Cheating on a partner does not matter
I’d like to start off by saying that I do not condone cheating as a general practice but too many couples react far too cut and dry when they find out their partner has cheated, rather than sit back and analyse the actual root cause of the infidelity. My personal definition of cheating is quite concise so I already know how I am going to react if I am ever faced with the scenario… Rationally and within the context of the specific situation!
The fact of the matter is that if someone wants to cheat on you, although what I outlined in the popular article The ONLY way to prevent your partner cheating is a great ideal to pursue, there’s no one instantaneous thing you can do to passively stop them. You can however deal with it in a multitude of different ways.
In this article I will start by giving some definitions of what constitutes as cheating and then explain why if these are dishonoured there are far bigger issues at work than the actual act of cheating itself…
Traditional definition of cheating:
Traditional values teach us that cheating is “physically engaging with someone who is not your partner”. The problem with this definition is that there is such a vast range of physical interaction that can take place between two people that it is hard to universally define where platonic affection ends and sexual intimacy begins. Second to this, it’s often the emotional aspects of cheating that really do the damage, such as disliking that your partner is sexually attracted to someone else, before any physical activity has even occurred.
The boundaries of every relationship can and should be different depending on how it is mutually set up and the explicit understanding of how monogamous it is going to be. With this in mind, here is my improved definition of cheating…
My definition of cheating:
Doing something that contradicts assumed values.
Relationships are built on trust and mutual respect of each other’s values. The problem is that most of these values are often assumed rather than unequivocally laid out. All healthy relationships grow organically and no one wants to start a new one by producing an in-depth catalogue of what is and what is not acceptable in the relationship from the off. There is definitely a subtle benefit in making your values clear as the early stages of a relationship develop though and I talk about how to do this respectfully in the article Starting a relationship in the best possible way.
Everyone is brought up with slightly different values regarding romantic relationships. The result is that a couple might have conflicting views on what is and what is not acceptable regarding cheating without even knowing it!
I know of several men who use this relationship naivety to their advantage in getting away with all sorts of adulterous behaviour. They will treat a woman they are casually seeing as their girlfriend (it’s instinctual and validating) but they feel that as long as they don’t explicitly tell this particular woman that they are “exclusive” with them, it justifies being able to see other women secretly because they haven’t “lied” about anything. Alluding is the same as lying in this instance so if you’re leading someone to believe they are exclusive with you when they are not, then you are lying!
Further instances of infidelity:
Further on from abusing values in a relationship is the act of doing something that you KNOW your partner would not like and then actively trying to cover up the fact.
This is where cheating really becomes messy and is a sign that things aren’t going to work out long-term. The saying “the truth always prospers” fits so succinctly to every long-term happy relationship that it is baffling why so many people think not only that they can get away with cheating but that it is actually conducive to their overall happiness in life.
Being honest about infidelity as well as any adulterous desires is always the best course of action because as I will explain, it’s not the act of cheating that really matters…
Why cheating on a partner does not matter:
Cheating is a symptom of other problems in a relationship, not the problem itself.
There are several causes of infidelity but lack of will-power is not one, although it is often used as a tame excuse. Monotony or boredom, contempt for trust or respect, or just generally not being satisfied enough are the primary reasons that someone would be unfaithful to their partner.
Note that these are all examples of something MISSING in the relationship, be it excitement, respect or fulfilment respectively. Infidelity is basically the climax of one or more of these characteristics being missing.
With this information one might ask, well why don’t they simply leave the relationship if they really aren’t happy? There are two psychological reasons for that and they are:
- The ego-validation and convenience of staying in a relationship.
- Subconsciously, they don’t actually love or cherish their other half any less.
When cheating can be good for a relationship:
Obviously the pinnacle of relationship mastery is to always be happy and fulfilled with your partner and vice versa. However, a relationship that has hit an incessant bad patch that is beyond simple reconciliation, can often require something more drastic to make that change. I never recommend infidelity as an act but I have known of specific cases where unfaithfulness has actually been the catalyst for a couple sitting down and working out what is wrong in their relationship. It takes a very mature and conscious person to be able to do this and not react with the instinctual feelings regarding cheating: rage, embarrassment and despair.
