What do you think of when you hear the word cheat, or affair? Do you think of an adulterer who committed a horrible crime? Or someone who only considers themselves, and has no concern about who they are hurting? Possibly both?
Generally, our society believes that when someone has an affair, the problem lies with either cheater or the relationship. We assume that the relationship must be flawed in some way. We think things like, maybe they’re not having enough sex, or I wonder if they’ve been fighting or not communicating. There is evidence to support that these can in fact be causes for an affair. People cheat because they are avoiding conflict, they cheat because they are unhappy, they cheat because they want to explore other people sexually.
But what about when their relationship is great? What if the connection is there, the sex is there, communication, everything, and both people are happy? What then? Why do some people cheat even when they are in happy relationships?
Throughout my years of working with all kinds of relationship challenges, there is one kind of cheating that isn’t so obvious. It’s the kind that occurs when both people are happy, but one person still chooses to cheat. This is devastating to the non-cheating partner. Because it comes out of no where. They say things like “Everything was great between us,” and “I feel completely blindsided.”
Ester Perel, in her book The State of Affairs (which you can get here,) proposes four reasons why happy people risk their lives that have been built around good memories, children, home, and safety for infidelity.
The examination of one’s own capabilities whether it be spiritual, emotional, or intellectual is possibly the biggest reason. For these people, exploring another human is about growth. It’s about finding something about themselves that they cannot find if they do not stray. Experiencing parts of themselves that they never got the chance to. It’s about curiosity. These people usually don’t want to leave the lives they currently have, they just want to take a vacation for a short while. They want to experience life, feel young again, not have any burdens. They are not looking for another person, they are searching for themselves.
2. The Seductive Nature of Transgression
Sometimes cheating can be exciting. Meeting a new person who is mysterious, and fun. The beginning of an affair can often feel like a whirlwind of exhilaration, feelings that they haven’t felt in years. Emoting liveliness and exhilaration. Just the idea that what you’re doing is pushing the limits can be seductive.
3. The Allure of Lives Not Lived
This is all about what you never did before you met “the one.” You used to swipe through hundreds of pictures hoping that the next person you meet with pick you, anxiously waiting to be married and have a forever partner. Instead the Allure of Lives Not Lived is all about what you missed out on. Curiously asking yourself, is there someone better out there for me? Or, “what if I had ended up with my ex? Where would I be?”
4. Feeling New or Exiled Emotions
Technology makes it easy to project your life into another. Scrolling through Facebook and Instagram gives you the idea that other people’s relationships are euphoric. Having an affair could produce feelings of new or exiled emotions. For these people infidelity is more of an emotional release than a sexual release. And once again, they are exploring their inner self.
At the end of the day, cheating hurts. It is a betrayal to the partner who was in the dark. It’s a breach of trust and a new pot hole in the relationship. However, knowing this information does provide both spouse’s and therapist’s alike, a road-map for how to heal these wounds of infidelity and move forward.