It seems no relationship is safe from the potential of infidelity, whether a private relationship or a public one. Statistics show that somewhere between 30-60% of individuals stray at some point during in their marriage, although exact statistics are challenging due to the secretive nature of the subject.
When a partner cheats on us, or even partakes in viewing pornography, it often triggers comparison and self-doubt. We often think that if we were thinner, stronger, taller, richer, more handsome or beautiful, sexier, etc. that this would not have happened. Self-doubt triggers an onslaught of negative self-talk, embarrassment and depression.
However, there are a myriad reasons people cheat, many of which have nothing to do with their partner, or whether or not they love their partner.
Sometimes people cheat because of their own lack of self-worth or need for external validation. Sometimes people cheat for revenge, or because they are afraid they are going to be left by their partner, so they start seeking elsewhere. Sometimes they cheat because they don’t feel they deserve the person they have, so they sabotage the relationship to prove themselves right. Sometimes people cheat for power or because they don’t want to be controlled or told what they can or cannot do. Sometimes it is purely about the sex and has nothing to do with anything else. Sometimes people cheat because their hormones are in charge, rather than their wisdom. Underneath the behavior of cheating is a faulty belief. Clean up the belief and the behavior will follow. If you just try to curb the behavior but you still hold the troubled belief, then the behavior will happen again.
My take as a relationship educator is that what people often truly want is a loving, intimate and harmonious relationship with their current partner, but when we can’t figure out how to create that we quickly go about destroying the very thing that we want the most.
So, how do we survive the onslaught of resulting emotions? When you are the one who has done the cheating, whether your spouse knows or not, you need to get clear on your values, beliefs, what you actually want, what you are capable of and do the right thing: If you are not going to be able to be in a monogamous relationship, tell your partner so that they have a choice whether they want to be in an open relationship or if they would prefer to move on.
If you do want to be in a monogamous relationship, then behave that way. The “wrong thing” is to pretend you want to be in a monogamous relationship when you are unable to align your behavior with that choice. If your spouse knows about what you have done, apologize with deep sincerity and regret. Denying what your spouse knows is only a breeding ground for more distrust. Make it clear that you take full responsibility for the choices you have made and the consequences, and commit to either not doing it again, or be honest about your inability to follow through on that commitment. At some point, you will need to forgive yourself for your actions, but be careful that forgiving yourself doesn’t sound like excusing yourself. What you did is not okay, so don’t blame anyone else as that will leave your spouse feeling pretty convinced that you will do it again.
If you were cheated on, be gentle on yourself and avoid the tendency to belittle yourself. Your partner cheating on you doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong with you. Be observant of your thoughts…and examine them to see if there is any truth to them. It is often the stories you make up, especially when lacking the facts, that cause you the most pain.
Be clear on the outcome you actually want. Our egos will scream “break up” or “get divorced,” or “never trust again,” but it is important to consider whether that is truly the desired result. That is not usually how your soul sees it. My guess is, at least when it comes to a spouse, that your preference would be to put your relationship back on track. If this is the case, I encourage you to realize that this is an opportunity to dig deeper into the depths of who you really are and access a stronger version of yourself. You may find that this experience assists you in tapping into greater clarity, more honest communication, better defined boundaries and perhaps a reprioritization of values.
If you decide to stay in the relationship, and your partner has changed their course of behavior, avoid the tendency to punish them for the rest of time. I once lived in a haunted house and had a shaman come clear the ghost. She then said, “Don’t think about the ghost in this house again or you will invite it back in.” I feel the same is true in relationships. If you choose to move forward, you need to let go of the past.
I often coach couples to indeed end the unconscious relationship they are currently in with each other, and start again in a consciously created relationship with the same partner. One steeped in greater awareness and a stronger commitment to what they actually want.