“How could someone I loved and trusted betray me in such a hurtful way? That’s the most common statement that comes up when I’m treating a client that’s struggling with an unfaithful partner. There’s usually not only a sense of anger and upset, but also total disbelief,” says Dr Seema Hingorani, a Mumbai–based clinical psychologist with almost two decades of experience in psychotherapy.
The emotional aftermath of infidelity is similar to the stages of grief in many ways. First of all, there’s a sense of shock that the person who you loved the most even thought of betraying you and perhaps even denial as you deal with the fact that it actually happened. Then, pain and anger follow—blaming yourself, picking up fights with loved ones and eventually finding it hard to trust people. Ultimately it all boils down to one simple question: Why do people cheat? Turns out, it’s not so simple after all, there are several layers to the real reason why someone decides to cheat in a relationship.
Why did your partner cheat on you?
They want to escape
“Sometimes people who aren’t emotionally satisfied go around looking for multiple partners. They usually attract partners that are dysfunctional, which is why these affairs don’t last long. The person starts seeking comfort in unknown faces—this could be as a response to unresolved childhood trauma.” says Dr Hingorani. “You would be surprised to know that infidelity is very common in people, who had parents that cheated. It’s not something genetic, but it’s a pattern children can learn to follow,” she adds. This could also be because their current relationship problems have gotten so out of hand that they feel the need to escape.
They may have low self-esteem
Personal insecurities are one of the major reasons behind infidelity. Low self-esteem can cause people to be very dependent on the attention of others—and in some cases, the attention of just one person isn’t enough. “People feel good about themselves after cheating with someone younger. This somehow helps them prove that they’re still good enough to attract young, eligible partners. The main reason behind doing this is satisfying one’s ego and boosting their self esteem. It temporarily makes them feel good about themselves but that feeling doesn’t last for long, so they have to do it again.” Dr Hingorani adds.
They fear lifelong commitment
“Sometimes your partner will cheat on you when you least expect it. This mainly falls into two timeframes—right before getting married and right after finding out that they’re going to become a parent,” says Dr Hingorani. But aren’t people supposed to feel secure in their relationship during such important milestones in their life? Research says that the fear of lifelong commitment can lead to people rejecting their responsibilities and ultimately stepping out. Cases like these are mostly about seeking temporary pleasure and often end up in one-night stands.
They might be addicted to sex
According to National Health Service, UK, some people may have a dependency on sex and sexual activity to numb any negative emotions and difficult experiences. This starts off harmlessly in the beginning and can even strengthen your relationship as you start having more physical intimacy together. But a lot of times it can get out of control, ultimately turning into an addiction. This can lead the addicted partner to engage in sexual activity with multiple people as one person is not enough to fulfill their urges.
They don’t love you anymore
Either this or they feel that you don’t love them like you used to. If your love language is different to your partners, that can leave you feeling unloved, and potentially more open to the affections of someone who seems to understand you better. As people grow old, their needs and wants are constantly changing. And sometimes even in the sturdiest relationships, people tend to fall out of love. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing something wrong, it might just be because the both of you are naturally drifting away.
What to do if you or your partner keeps cheating?
“First of all, you should know that it’s not okay to cheat on someone you love,” says Dr Hingorani. Regardless of the reasons, you should immediately inform your partner because secrets like these can only make it worse. You don’t want them to find out through a third party. “Under no circumstance should you force your partner to immediately forgive you or talk to you if they’re angry. Instead, talk to a friend or a therapist first. Relate why did you do it and try to understand the pattern. Just like an alcohol or drug addiction, we can get addicted to cheating and become dependent on strangers in order to achieve happiness. Ask yourself: Is it a continuous habit or just a one-night stand? Get a reality check, self-reflection is important. You have to get to the bottom of the problem before proceeding to solve it,” she adds.
Is it possible to stay together after an affair?
- According to a survey conducted by Health Testing Centers, Florida, USA, almost 16 percent of the couples decide to stay together even after finding out that one of them stepped out of the relationship.
- While it may be a relatively smaller number as compared to the 55 percent that break up immediately after the affair, this proves that there are still some people out there that are willing to forgive and make amends.
- Dr Hingorani says that couples therapy is the first step you should take if you decide to stay together after a life-altering incident like this. Even though it might be hard, you have to make your partner believe that you won’t hurt them again.
- Good communication is the key to solving a situation like this. You need to be completely transparent with them and realistically evaluate your chances of making it work.
- The worst thing you can do right now is to blame each other for what happened. “Healing and forgiveness is important, and even better if you do it in the presence of a therapist,” she adds.