My ex is separating. His partner has recently confessed that she had been cheating on him throughout their ten year relationship. I’ll admit that there was a part of me that wanted to point out that in the first year and a half of their relationship, he was cheating on me with her, but I didn’t. Mostly, because I have no interest in rehashing the downfall of our relationship with him, but partly, because he’s understandably very upset by her revelations.
Although, his situation, and his reaction to it have made me think. His initial reaction was anger, hurt, and something that seemed like revenge. He wanted to take full custody of their children, because he felt that someone with her morals couldn’t raise children. The children weren’t exposed to her cheating, nor had she ever placed them in any kind of danger.
Once the anger passed, and the hurt set in, he started talking about ‘making it work’. He said he could not only forgive her, but that she could continue to have affairs, and they would stay together. From what he’s told me, she tried to let him down gently, but he wouldn’t listen to what she was actually saying.
I feel sympathy for them both, but in listening to him, it made me think. My relationship after him ended when my the partner cheated, or rather when I found out that he had been cheating at the start. I couldn’t get past it. So, why do people cheat? Can a relationship ever survive it? And if so, how?
Why Do People Cheat?
Some statistics suggest that around 13% of relationships will experience infidelity. Other statistics suggest that the number is much bigger than that – around 70%. Whichever statistic is accurate, it’s one of the most common reasons cited for divorce. So why do people cheat on someone that they love? According to a study by Julia Omarzu, Loras College, and her associates, there’s a few common reasons why people cheat.
- Sexual Dissatisfaction
Sexual dissatisfaction was one of the most common reasons for cheating. It could be that the attraction, or sexual desire has faded, or that there’s some sort of sexual incompatibility. Research has shown that relationships with dissatisfaction, unfulfilling sex, and high conflict are at a much higher risk of infidelity. I’m not saying that this is a valid reason for cheating, but it seems to be one of the most common.
It could be prevented by talking, and working out where the incompatibility lies. Some researchers suggest that re-kindling the initial spark can increase the connection between partners, and overcoming obstacles can help prevent cheating.
- Emotional Dissatisfaction
Emotional dissatisfaction was nearly as common as sexual dissatisfaction. It’s very similar to sexual dissatisfaction, in that the cheating partner has felt something lacking in their primary relationship. They’ve tried to replicate, or gain some emotion from the extra-marital affair.
This is another reason that researchers feel could possibly be prevented by talking.
- Emotional Validation
It’s incredibly easy to take our partners for granted, and forget that they need to be shown appreciation. Feeling unappreciated can lead to an emotional disconnect in the relationship, and can lead to seeking that appreciation, and emotional validation from someone else.
Some participants in the study cited revenge as the biggest motivator in their extra-marital affair. The relationship may be in dire straights, or the other partner may have already cheated. While this isn’t as common as the three reasons listed above, it can still be a factor.
A small number of participants gave love as a reason why they had cheated. Some had fallen out of love with their partner. Others had fallen in love with another person. These reasons also weren’t as common as a lack of intimacy.
- New Experiences
Some participants admitted that the reason for cheating was that they wanted new experiences, experiences that they didn’t feel they could ask their partner for. Some of this can play into a sexual incompatibility, especially if one partner is looking for an experience that their primary partner isn’t comfortable with. Researchers have suggested that this reason may be more common that the studies would suggest. People may not want to admit to needing a different, more intense or more frequent sexual experience.
A study from 2015 found that if a parent has cheated, then the child is twice as likely to cheat in their own romantic relationships. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that it encourages a thought pattern that cheating is acceptable.
There’s also some anecdotal evidence that if the situation is right, the person will cheat. This seems to correlate to the upbringing. Essentially, if someone who doesn’t see cheating as a hard line is in a situation to cheat, then they may very well do so.
Can A Relationship Survive Cheating?
The short answer is: it depends. It depends on how the cheater feels, and how the person being cheated on feels. Some relationships can survive, and those that do are generally stronger afterwards. Of course, that doesn’t mean that every relationship can survive infidelity, or even that every relationship should survive infidelity.
How Your Relationship Changes After Cheating
Regardless of whether you were the cheater, or the person being cheated on. There’s going to be some changes in the relationship.
Your self confidence may plummet, or it might increase. The cheater generally feels higher levels of self confidence, while the person who was cheated on feels inadequate. Sometimes, however, they can gain, or even increase their self confidence when they start dating, feeling loved and desired.
It can be difficult to trust anything the cheater says. It won’t matter what it’s to do with, it’s easy, and likely that the mistrust will bleed over into other aspects of the relationship, such as parenting, finances, or even family relationships.
You might not react like you thought you would. We’ve all had the conversation about what we would do if we found out our partners were having affairs. The answers from my friends ranged from forgive him eventually, to throw a frozen turkey at him and kick him out of the house. Despite how you think you’d react, you may not react that way. People who have experienced cheating describe it as shattering, destroying, and feeling like they weren’t able to react in an appropriate way.
How Can Your Relationship Survive Cheating?
The only way a relationship can survive cheating is if both partners genuinely want it to, and are willing to put in the work. It’s a good idea to see a couples therapist, and an individual therapist. The person who has been cheated on needs to feel that they are heard, and that their hurt has been acknowledged. The cheater needs to figure out why they cheated in the first place, and be honest about it. If there’s other problems in the relationship, then they also need to be addressed.
The person who has been cheated on may want to establish rules and boundaries. The cheater needs to accept these, and follow them. And like with almost everything, the person cheated on needs time.