For so many thousands of years, infidelity has been so closely linked to immorality that it’s difficult to have a conscious conversation about it. It is such a hot button subject that you can almost feel the hair standing up on people’s arms when the subject even comes up.
For those of us who have been cheated on, the experience of being cheated on causes wounds that leave us bitter and distrusting. For those of us who have cheated on our partner, the experience of cheating makes us feel ashamed of ourselves and condemned. Hardly anything else that we can do to each other creates more relationship insecurity. We walk into all subsequent relationships with that relationship insecurity. And the biggest part of that relationship insecurity is that we do not understand what causes people to cheat. Knowing what causes people to cheat, allows us to understand what we can do to prevent it.
I am going to progress throughout the rest of this video with the assumption that cheating means two people have both previously agreed to an exclusive romantic and sexual relationship and thus cheating is a betrayal of that agreement.
Most of us get into relationships because we desire to feel the security and consistency of connection. We often call this love. Also, many of our emotional needs are satisfied by having this consistent, secure connection. In order to feel loved, we have to see that these emotional needs are being considered and consistently met by our partner. Sorry to break it to you, you are not a one-person show. Many of the emotional needs you have, require another person or thing to be in relationship to, regardless of what you’ve been taught by spiritual people who profess the highly wounded egoic idea of being all things unto yourself.
This is a bit tricky because some of our emotional needs seem contradictory. For example, we have the need for autonomy and also the need for unity. And so much of the struggle in relationships is in fact about this conflict between seemingly opposing needs. To understand more about this, watch my video on YouTube titled: “I Can Have Me and I Can Have You Too”.
We have been telling the lie that cheating is all about poor self-control or about lust. Well guess what? Cheating is not about those things at all. We’ve been telling the lie that if a person loves you, they will never ever cheat on you and so if they cheat, it’s because they don’t love you. Again, this is not true at all. To understand more about this concept, watch my video on YouTube titled: “Endurism”. We’ve been telling the story that the person who cheats is the bad guy and the person who is cheated on is the victim. Again, this is not the full picture. So, knowing that everything we’ve been telling ourselves about cheating is a lie, what is the truth about cheating?
We cheat because our emotional needs aren’t being met in our current relationship. It is literally as simple as that. For example, one person may feel like they are losing themselves in a relationship and so they need to feel a sense of their own autonomy. By cheating, they are able to feel sovereign and strengthen their sense of separate self. Or another person might start to feel lonely and worthless in a relationship. By cheating, they are able to feel attractive and thus better about themselves and also feel the emotional connection they are being starved of by their partner. Knowing that cheating is a way of getting emotional needs met, it is easy then to see how cheating could become chronic or habitual. It could turn into an addiction such as sex and love addiction or porn addiction to help someone escape their feeling of inner emptiness and isolation. For more information about this, watch my video on YouTube titled: “How To Overcome Porn Addiction”.
Look back at the situations you’ve been involved in relative to cheating and try to see what unmet need you were trying to meet by cheating. Here’s an example. I remember cheating on a guy when I was teenager. At this time, he was a golden child who had everything good in life and loved life and I was the black sheep who couldn’t stop being hurt and who hated life. I began to feel less and less understood by him. My need to feel understood and seen and heard and felt turned into isolation every time he’d tell me to just lighten up and tell me I was just too negative. Eventually, I met a guy in anger management class who was an orphan and obviously in pain. He hated life just as much as I did because life treated him bad too. I ended up cheating on my boyfriend (even though I loved him more than anything) with this new guy because doing so, made me feel seen and heard and understood and as if I actually had some company where I was at. It made my sense of isolation disappear for a time. My needs were not being met within the relationship I had previously committed to.
I also remember being cheated on in my 20s. I was in a really dark space at the time and I had a habit of criticizing my partners. Gradually, the guy I was with started to feel less and less respected by me. His self-esteem went way down when he was with me. Eventually, he cheated on me. And years later he confessed that he just felt like he needed to feel respected and good about himself. He cheated on me with a girl who felt “over the moon excited” to be with him. He didn’t love her, but she showered him with compliments. His needs were not being met within the relationship.
