Why Spouses Cheat ...by Stan Hyman, PhD, LCSW
Most spouses or partners are completely unprepared emotionally when an affair is discovered. The shock is often so profound that they become paralyzed, unable to process just how terrible they really feel. The despair is so deep that it is akin to the sudden death of a loved one.
One wonders how such a thing is even possible. How can a husband, wife or lover whom you have trusted with your deepest feelings betray or cheat on you? Did you miss something? Were there signs that you chose to neglect? Is it your fault? What is it that causes a partner to become unfaithful and go outside of the relationship?
Clues are often overlooked
These are some of the questions the hurt spouse will ask him/herself. At first it may seem almost incomprehensible that such a thing could happen. At first the hurt spouse might even say that there were no clues, no indication that things weren’t right; that the unfaithful spouse was dissatisfied or unhappy.
What often emerges however, after the hurt spouse has had some time to reflect, is a different picture of how things actually were in the relationship. The marriage, perhaps idealized by the hurt spouse, had flaws. There may have been distance, disconnection and monotony. There may have been days, weeks or even months without true affection, meaningful conversations or shared joy. There may have been reasons that were overlooked.
To better understand infidelity and the reasons partners become unfaithful the University of Chicago took surveys of partners over a period of about 12 years. (1990-2002). Although reasons vary from person to person, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that dissatisfaction in the marriage (relationship), and/or in oneself is the overriding issue and the number one reason given for infidelity or cheating.(See my Newsletter on How To Stay Together).
Relationships, like so many things, start off with the best of intentions. There are great expectations and the hope that each partner will be able to continue to fulfill those expectations even as the marriage goes through life’s transitions. When needs are not being met and one partner feels like the other does not value them the scene is set for a potential infidelity.
What leads to betrayal or cheating?
Communication is constricted or even halted. Meaningful conversations no longer take place. One partner may feel the need to talk while the other just shuts down. A pattern can then develop that causes this dysfunctional trend to take hold and become the norm.
Separate lives. Perhaps both partners simply drift apart and “do their own thing”. They may take separate vacations, have friends the other partner knows nothing about and learn to enjoy themselves as if they were single.
Poor intimacy. Partners may feel emotionally disconnected, not feeling the loving support of the other. Sex is uninteresting and infrequent. Neither partner takes the responsibility to make the necessary changes to improve this aspect of the relationship.
Hostility, resentment or anger. Partners may harbor resentment and not be willing to process or understand it. Instead they let negative feelings fester and become toxic. Both partners seem to forget that they are “on the same team” and treat each other like adversaries rather than teammates.
Not focusing on the relationship. Spending most of one’s time and energy on other things like children, work, friends or hobbies, often leaves little time for a love partner. Once a spouse develops the habit of choosing other activities at the expense of the relationship, there is likely to be a higher risk of dissatisfaction.
Boredom. The excitement that once stimulated the relationship is gone and neither spouse is trying hard enough to restore it. This could be just downright laziness or an unwillingness to consider that one’s spouse might look elsewhere for love and excitement.
Other reasons that unfaithful spouses have given for their infidelity or cheating vary. They can include: financial pressures, jealousy of the other spouse, fear of growing old and feeling trapped. These are personal issues that, if the relationship were sound, could very well have been worked out without resorting to infidelity.
The best deterrent to infidelity is creating a healthy marriage/relationship where needs are being met and the couple enjoys each other’s friendship. In this type of environment each partner can speak freely and be heard by the other. If you think there is a problem with your relationship don't wait until it's too late! If you can't change things on your own then get professional help.