Why People Occasionally Cheat

Have you ever wondered why people occasionally cheat in their relationships?  What could possibly be their motivation and how could they violate the delicate thread of trust?  To understand an occasional cheater you must first understand their limits of attachment
(see http://www.therapyinphiladelphia.com/tips/understanding-you-and-your-partners-attachment ).  Second, know that there are various types of cheaters with different motivations (see http://www.therapyinphiladelph... ).  Lastly, if it wasn't complicated enough, understanding the actions of an occasional cheater will give insight to their underlying fears.  Understanding why and how an occasional cheater cheats is critical to dispel any misperceptions the hurt partner may have of themselves or their partner.  When learning about the underlying factors that led to the occasional cheating, you and your partner will then be able to have a deeper and more honest conversation about your relationship and the decision to move forward or dissolve it.  If you and your partner continue to move forward, your rebuilding can occur with the possibility to have a healthier and honest relationship.

Why People Occasionally Cheat: Their Motivation and Fears

The Occasional Cheater – this type of cheater cheats once in a while.  This type of cheater does not want to necessarily leave their current relationship and does not necessarily want to cause harm to their partner; however, they have found ways to deal with their personal and relationship issues in an avoidance manner.  For instance, Julian was with his girlfriend for five years.  He enjoyed spending time with her and felt that she was his soul mate.  When they would spend time together his heart beat sped up and at times his hands would get clammy.  He wasn’t having a heart attack, he was in love.  Julian began experiencing anxiety after his moments in love.  He was unsure what it stemmed from.  One thing he found himself doing was seeking distractions such as biking and playing racquet ball.  One day after he and his girlfriend made love and he felt closer to her, he cheated. 

Julian sought therapy to understand why he cheated on his girlfriend.  He was able to uncover conscious and unconscious processes of why he cheated.  Here is what he uncovered.  Julian did not know how to handle the emotional connection that was growing within him toward his girlfriend.  “Perhaps she will cheat on me”, “I’m not enough for her”, “Will he bore with me eventually” are some of the fears that flashed in his mind.  Julian decided that after he had those emotional connections he would take time away from his girlfriend to process it all.  By doing so he found himself in an unusual situation that he never thought he would be in.  Julian reluctantly fed into his fears and told himself that he did not want to get hurt by his girlfriend and to protect himself from the unsubstantiated pain he cheated on his girlfriend.  Julian did not continue his relationship with the woman he cheated with; however, over time he found himself in the cycle after feeling intimately close with his girlfriend.  Julian decided to attend therapy and was challenged to sit with his emotions after his intimate moments with his girlfriend to uncover his underlying experiences and feelings when he feels particularly close to his girlfriend. 

What was going on with Julian?  For some individuals, being vulnerable means exposing one’s self to another.  Some people feel they will not be accepted and/or will be judged by another in those moments even if there is no evidence of such.  Others fear they will be looked at differently or as a weakling.  Others fear putting their trust in someone enough to open up to then be hurt by the other person.  Being vulnerable may bring up different hidden emotional responses and thought processes in people who at the heart of it all fear being hurt. 

In Julia’s situation, he had the mentality that “I’ll do it to her before she does it to me”.  Julian failed to realize that his girlfriend had no intentions of cheating on him and had not done so thus far.  After further processing, Julian was able to identify the sources of his thought process.  First was in his childhood and the other as an adult.  Julian remembered having a shaky sense of security with his parents.  He described how after receiving any type of affection it would be followed by a negative comment or disengagement.  Julian was not able to build positive connections with affection but rather the sense of a cyclical good followed by a bad feeling lurking around the corner. 

Julian’s second source came from an adult relationship where his partner cheated on him after he became vulnerable enough to let his partner in.  He had not recovered from that relationship before starting his current relationship and therefore transferred his unresolved experience and crafted it into baggage.  

As you read about Julian’s experience, you can surmise that Julian became reactive by being vulnerable.  His cheating was not fueled from a sense of narcissism (however in some cases that is the root) but by fear of being vulnerable and/or getting hurt.  If you can relate to Julian or are in a relationship with someone who resembles Julian, and you want to make it work follow these tips to become more comfortable with being vulnerable:

1) Identify your pattern of intimacy (ex. Do you disengage after you become intimate; do you become needy; do you avoid intimacy; do you welcome intimacy)
2) Identify your emotional reaction after becoming intimate? (ex. Overwhelming sense of euphoria; open hearted; fragile; sensitive; ambivalent; self-conscious; restless; irritable)
3) Identify your emotional reaction when you sit with being intimate? (ex. Try to avoid feeling it; it makes you sad; you feel anxious; you feel overwhelmed; you like the feeling; you never sat with it before)
4) Observe how you interact with your partner
5) Observe how your partner interacts with you after being intimate and how you feel about it
6) Be brave
7) Learn to trust your partner by believing they will accept you for you and can be trusted (if there is no evidence stating otherwise)
8) Learn to sit with your discomfort of experiencing your emotional reaction after being intimate or vulnerable
9) Take a deep breath
10) Be your real you, without the baggage, and know that is enough

In another scenario there may be the cheating partner that is able to sit in their feelings after being intimate and is comfortable being vulnerable.  So what is the deal with those cheaters??  Stacy was in her relationship with her husband for 7 years.  She was able to receive and give affection, be vulnerable and felt comfortable with intimacy.  Stacy cheated on her husband several times throughout their marriage.  Stacy said that her husband was an affectionate and loving man and she was unsure why she sought other sexually intimate partners.  Stacy later revealed 2 reasons behind her actions.  First Stacy said she observed her mother cheating on Stacy’s dad on different occasions.  Stacy said when her dad would be a work on the weekends Stacy’s mother would invite “Uncle Mark” to the house and they would have “alone time” in her mother’s bedroom.  Stacy later realized the extent of the “alone time” and became enraged with her mother.  Although Stacy despised her mother cheating on her dad, she identified the most with her mother because she spent the most time with her.  In turn, Stacy learned how to cheat, cover it up, justify her cheating behavior, keeping secrets and manipulating her partner. 

