The Anatomy of Cheating

“It was a moment of weakness.” “We fought a lot at the time, I just wanted to feel liked and desired again.” “There was nothing physical going on.” “It was just sex.” “It didn’t mean anything.” “I think I’m in love.

Whether you’re the one giving explanation or the one receiving it, conversations about infidelity are always tough, to say the least. Regardless of the relationship’s current state, or its less or more mature status, it hurts, scars, humiliates, revealing much more about the true nature of the connection betrayed.

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Cheating, they say, can just as well be a reaction to an already existing crisis, an outlet for the feelings and thoughts that are so deeply buried underneath the everyday rhythm of the couple’s life that it takes a bombshell to finally throw light on them. (Yes, some people do it for exactly one reason: they want to be discovered.)

Even though reality seems shocking, surreal once the blindfolds are off, having been on both sides of the story – have cheated and have been cheated on – I can say that after a while it did make some sense. There was a road, perfectly built, with traffic lights and all, leading exactly to that bitter and reproachful destination. I (or we to be exact) did everything, of course, to avoid seeing where it was all headed.

I have a whiteboard in my bedroom that I use to list ideas for future articles. I can’t even remember how this one got there, but I do remember being strangely excited to do the research on the topic: the anatomy of cheating.

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What is cheating?

Well, probably what you consider it to be. Some say that one mistake on a drunken night shouldn’t ruin an otherwise – seemingly – well-operating relationship. Others declare that kissing would provide enough reason for them to pack their bags and leave – even if it happens after thirty years of marriage. When we define the act of cheating and name its probable consequences, we always put ourselves in the passive role; we don’t tend to determine the rules through the eyes of the person committing infidelity. Would you expect to get the same treatment you would give your partner? When you vouch for yourself and say you would never cheat on anybody, how sure can you be? You don’t know what position you might find yourself in, you don’t know the circumstances, or how you would feel in a scenario you can’t even imagine. Right? I’m not trying to justify cheating at all. (How could I? It hurts like a mthrfckr!)

Emotional cheating

In a physical sense, cheating can mean anything from kissing to sex and all the fun stuff in-between. It can be one mistake, one single occasion or – and to my view it is the worst kind – it can become a long-term love affair. Feelings, however, can develop even without taking physical steps. Simply talking can be enough to light a sparkle. And whether the parties involved in the creation of said spark take action or not is a whole other story. Or is it?

Throughout the years, I have heard different accounts of friends and relatives, and found that one common player is the hyena of the relationship Savannah: the guy or girl who flirts, entices, chats, writes sweet messages, sends you a picture of their dinner, tells you about their holiday, shares stuff about their weekend, their work – the one part they fail to mention is their boyfriend/girlfriend who’s sitting right next to them during that wonderful trip or while eating that crazy good dinner. (The most disgusting was perhaps the fella who was texting a friend of mine all the pickup lines in the book, with a profile picture of him and his wife on their wedding day. WTF, right?)

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Why people cheat

Hearing those heartbreaking accounts as an outsider, it’s easy to judge partners of friends or relatives, those SOBs who cheated instead of talking about their problems and by that betrayed the trust of a loved one without thinking – we’re obviously partial to our loved ones, and again, cheating is not the right way to deal with any sort of relationship and/or self-related issues. Although, in situations like these, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the fact that the world is not so black and white. There is a whole lot of grey area. You never know what’s really going on in someone’s head, life what their struggles are.

Looking at it from a more objective point of view however, there are several factors that can push someone towards cheating.

Low self-esteem, aging

We’ve all heard of The Middle-Aged Man and The Young Girlfriend whose affair was ‘clearly about’ the male ego’s wear and tear, one last maneuver to prove that they ‘still got it’. It can, of course, happen the other way around as well: we, women can have just as a difficult time accepting the fact that we’re never going to be as young as we were before. But you don’t have to be 50-60 years old to experience low self-esteem: we just had a year of isolation during which many complained about putting on weight, feeling like they’d let themselves go a bit, etc. Now, when we feel insecure, we begin to rely more on external feedback – and unfortunately in many cases, the positive feedback has to come from sources much further outside to matter. Suddenly, our partner’s compliments aren’t enough to make us feel better; or rather, it is not their praise that we’re after. It’s sad, cruel even, but that’s how it works.

Lack of spontaneity, boredom

Oh, yeah: going to sleep and waking up next to the same person can be magic, and it is, most of the time. Sure, the pink, fluffy kind of romantic stuff will fade as it should, but it doesn’t mean that you have to give up on the spark, the romance. If you’re lucky, you and your partner will both put in the time and energy to create a bit of spontaneity, a bit of surprise in the dullness that our day-to-day life – filled with work, grocery shopping, cleaning, kids, dogs, etc. – seems to be drowned by sometimes.

Feeling unhappy, dissatisfied, unappreciated

Just because it seems to be a happy relationship, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a happy one. Seeking attention outside a relationship can also speak for dissatisfaction, even if the one who feels this way couldn’t utter it, not in even to themselves. If you feel like you’re partner doesn’t appreciate who you are or what you put into the relationship, seeking attention and/or affection is kind of normal, no? The answer, again, is not turning around and getting into all sorts of affairs with other people but to try to tell your partner about how you feel. Maybe they don’t do it on purpose, maybe it’s just the stress at work or some other problem that shifted their focus. Maybe, if you could just talk to them about it, they would apologize for acting that way and promise to pay more attention in the future.. (Don’t assume automatically that there is ill will behind their carelessness.)

Commitment issues

I left the biggest revelation to the end of the list. (Duh!)

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Surviving infidelity

Trust is fragile. It has to be earned to begin with, so if or once it’s broken, both parties will face an extremely difficult task: the cheater has to prove their partner that they are worthy of another chance, while the other has to be open to recognize and appreciate their efforts. Sometimes, however meaningful the relationship was and however great the connection used to be, it just can’t survive the betrayal that took place. Still, there are ways to work through such challenges, but finding the real reason behind it is a must. Couple’s therapy can be a good place to start, making changes on a daily basis that reflect the efforts and commitment to saving the relationship are also essential steps. In certain cases, whichever role you happened to play, you need to accept that the happy days are over and the best you can do is to walk away and learn form your mistakes.

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