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Why do People Cheat?
After attending a wedding in Kolkata last month and exploring arranged marriages and the low rate of divorce in India, it made me think more about divorce, and specifically, why people cheat.
Having been a professional counselor and intuitive reader for many years, I have been privy to the inside of many relationships, at least through the eyes of my client.
In any relationship, the foundation to having a positive and healthy experience is having good self-esteem. Self-esteem is the value one puts on themselves, how they feel about themselves and a belief of how others perceive them. Many years ago I attended the second weekend workshop of the Landmark Forum. This workshop is geared to assist the participants in becoming more positive in their lives by having a “break-through” in awareness. You might say it is a 3-day coaching program. Although, for the most part, the participants were successful and generally happy people, at the end of the day, hundreds of participants got up and shared from an exercise they completed the underlying issue behind their difficulties was they did not believe they were either worthy or deserving.
Although this was a small sample of the population, it is challenging for me not to generalize to most people. Given this premise, it would make sense that people who are in committed relationships cheat in order to have an external validation of themselves; of their worth and their value. It would be remiss of me not to also address our human need to love and be loved. As a counselor who has worked with thousands of people, I have to understand one’s ability to express and receive love through the lens of their history, beginning with the birth experience on. Each person is different in their ability and desire for intimacy and need to experience the other person as a source of love.
When I ask others why people cheat some of the the responses are “to boost their self-esteem,” “because they are selfish,” and “because they are not getting certain needs met by their partner.” This issue is clearly not black and white.
When clients come to me for a session, ready to end their marriage or long-term relationship, often I ask them when they first knew this was not working, or not going to work. More often than not, they say, right away, or the first week, sometimes even the first day. One of the main reasons I believe relationships don’t work, is people do not listen to their intuition in the first place. The intensity of the relationship, the pheromones, adrenaline, sexual attraction replaces not only what they think (red flags,) but also their gut feeling, their own intuition.
Having said that, once committed, Why Do People Cheat?
Aside from low self-esteem, lack of communication is definitely one of the main issues. In the intensity of the initial meeting and connection, everything about the person is great. If not so great, although not true, the belief is where the other is not what you want, they will change. Small disagreements are soon met with make-up sessions of love and passion. The ability to communicate may never be addressed and the he relationship over time may not deepen. Rather than searching for answers (which you can find online, in books and with counselors, ministers and healers) the person reaches for someone who adores them, finds them attractive, or gives them what they want without any need for clear communication.
With the lack of communication also can come control issues. Some of the ways that one does control are not allowing their loved one to have the freedom to spend time with their friends, controlling the money, or not allowing their partner to work outside the home. Passive aggressive behavior may take over and one partner will withhold sex, or become withdrawn and depressed. Not all depression is a form of passive aggressiveness, but it can be for some. These control issues can include verbal, emotional and physical abuse and the controlled partner eventually finds solace in the arms of another.
When one looks for validation from others, they may create an intimate relationship outside their marriage for the sole purpose of identity and self-esteem. One may marry because the other person “looks good” and makes them “look good.” This is the concept of the “trophy wife.” Women often marry men who have power or money. This would be a marriage that has the prostitute archetype activated. There is a trade between the partners. In these cases, the agreement of the marriage does not satisfy the need for love or the intense sexuality that they may crave and so they may have a love partner on the side.
This desire for love and sexual satisfaction can also be a reason one will cheat when there is no longer love or affection in the marriage. After years of being together, the couple may grow apart and feel as if they are “married singles.” They long for connection and to feel young and alive and because the marriage seems to be dead, they find a lover or maybe even fall in love with another person. Then they have the decision to stay in the marriage or leave.
When one falls in love or wants to fall in love again, rather than leaving, they may stay married and cheat because of family religious obligations, not wanting to upset the children or other family members, or financial dependency or security. They feel stuck, yet make a decision on values of one sort, and giving up the value of fidelity. Another reason similar to this, is one who cannot stand up for themselves. They keep quiet and live the life they despise. This again can be from low self-esteem and in these cases often become passive aggressive, thus an affair. In some cases, I have seen where clients have had affairs because they have a spouse who is ill. They stay in the marriage to care for their loved one and may still be very much in love, but they are not able to get emotional needs met. Financial dependency or family expectations may also be involved and rather than being unhappy, they make the decision to fill themselves up with love from another.
One of the most common situations I have seen has been when someone cheats because of revenge. This can be because they were cheated on, or because their partner is just not doing what they want. They justify their behavior because they are not happy and take no responsibility for creating happiness for themselves. More recently, it has come out into the open that some people who are gay, marry to create a public presence that is acceptable. This has happened in politics and other areas where one would lose a lot to be open about their sexuality. Many people who were gay married and created families before society began to be more open and continued to hide behind the façade and have love lives separate from their marriage.
And finally, and possibly the most common reason people cheat is love addiction. As a counselor, I am most privy to this. Love addiction is a combination of many of these reasons: low self-esteem, need for validation, often alcoholism and/or drug addiction, anger and vengeance and more. Love addiction can be a dangerous cycle of creating relationship, getting hurt, feeling desperate, finding a new lover immediately, and the cycle starts again.
This article has delved into why people cheat. Hopefully, you will begin to think outside the box of right and wrong, the black and white perspective and understand that some reasons are clearly destructive, some freeing and healing and in all cases, difficult decisions to make.
© Dr. Candess M Campbell