How to deal with your partner cheating:
First and foremost is to try and deal with any personal negative emotions surrounding infidelity if it happens to you, so you can make rational decisions. Although there will be many unique factors in each situation, the overall choice is whether to stay with your partner and work on the problems in the relationship, or to move on both physically and mentally.
Whatever the outcome is, you must promise the events will not have an emotional hold over you because that is the part that is really detrimental. If you stay with your partner after they have been unfaithful but still hold it against them, it will inevitably resurface during arguments and will generally play havoc on your relationship fulfilment, especially regarding trust issues. If you leave your partner but never let go of the emotional trauma, it will actually carry on into future relationships, once again regarding trust issues.
Cheating, just like any other past event does not matter NOW! It also does not change you as a person in any way. In many cases, it doesn’t even change the relationship in any way (hence why a lot of men and women can get away with affairs for so long before being found out), so remember to treat infidelity for what it is, make your decision on how to deal with it and then graciously move on in your mind. 🙂
Well Sam, I have to say that I was quite worried when I read this title but suffice to say it all made sense when I read this wonderful article.
I have had to deal with an unfaithful partner in the past (he was my fiance at the time which may have made it worse) and I did not deal with it well at all. You made some great points in this article and I loved reading this.
All the best
Thankyou for your kind words about the article!
Yes everyone has had times in the past where they didn’t necessarily act in the best way (I have loads myself) but the key thing is using them to learn from, so if a similar thing ever happens again, we can deal with it in a more favourable way. 🙂
Thanks for your comment,
Hey..Interesting article. I want to comment on the ways one might be ‘unfaithful’. It seems to me that many people focus on the sex act as the ultimate sign of unfaithfulness. I always thought that if I was going to find out my husband had cheated I’d prefer just sex as opposed to knowing he’d developed an emotional attachment.. It is precisely the emotional piece, like coffee together every morning or constant long ‘friendly’ emails that I worried about. He didn’t see that as being ‘unfaithful’!!
I agree with your assessment that there are always underlying issues. I don’t have a need- unfortunately- to worry about communication and clarification of a relationship right now. But when I get there again I will be mindful of your advice.
Yes I definitely agree… Many times the emotional bond is far worse and drunken one-night stands seem somewhat easier to justify than a lengthy affair. The only problem with emotional bonding is it is so hard to quantify… Is a flirty “hello” with the receptionist each day at work too much for example? This is where trusting your partner comes into play.
I for one am not ashamed that I ‘flirt’ with a lot of women that I meet (especially when I am teaching students privately)… It has become part of my character and Heidi accepts this. However, there are never any underlying connotations and I would never let it go any further than that, always letting it be known I am in a relationship where appropriate.
Thanks for your comment,
Great article mate.
I have experience of being cheated on and not only did I react really badly and said some horrible things to my ex gf, I also emailed nasty things to her friends and family which I also really regret as I was really tight with them all. Now they wont speak to me. 🙁
Wish I had read this article and the one you linked to back then but I tell you it wont happen again.
Yes, although getting some sort of revenge can feel relieving at the time, it is almost always regretted further down the line. It’s great that you’ve learnt from the situation and who’s to say you can’t rekindle some of the friendships over time. 🙂
Thanks for your comment,
Each article I have read is very well written and to the point. I would also like to state, not only are the articles well written, but the lay-out of your site is excellent. I was able to navigate from article to article and find what I was looking for with ease. Keep up the great work you are doing, and I will return many times in the near future.
Thanks a lot… I appreciate the feedback! 🙂
i love these articles they really make sense thank you so much =] i’ve just had trust issues because my gf has cheated on me before and now she says she doesn’t want to be that girl anymore. i want to trust her really badly but it seems like there will always be a little part of me that doubts her….i love her so much and i want to trust her again, but i dont know how to be sure she wont do it again, any advice?