If this scenario is familiar to you or your partner, here are ways to combat the fear of true intimacy:

1) If you are the victim and notice your partner’s change of routine or other signs of dishonest behaviors, don’t put your head in the sand.  Confront your partner by being specific about what your have been noticing and if you think cheating is the issue ask your partner directly if they are cheating.  Remember, your partner learns how to treat you by the way you allow them to.  If your partner believes they are pulling the wool over your eye or get the sense that you are okay with the cheating, they may just continue.
2) If you are the cheating partner, identify the root of your actions.  As you read with Stacy hers was observing her mother cheat.  If that is not the case with you, seek to understand what your motivation is to cheat on your partner.  Ask yourself the following…
      i) Do I have an insatiable sexual appetite?
     ii) Am I not happy in my relationship?
    iii) Do I want to be in a relationship?
    iv) Do I cheat to avoid stress/responsibility/accountability or some other emotion/behavior?

Why People Occasionally Cheat:  Overexposure
Some people grow up with older family members or friends that either bought or showed them pornography magazines, books, movies, pictures, etc.  Perhaps not for malicious intent but to show the youngster what sex was all about (narrow view of course).  At a young age, children and young teens can become stimulated by such porn and eventually seek to watch it more often than not.  They find themselves coming home from school and watching porn, or waiting until everyone in the house was sleep to watch it.  It eventually turns into a habit quickly that is hard to shake.  It is stimulating and overtime the youngster seeks other forms of porn stimulus (ex. from boy/girl to boy/boy to girl/girl to characters to bondage).  When this youngster grows up, they would have experienced such a large exposure to sex but not intimacy.  This will translate to the way they interact with their partner and even coax their partner to engage in some of the porno scenes to recreate a similar stimulus. 

If this sounds familiar to you, consider these statements:
1) I am only able to achieve an orgasm when I am watching porn
2) Watching porn becomes redundant and I find myself not able to release
3) I find myself wanting to act out the scenes because I feel it is sexy and will get me to my release
4) I don’t participate in foreplay
5) I find that I cannot orgasm with my partner alone
6) I watch porn often
7) My partner does not watch porn and feels that I am cheating on them because I get aroused
8) Sex with my partner is just not enough

If this sound familiar, the Center for Growth can help you find a middle ground to connect with your partner and learn ways to become more intimate without having sex.  Some people of this type cheat because they are seeking a high, similar to the effect of drugs that give you a high.

Why People Occasionally Cheat: Unhappiness
Some cheaters are motivated to cheat because they are unhappy in their relationship.  Instead of confronting the situation head on they escape…into someone else’s bed.  This type of cheating partner may be motivated to act out sexually because they don’t want to be labeled as a “bad person” because of the belief that they will hurt their partner if they decide to end the relationship.   If this is you or someone you know here are some tips to overcome fear of confrontation:

1) Observe yourself in various situations to learn how you handle confrontation and why you avoid it.  Does it remind you of a past experience that leaves you feeling defeated or abandoned?  Whatever it is for you, identify it and acknowledge it.
2) Ask yourself how you feel when you are assertive.  If you are uncomfortable try practicing assertive exercises to become comfortable with doing so (ex. Start small by making a decision about what you want to eat or do for the weekend; say no when you don’t want to complete an unnecessary/unwanted task).
3) Read After the Affair by Janis A. Spring and decide if it is in you and your partner’s best interest to continue your relationship.
4) Ask yourself, do I want to continue my relationship with…  If the answer is yes began building trust by confiding in your partner about how you have been dishonest.  It may be helpful to seek couples therapy and learn tools that will allow you to be brave so that you can learn to be accountable for your actions and how to work through the aftermath.
5) Be strong and know you can handle the rebuild with the support of your couples’ therapist

Why People Occasionally Cheat: Emotional
1) Insecurity
Some occasional cheaters cheat because they are insecure about themselves and when given outside validation (someone compliments them on their new hair cut/outfit/personality) they feel seen, attractive and/or wanted which in turn makes them feel good about themselves.  This person may have not felt attractive by their partner or their partner may have not given them compliments in a while.  This could start off with just an outside compliment with a thank you response, but then can lead to commenting back, giving extra looks, imagining what it would be like to have the commenter touch their body in some way, reciprocal flirting and possibly, given the right circumstance, cheating. 
2) Anger
Some occasional cheaters cheat because they are angry at their partner.  Instead of confronting the discord it may be easier for this person to make themselves feel better by cheating.  As if saying talking themselves into cheating by thinking they are getting back at their partner for making them upset/not understanding or hearing them during a miscommunication or argument/being upset about an action that was disapproved of.
3) Revenge

Some occasional cheaters cheat because they feel entitled to do so.  They figure that since their partner lacks financial security, an emotional connection, has a sexual dysfunction or has previously cheated in their relationship it is their turn to feel happy and to finally get what they want…and deserve.

Listed above are some reasons why occasional cheaters cheat along with some potential fears and motivations that lead people to cheat.  You also were able to get some tips to help you understand the cheating and to confront the underlying fears that fuel the cheating.  You are also able to get tips to allow yourself to move forward.   This article does not condone a cheater’s behavior but seeks to understand the underlying motivation to help build stronger couples during and after an affair.  If infidelity is present in your relationship and you would like help processing it, give The Center for Growth a call.