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Cheating and Love, in Love Relationships

Mini-Love Lesson   #221

Synopsis:  A rather fresh view of cheating and its problems; surprising origins; dynamics; multiple causes; possible outcomes and what to do about it lovingly is quickly, yet broadly and very helpfully, covered here.


Cheating In Spite Of Love

"I love them both, what am I to do?  I tried to break it off with one then with the other but it never works,  I secretly always go back and start up again.  Sooner or later, one of them will leave me or maybe even both will leave me at the same time so, I guess I'll just keep lying to the both of them until then."  "I'm sure I truly do love my spouse but I just have to have others, so I lie and cheat and hate myself for it but, for now at least, I won't stop."  "I'm very conflicted.  I don't know why I cheat, I just do but I also dearly love my spouse"  These remarks, and many like them, are commonly heard in the offices of every good therapist who works with love relationships.  The good news is they all represent situations that, with some hard work, usually are healthfully and positively resolved in those offices.

Many who really do love also cheat.  A great many more seriously consider cheating.  Others fearfully suspect cheating is occurring in their own love relationship.  Cheating especially is thought to occur eventually with people tangled in false love syndromes.  Studies show over 50% of the marriages in Western world countries experience affair problems usually involving a lot of destructive deceptions inherit to cheating.

Cheating often brings on a great deal of lying, mistrust, stress, anxiety, depression, conflict, guilt, shame, general misery, profound confusion, family harm, breakups and divorces even among couples who truly love each other.  However, most committed couples who experience a cheating problem do not break up or divorce.  They find another way and stay together.  Some even use the cheating experience to strengthen their love relationship.  Love can conquer and heal the harm cheating so often does.  Of course, there are those who get away with it but they usually do not escape the draining strain and stress that usually comes with cheating.  Then there is the fact that cheating is often very dangerous.  In all too many situations, it can get you beat up, hospitalized, possibly crippled or even killed.  Then why do so many choose to cheat?

It is true some people cheat because they really do not love their spouse or love mate, but quite frequently that is not the real problem.  You can love and still cheat on the person you love for a whole host of different reasons.  Nevertheless, most cheating harms love because it involves dishonesty.  Remember, It is almost impossible to build something real and lasting out of that which is false and contrived, even when real love exists.

The Importance of Getting Clarity

Cheating, deception, lies, manipulating interactions and all that usually go with cheating often cause a cluttered, conglomerate of confusion and inner conflict.  So, getting clear about some of the issues involved is highly useful.

Some say it really is not cheating unless you and another, or even third parties involved, have a clear, mutually understood agreement about what cheating is and what not to do.  In counseling I have heard people say "What I did wasn't cheating because I didn't love who I had sex with", "It was only a one night stand so that shouldn't count", "Yes, we stimulated each other to orgasm but we didn't have intercourse, so that wasn't cheating, was it?", "Even if you loved Joe only in your mind, that still is cheating on me", "If you so much as look at any other woman, you're being unfaithful to me", "Sex with others is okay but don't you dare fall in love with anybody else but me, because that's really cheating ".

Most people seem to think that everyone has the same understanding of cheating which is just like their own, but they don't.  Phenomenology shows us no one has exactly your understanding of everything, especially not anything having strong emotional impact.  So, it all has to get talked out and clearly agreed upon, hard is that often is.  If you are going to get clarity about cheating and everything related, it probably is going to take interactive, uncomfortable, mutual, hard, communication work.  Unspoken agreements are best thought of as disagreements in waiting.

Two Base Points of Cheating

In most love relationship, cheating is oriented around one or both of two points.  One point is love and the other is sex.  It commonly is suggested that males, especially psychologically immature and insecure males, are concerned mostly about sexual cheating.  On the other hand, females, especially more psychologically mature but insecure females, are concerned largely about cheating related to love.  Bisexuals and transsexuals are thought perhaps to be more equally affected by both.

What may be more important than gender orientation is the strength of one's sex drive and/or the strength of one's drive or need for healthy, real love.  Also, very much involved is one's sense of being secure about sexual adequacy and/or one's sense of security about being lovable and love able.

Cheatings Two Biggest Causes?

Cheating is thought to be pretty much nonexistent among a fair number of the indigenous tribes of South America.  That is because they share a belief that babies are best grown out of multiple contributions of different male’s semen.  Women seek out and bed men with different qualities so that their offspring will have those male’s various qualities.  Bedding just one male makes for too few qualities in one's child.  This belief system also expands the number of men who take father responsibility for helping the child grow up.

That example, and others like it, suggest and point to a possible, real root-cause of our problems with cheating.  That root-cause is our deeply incorporated, cultural training about sex, spouse type love and monogamy.  Had we been brought up with a mores like those indigenous peoples of South America, we might have no need for romantic dishonesty and, therefore, no need for cheating.

This also suggests that those who can get more free of our standard, cultural training about spousal love and monogamy may be able to better love their way through cheating and affair problems.  Indeed, freedom from cultural control may help explain why so many couples do not end their relationship when cheating and affair issues occur.

The second major reason for cheating being so prevalent may have to do with our biology fighting our cultural training.  There is a growing amount of evidence and analysis pointing to the conclusion that a particular biological imperative rules.  That is that 1) males are built and driven to plant their seed in multiple vaginas and, 2) females are built and driven to get the seed of different men who have various desirable qualities planted in their vaginas.  Especially, might this be a natural truth for both higher quality males and females who have more survivor qualities to offer the human gene pool for our species continuence?