Hi Sam, I’m glad you like the articles, thanks for reading! 🙂
Trusting someone who has betrayed you in the past is always the most difficult test of trust. The main thing to ensure is that the relationship is actually different than it was when she cheated before. This includes both practical aspects of the relationship and also each of your renewed attitudes.
Your girlfriend having cheated in the past does not necessarily mean she is more likely to cheat again. In fact, sometimes regret and guilt actually makes someone who has cheated less likely to cheat again.
The key is to improve your communication and understanding of each other. This includes mutually knowing what the boundaries of the relationship are. As well as this, the most important thing is to not dwell on the past and to make sure that the relationship is consistently fun and fulfilling now.
If you check out some of the ‘related posts’ just beneath the above article, each one of them discusses your situation in more depth.
Thanks for reading the website,
this is the kind of positive article which makes me see the situation for what it really is. I have literally just been hit with the massive shock of my girlfriend of 1 and a half years telling me she had slept with someone else. The last month has been a hard one to deal with. The first 6 months of our relationship were amazing as they usually are. But once we moved in together things got bad, really bad. Looking back on it now i can see that a lot of the arguments were my fault, i became selfish, arrogant and controlling taking this lovely girl for granted. However we would always have that special connection which we knew was there but i admit i became sloppy, let my guard down and made her eventually snap. The sex had almost completely stopped barely making once a week. A month ago she reunited with old friends who showed her the light as it were and showed her there was more to life than being dependant on me. She did tell me she wanted time apart and to move out so i did the right thing and didn’t fight it as i knew if i did it would cause even more problems. This is when i took a long hard look at the past and realised what an idiot i had been and took steps to change. She was weak to still keep in contact with me and during this time of not knowing what she wanted she had met someone who was there for her and took advantage by getting her drunk and sleeping with her. She denied it at first but because i found some suspicious texts on her phone i kind of knew so pursued the truth. Anyway i believe that by taking positive steps to change the way i became, she has made up her mind that she is prepared to start a fresh and doesn’t want anyone else apart from the guy she first fell in love with for the first 6 months of our relationship. I have thought about taking 99% percent of other peoples advice and walking away from a cheat but i believe if i did i would regret it because i brought this whole mess on myself. Its just painful to know it had to take something like this to happen for me to realise.
I agree that most people have predetermined views on these topics, but the truth is that no one outside the relationship knows the true intricacies behind what happened and the extent of the bond you both share. It’s great that you can calmly analyse everything and make a rational decision. The relationship can definitely work once more if you both make the changes required and have the right mindset towards what has happened and how you want the relationship to be from now on.
It sounds like you have discussed and started implementing some of those changes already, so I wish you all the best in both putting the episode behind you and enjoying the relationship as it should have been. 🙂
Thanks for writing,
Over the past year my girlfriend and i have been on a rollercoaster ride. We first started talk on Aug, 24 2010. At that time she had just very recently broken up with her boyfriend of 1 and a half years. We became very close and developed a strong bond. However, she still loved her ex boyfriend. They had dated off and on for the first 4 momths of her and i “talking” i caught her numerous times on her cell phone talking to him about meeting him somewhere or whatever. They had actually been dating while we were having sex and talking so she was cheating on him with me. After telling her that i was finished with dealing with that crap she finally gave in and stayed with me. For 6 months we were steadily dating with no influences by her ex. Then in May of 2011 she had left her facebook up one day and had left for work. I wasnt trying to be nosy but i couldnt resist so i looked through her messages and found some suspicous activity between her and yet another male. I confronted her about it and she pretty much left me for 2 months because i had been nosy. Now we are back together and every time we are together i cant help myself but to bring up that other male that i caught her talking to and found out she met a few times in may (while we were together) she swears and cries that i have nothing to worry about but all my friends say if she left her first boyfriend then she will leave you. I really love her and have major major trust issues to the point where i have an exrtemely hard time trusting her in any stuation she is in that im not there. What do i do?
Trusting someone who doesn’t have a pristine track record takes a lot of effort and awareness. Note that it is first and foremost the relationship that determines someone’s trustworthiness and not the individual. As the above article states, cheating is circumstantial and rarely premeditated.
