might be off, because fixing a hole is easier than rebuilding a ship. But even if the cheating has already occurred, go see someone. People think there’s no repair after someone cheats. But I have worked with couples who have successfully traversed infidelity, even when the infidelity went on for years.
Maintaining a marriage after any betrayal can be very hard work. But the only measurement one really needs to have on whether or not a relationship can work after infidelity is whether or not you want it to.