Why do people “cheat” on their partners? Pretty loaded question, that. While this post will tackle the subject from an intellectual perspective, a high percentage of adults (myself included) have direct, and therefore a subjective/emotional experience of this widespread reality.
Stats vary quite widely but the median indicates that over 50% of both men and women–at least those who’ve participated in surveys about infidelity–have been unfaithful at some point in their lives (men 57%, women 54%).
What gives? Since it’s pretty rampant, lots of ink has been devoted to the topic, ranging from the sensationalistic (think Cosmopolitan magazine) to the more psychologically oriented (Psychology Today). Given the near parity across the gender line, it’s clear that both sexes are looking for something outside their relationships in roughly equal numbers.
Let’s take the example of a married man–hell, let’s even give him a couple of young kids–who comes on to female coworker, much to her dismay since she’s a) not interested and b) feels the experience is more proof of her theory that men simply can’t be trusted.
Why would the guy do this? Well, while it’s likely that he finds his coworker attractive, there are probably hundreds if not thousands of possible specific, detailed “reasons,” with dissatisfaction or unhappiness the root cause of the vast majority of them. Even if you advance the idea that the guy’s self-sabotaging/self-destructive, why is he that way? More likely than not because he’s unhappy or dissatisfied.
A closer look at “unhappy or dissatisfied” is necessary here. Someone who is either of these things could be 1) individually unfulfilled or dissatisfied with their life and generally satisfied with their partner and relationship, 2) individually fulfilled and satisfied but unhappy or dissatisfied with their partner, or 3) individually unfulfilled/dissatisfied and unhappy/dissatisfied with their partner.
In the case of #1, someone who’s unfulfilled in their own life may very well look outside of themselves hoping someone else will provide that sense of happiness and fulfillment. While they may be satisfied with their current relationship, they may simultaneously feel that someone else might “make them happier.” Truth be told this dynamic probably applies to a seriously high percentage of the planet’s adult population whose basic needs for food, shelter, etc. are met and who are in a relationship. So, unwilling (typically subconsciously) to take responsibility for their own contentment/fulfillment/happiness, they look to others to provide it.
In our example, the guy probably feels his wife is no longer “making him happy.” As long as he continues to look outside of himself instead of within for his happiness and fulfillment, he’ll never enjoy an Everything relationship. Without making that inner change, he could successfully woo his coworker, fall for her and vice versa, leave his wife and marry her…and then find himself contemplating repeating the cycle after the novelty and excitement of the new relationship wear off and he again feels unhappy/dissatisfied.
With respect to #2, this is someone who’s individually fulfilled and happy but feels their relationship is lacking and probably doesn’t have the potential to improve. Those in this category remain in their relationships for reasons like financial security, fear of the unknown (better the devil you know than the one you don’t…), fear of being alone, the misguided sense that staying in a relationship you and very possibly your partner are unhappy with is “best for the kid/s,” and the equally misguided sense that ending the relationship would be more hurtful to their partner than ending it and giving everyone a chance at a better reality. Rather than being willing to throw “everything” away by having an affair, those in this category are actually hoping to find their relationship Everything. If they were enjoying Everything already they wouldn’t be making sexual/romantic overtures to others, or accepting them. It’s as simple as that.
#3 is pretty self-explanatory. Someone in this situation is individually unhappy and unfulfilled and dissatisfied with their relationship. The old adage “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” speaks to this person.
While the above suggests relationship satisfaction and longevity are probably the exception more than the rule, given the general amount of dissatisfaction floating around these days, as mentioned above there is one type of person who wouldn’t consider cheating on their partner, and probably only one type of person: someone who’s in an Everything relationship.
Those lucky enough to have found their True Love and Everything fully feel that there is literally nothing more they could possibly want from a romantic partner. Every aspect of an Everything relationship fires on all cylinders with a constant twin-turbo boost. The upshot: no one in an Everything relationship would be unfaithful to their partner. Under any circumstances. Including any scenario where there’s no way their partner would ever find out about their infidelity.
The words used to describe the act of a romantic partner looking outside their relationship for something more are primarily pejorative: Cheating, Betrayal, Infidelity, Unfaithfulness. While the act undoubtedly may cause one’s partner pain and sadness, I’m wholeheartedly of the opinion that staying in the relationship causes much greater pain and sadness, as continuing to exist in a non-Everything relationship denies everyone a chance at a better reality. So it’s wrong to paint the person who chooses to look outside a non-Everything relationship for their chance at Everything in a wholly negative light, since they are acting in the best interests of everyone involved.
Ideally when someone comes to the realization that their current relationship isn’t their Everything and never will be, they decisively and compassionately bring that relationship to a conclusion, after which they’re free and clear to pursue their Everything. When that ideal doesn’t happen, it’s typically because the person looking outside their current situation is impacted by fear, as covered a few paragraphs earlier.
But having the awareness that your current relationship isn’t and won’t ever be your Everything yet remaining in it, that’s a decision that deserves the pejorative “cheating,” as you are actively cheating your partner, yourself, and any children you and your partner have together out of a better reality. While the ideal “better reality” would of course be an Everything relationship, in actuality even being alone for a while, perhaps taking the time to define what your Everything relationship specifically looks like, is better than remaining in a non-Everything relationship–for all concerned.
None of this means that I condone stepping out on one’s partner. What I condone and encourage is not dragging out a non-Everything relationship out of fear. If you are certain you don’t and never will have Everything with your current partner, compassionately, lovingly bring the relationship to a close so that they, any children you have together, and you yourself can connect with a better reality.