To gain a solid level of trust in this instance you want to start by creating a mutual understanding and empathy towards each other’s circumstances. Whilst you should respect your girlfriend’s privacy on things like Facebook, she should also be able to see your point of view. She should be able to share details about other friendships of hers where relevant, not to ease suspicions but because it is a normal thing to do in a respectful and honest relationship.
Getting to this level of mutual understanding will take some tact in how you discuss the issue. You don’t want to come across as insecure or suspicious but you want her to know that you won’t be taken advantage of. Keeping these sorts of discussions positive and solely for the benefit of the relationship as a whole is the tricky part. The important point to convey is that there is a big difference between privacy and secrecy in a relationship. I assume that you would trust your girlfriend having privacy if you weren’t influenced by her tendency towards secrecy.
Try to avoid any blame or criticism and keep things in the perspective of making the relationship as happy and fulfilling as possible. Ultimately, it is both your responsibilities to solve any trust issues: her by respecting your feelings and any cautiousness you might express, and you by giving her the opportunity to be fully trusted once more.
I hope that helps and thanks for writing,
My girlfriend and I have been together for over a year now and are very much in love. She’s my best friend and no one knows me better it seems. We were together for about 11 months when she started being very strange and seemed be avoiding visits to or from me (we attend separate universities in the same state) then one weekend she was going home and so was I and when I told her of this she became angry and told me not to. Later she told me she was going camping and her ex was going I found out, needless to say she cheated on me that night. She didn’t tell me until three days later when we were both back at our respective colleges. She then broke up with me and dated this guy for two months until they got into a fight and he ended it with her. She then came back to me and I took her back but ever since I’ve noticed I completely do not trust her even though I try very hard and it’s spawned a lot of grief. I can’t stop thinking about how long the cheating had been going on or if this was even the first time, it’s even caused me to doubt the strength of her feelings for me. I was not an insecure person before, in fact I have been the opposite, but this has completely destroyed not only my trust for her, but my self confidence. She says she just wants to forget it and never talk about it but I just can’t. I know I shouldn’t pound it over her head but I can’t get it off my mind all of the time because it truly crushed me. I never even imagined this could happen, not for a second. Just a week prior to her cheating she had been with me and we had had a great weekend, I had even seen a text message that she left open on the dresser to her best friend saying that our relationship was “Magnificent. Never been better, honestly”. What do I do? I don’t want this to ruin our relationship.
Trust issues can either be general and irrational, or specific and rational. In your case you have every right to feel wounded and cautious, not due to the act of your girlfriend cheating, but due to the misrepresentation and secrecy that occurred.
For your relationship to work this time around there needs to be a clear and mutual understanding about where you both stand and what is assumed of each other. The relationship will only be different this time around if you both MAKE it different. As the above article discusses, cheating does not matter as long as you understand why it happened and as a result, why it won’t happen again! However much you or your girlfriend want to ignore what happened and revert to an amorous relationship, fundamental aspects of the relationship have temporarily changed.
If your girlfriend genuinely wants this relationship to work this time around, she should understand the part she played before, how it affected you and what is expected of her now. Forgo any talk of who was to blame (it doesn’t matter) but try to understand together how you want the relationship to be now.
All of this can be discussed without conveying personal weakness, which will cause her to lose both attraction and respect. Try and separate trust and self-esteem as best you can. As I mentioned, this is a specific case and it is your trust for your girlfriend that we are focusing on, not your trust for people in general.
True forgiveness stems from empathy, understanding and self-respect. Since you have been through part of that process with your girlfriend already, you should hopefully be able to more quickly notice any aspects of the relationship that require attention and effort from now on.
In a situation such as yours, it is important that your girlfriend knows that you are back with her not because you are a sucker, but because you trust that your relationship will be even better than it ever was, not through hope, but through relationship proficiency and effort.
Until you truly forgive her and realise that what happened did so for a reason, you will find it very hard to trust her again and focus on making the relationship perfect.