When we Cheat…
The media is fixated on it; celebrities sting from it, politicians spin on it, reality shows feed on it, therapists build practices on it and, we may have inherited it. Cheating (aka- infidelity, cuckolding, mate stealing) is as old as human sexuality and remains a challenge for two-thirds of couples. Being unfaithful, though not against the law, can be perceived as worse than criminal. It’s like breaking a promise with a smile and a handshake. It exploits implicit trust. It is the shock that love is virtuous and trust is dangerous. Cheating isn’t always physical but it is always personal.
Who does it?
Cheating is not new, never fair, and has a wide range of behaviors. Some are implicit ‘sinners of the heart’. Others cheat on-line. Some cheat for practice. Some cheat to end relationships. Still other’s make a career of it. Recently, (insert celebrity) sinned for all of us. As for the rest of us mortals, men generally cheat down in age and women step out with bad boys. As for our fears, men hate ‘sexual’ cuckolding, where women can’t stand resource investment in another. (Trivers, 1989, Buss,1996, Fisher 2003). Consequences vary by culture from death to taxes, but prevalence does not. As for individual risk factors, infidelity is found more often in those who:
1) Express feelings of being controlled by partner/relationship.
2) Feel under-controlled (impulsive) in matters of the heart.
3) View sexuality as a commodity (some ‘thing’ of value or worse...for trade).
4) Unable to express intimate needs in their relationship.
5) Test the security or stability of relationship (sometimes compulsively).
How can we detect it?
Cheating can live in the fabric of marriage for years until exposed. The short story? An affair doesn’t ruin a good marriage. It often points at existing weaknesses of the bond that is reflected in the bad behavior of individuals. I don’t typically hear the words “we had a great marriage until that darned affair”. Though I do hear…‘I knew we were in trouble, but I didn’t see THAT coming! Typically, some form of resentment has dug in deep and gone unspoken for years. It erodes good communication. This undermines loyalty, fidelity, and perhaps all other virtuous promises.
Why does it hurt so bad?
As relationships deepen, trust and love begin to overlap in our brains. After time they are hard to separate. But, affairs splinter love from trust the way grief shatters reality. Duped by love, we feel like a drunk looking for our keys, wondering if our ‘friend’ has hid them. This emotional vertigo can turn hearts upside down. Egos battle between self righteousness and truth. We may want to know everything. But, details can be dangerous if we want to forgive.
Can it be..repaired?
It often amazes me how honestly people can talk once the dust settles on an affair. But, true repair is built on
vulnerable process. You must use a special part of trust (NOT predictablity and dependablity). You are stuck with
the faith that you can accept and forgive. Note: Whether you should is not as important as whether you are able?
See Virtue's Compass to get a glimpse of the emotional tools to repair loss-of-self from pain of betrayal.
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