Apparently, this two-part, biological imperative operates somewhat independently of our natural, psycho-biological imperative to love-bond with others.  Successful, emotionally close, pair bonding (poly and throuple bonding) examples exists around the world and throughout history which have not been emphasized, where sexual monogamy has.  Our natural state in love relationships may be much closer to that of the bonobo apes.  They are seen as more family, friendship and small-tribe love bonded than pair bonded while still being very actively, multi-mingling sexually.  Interestingly, various indigenous peoples around the globe are found to have similar behavioral norms and to be without so many problems of jealousy, possessiveness, sexual insecurity, divorce or cheating.  Lots to think about, right?

Other Reasons for Cheating

"I had to cheat because I had to find out if I was still desirable".  "Actually, I cheated because the outside love and care I got gave me the fuel I needed to keep working on my marriage",  " I think I cheated mostly because that's what successful people do when they reach the status I have attained in life",  "It helped me a lot with my self-love",  "I did it out of vengeance",  "Everything else we both were doing in life was dishonest, so being dishonest in love and sex came easily",  "All my friends were doing it and it seemed like fun",  "To be truthful, I identified with being bad and cheating is so bad",  "Others I knew were getting away with it and I was so envious",  "It's what the people in my growing up family did, so why could I be any different",  "My spouse was far too goody-goody, straightlaced and normal.  I just couldn't live that way, so I started a secret life apart",  "I tried it out of boredom and got to really liking it".

These are but a small sampling of the multitudinous reasons people discover for their cheating.  Only occasionally the reason given is that a spouse is no longer loving, or attractive, or sexual.  Sometimes the reason is to escape or find somebody better than their inadequate or abusive spouse.  While the reasons are important, far more important is figuring out what to do about it.

Other Forms of Cheating

Cheating and deception can concern and does occur regarding money, substance and behavioral addictions (like gambling), family, status, personal history, religion, politics, food, health and a good many other things.  But it is the love and sex areas where cheating is the big deal that concerns us most here.

The Poly Cure for Cheating

In the history of Europe and the Americas, every so often there appears a new attempt at one approach or another for solving the problems inherent in monogamy, or if you prefer, serial monogamy.  Polygamy, communal sex, group marriage, swinging, open marriage, free love, and more recently, poly amore alternate lifestyles are but a few of the many examples available.  With each attempt, there are people who make it work quite well and those who do not.  Common to many of the attempts are emphases on open honesty and getting okay with people having both sex and love in multiperson ways.  Common also is condemnation by the more conservative and those threatened by the new and different.

With the advent of the social sciences, what makes these different love relationship ways succeed for some and fail for others is becoming more understood.  One answer may be this.  It seems that those who learn and practice the behaviors that demonstrate love well may be able to make any form of love relationship work better, including monogamy.  Those who more poorly, or less frequently behave in the ways that convey love, more likely fail at each form of love relating, also including monogamy.  So, perhaps it is not the form but the love abilities of the people engaging in the form that makes the difference.

Cheating is hardly ever a loving action.  It is an action that risks hurting and harming another person and perhaps several others severely.  Cheating in some situations may be the healthiest alternative available as well as the least dangerous and least destructive to all concerned but those situations are rare.  There are those who attempt open honesty and who are willing to work out "I win, you win, everybody wins" type solutions.  And there are those who may be truly unable, as well as unwilling, to go for "tri-victory" outcomes.  Likewise, there are counselors and therapists who do not have what it takes to help others achieve two party, let alone three party resolutions, when cheating and affairs have been involved.  But with other nonjudgmental counselors, it can be done.

The Couple's Cure for Cheating

In my experience working with couples who have a cheating issue and supervising therapists who deal with similar issues, what helps the most is a very love-centered couple’s counseling, largely done in conjoint sessions where the couple meets together with the therapist.  Such therapists work in an unbiased way, are rather loving, practical, highly truth oriented and willing to experiment with couples outside the box toward possible solutions for improvement.  Couples’ group counseling may follow and greatly add to the strength of improvements.

The Individual’s Cure for Cheating

For individuals, I have found individual group therapy to quite often be the most advantageous and efficient treatment, though singular individual counseling may work well too.  The challenging but supportive and non-condemning ways of a good positive-focused group therapy can work wonders to help people give up a cheating way of going about relating and to risk replacing it with ways that are much more lovingly truthful.

For more help related to cheating, you may wish to consult these mini-love-lessons: “Love Affairs: Bad?, Good? and Otherwise”, “Trust Recovery and Love”, “Protecting Those You Love from Yourself”, “Forgiveness - A Much Needed Love Skill”, “Checking It Out - As a Love Skill” and link “Conclusions, Confounding and Corrupting Your Love?”.   I also heartily recommend reading Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan & Cacilda Jetha.  In my biased view, serious cheating issues are best dealt with with the help of a good love knowledgeable therapist, well-trained in relationship therapy, not just individual therapy.  You might be able to find one of those therapists via your national marriage and family therapy and/or counseling associations.

One more thing:  let us suggest you talk to some people about your thoughts and feelings concerning this mini-love-lesson on cheating and this site’s many other love lessons.  Think about quoting and using the following quotable love question to include in that talk.

As always –Go and Grow with Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

♥ Quotable Love Question:  If we can love two parents, several siblings, four grandparents and other relatives, including stepparents and multiple friends all at the same time, why do we think we can not have real love for two or even more lovers simultaneously?

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