The act of being unfaithful to a spouse or other partner is considered cheating or infidelity. Typically, one would classify sexual or romantic relations with a person other than your significant other as cheating.
The implications of cheating
Cheating in a marriage is a fairly common phenomenon, whether we like to admit it or not. As a society, we frown upon it, as individuals we disapprove, and as partners, we fear it. We all know of someone or the other in our circles who have gone through it or are likely to find out soon enough that their partner is cheating on them.
Cheating, when discovered, has the potential for serious damage. Marriages can break or come out stronger. While the second outcome is more desirable, it is extremely rare. The fallout of cheating leads to intense reactions from the affected partner, it has the power to disrupt their mental and physical health, and the collateral damage is the children in the marriage who must bear the brunt of it all.
Why do married people cheat?
With so much at stake, what leads people to cheat on their partners?
- Individual Issues: There are some traits in an individual, because of their mental makeup or life experiences, that make them prone to cheating. For example, people with Narcissistic traits are likely to cheat on their partners as the affairs are driven by ego and a sense of entitlement. Addiction to substances often leads to a lack of inhibitions thereby causing affairs. Childhood traumas such as abandonment or lack of attention as well as being exposed to affairs in childhood lead to a higher probability of cheating. Many adults are inclined to repeat patterns, as they say, ‘once a cheater always a cheater’, can be true for some individuals who are bound to repeat a behavior pattern. Other issues such as mental illness and attachment styles or intimacy disorders can also trigger cheating in partners.
- Issues in the relationship: It takes two to tango. Very often partners feel the need to step outside the marriage because they feel unhappy in the marriage. Lack of sex or a bland sex life can lead to people looking for fulfillment outside. The thrill or excitement of chasing something new is a powerful driver for cheating especially in marriages that are typecast as ‘boring’. People find that if they are in a marriage where commitment is low then they are seeking out more meaningful connections with others. Most times feeling neglected or undervalued is a strong reason people cite for cheating. The neglect can be due to long working hours, domestic requirements with young children, or simply a loss of interest in keeping the ‘spark’ alive. Aging also plays a role in cheating as men and women, when confronted with the fact that they are aging, tend to look for younger interactions to prove to themselves that they still ‘have it’. Revenge cheating is also a phenomenon where the bereaved partner is driven to indulge in the same behavior as their partner to ‘get back at them’ or feel good about themselves.
- Circumstances: Very often people tend to cheat because of the situations that they are in, or the opportunities presented to them. In our hyper-connected world, the internet, social media, and dating apps have made things easier. The low-lying fruit of the availability of an ex, the friend requests from a doting co-worker, or the chance to kill loneliness on a business trip with a random hookup is all too tempting to pass. People who are easygoing and generally have poor boundaries – the people pleasers- will dip their toes in far more easily than others.
One can also argue that cheating in marriage presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities. Challenges come in the form of a breakdown of trust, a scarring of the romantic equation between the couple, and its cascading effect on the home and the children.
On the other hand, an affair is also an opportunity to identify the gaps in the relationship and work at plugging those gaps and coming out stronger. In both cases, the work must be put in by both the partners and it is not easy. Jealousy and a feeling of abandonment play truant and they are extremely difficult to overcome. However, with help from family, friends, and counsellors the damage from an affair can be mitigated.
Much like Covid, cheating is a phenomenon that we all must live with. It is something that is always going to be around, you can take adequate protection against it, you can insulate yourself, but given the flaws of the human psyche, cheating is here to stay. What you can do to protect yourself best is to try and understand the motivations that lead to cheating, and tackle those early.