I will say it again; cheating rarely has anything at all to do with loving or not loving a person. It has to do with emotional needs not being met. Does this mean cheating is good? Again, this is a debate over right and wrong or good and bad, which is futile. I’d rather say cheating is best avoided because it hurts both people. It causes suffering to the cheater and the cheated on. But so does just putting up with your needs not being met consistently. This is endurism. And there is something you can do to prevent both cheating and relationship endurism. That thing, is communicating.
Cheating does not happen in an atmosphere of effective communication. We need to become aware of what our needs are (especially the ones that are going unmet) and we need to voice our needs to our partner. We need to become aware of our partner’s needs (especially the ones that are going unmet) and from there, we need to discuss a way to meet both our needs and our partner’s needs within the context of the relationship. We need to have these crucial conversations the minute that the warning signs come up. And guess what, we need to be tuned into our partner enough to notice these warning signs. Also, communication doesn’t just happen in the form of talking.
In partnerships, we make bids for affection. For example, we may inch up close to our partner or crack a joke or do their laundry or do any number of things that essentially say, “I want to connect”. We often totally miss these bids. If we do notice them, we either intentionally ignore them, turn against them or turn towards them. Let’s say our partner buys us flowers as a bid for connection. We could ignore the bid completely and not acknowledge the flowers. We could turn against the bid by getting angry at him for doing it. Or we could turn towards the bid by thanking him for it and admiring the flowers. We have a way of telling our partners about our unmet needs through these bids. The relationships that make it, are the ones where partners notice and turn towards their partner’s bids.
I will warn you that sometimes, when we are open about our needs within a relationship, we find that our values are incompatible. For example, one person needs and values openness and the other needs and values privacy. This incompatibility makes a relationship not possible because there is no reasonable way to meet one partner’s needs in a way that feels comfortable to the other. We get to choose at this point to sacrifice our needs and values for the sake of the relationship (I have never seen this work long term) or break up.
If a partner is not willing to try to make the relationship work by finding ways to meet your needs and by voicing their needs, you are in an abusive or a one sided relationship and this also means you are with a partner who is not committed and is therefore not workable and you need to consider breaking up. I realize this is easier said than done. But you cannot have a need and not meet that need. To understand more about this, watch my YouTube video titled: “Meet Your Needs.”
All this being said, the vast majority of the time we will find that our needs and values are in fact compatible and there are ways to meet both partner’s needs within the relationship so both partners feel fulfilled and secure. And we need to have this conversation and keep on having it way before cheating presents itself as an option. Cheating is a last resort in relationships. It usually means the emotional tension has been high and people have been dissatisfied in the relationship for a really long time. Keep in mind that fidelity itself is a big issue in relationships and we often walk into relationships assuming we have the same definition of infidelity, when we do not. So this is also a conversation we need to have with our partner before entering into relationships. To understand more about this, watch my YouTube video titled: “Fidelity and Infidelity in Relationships”. When our needs aren’t being met, we tend to be less vocal instead of more vocal and this is the same as signing a relationship death warrant.
You need to know yourself in order to communicate yourself to your partner. Let’s assume you had to give a speech all about slime mold today on the spot. Chances are you’d be a terrible communicator about slime mold because you don’t know the first thing about it. So become an expert on yourself. Become an expert on your desires, your values, your needs, your truths and your authentic self. Then share these things with your partner. Your partner wants this information. Chances are what is driving them crazy is the confusion that is coming as a result of not knowing these things. And if you need help having this conversation, involve a trusted third party to do so. Choose someone who is not going to be biased towards one person’s needs or another, but who is instead going to help you communicate both your needs and find a way where you can meet them collectively.
The betrayal of cheating may not be justified. It is still the person’s choice to take the action, instead of to communicate their needs and figure out either how to meet them, or how to end the relationship. But knowing that unmet needs are the motivators for cheating helps us to know what we need to be continually focused on and fine-tune in our relationship so we can create an atmosphere of relationship security instead of emotional unsafety.