Why do people cheat? It’s a question that I get asked a lot and why I’ve decided to answer this letter…
A Reader Writes…
I want to thank you for your help you give to people. Ok, no “hinting around the bush” as yes I’m the people pleasing, conflict avoiding, passive-aggressive, nice guy, cheating husband. I put that out there because I’m tired of being all of them! In fact, the cheating part happens as I seem to get an alternate ego of an over confident womanizer when the military ships me different places for training or a mission (basically away from my wife).
I have been married for 16 years and at this moment I’m in a remote location, unaccompanied and seem to enjoy being “single”. I have had a history of infidelity (not all sexual but realized the emotional are as powerful) and figured it is better to divorce as I am not happy and assumed my wife wasn’t either (which isn’t true as I found out at the beginning of December after dropping the D-bomb).
I look back and realize I cared for her in the beginning but not loved. To make matters worst, I just had a month long affair with a younger woman. So would divorce be a good idea as I don’t want to be married and have messed up the intimacy/trust? She says she still loves me no matter what I tell her or try to push her away. Thanks!
I have a lot of admiration for the bravery of asking this question – lots of people just plough on regardless. Please remember this if I come across as critical. So let’s use your case to explain my Top 5 reasons behind ‘why do I cheat?’
1. There is no single cause of infidelity
You might like a simple answer like ‘I only cared but didn’t love my wife’ but it is never that straight forward. Even in your short letter, you give a second cause ‘conflict avoiding, people pleasing, passive aggressive’ behaviour. So I would want to know why you hate conflict so much and will go to even destructive lengths to avoid it? I bet it’s down to your childhood. I’d also like to know why you find intimacy so difficult (and probably frightening). When it comes to infidelity, there is a term that we use in therapy ‘overdetermined’ – which means a single behaviour has multiple causes.
2. It’s more about you than your partner
We don’t like to look at all the dark stuff hidden in our closets (like our mother and father didn’t always have our best interests in mind) and would much rather turn the spotlight on someone else. Guess who we chose? Our partner! That’s because it’s easy to say ‘you didn’t love me enough’ or ‘you weren’t right for me’ because our culture is very pro-divorce but criticising our mothers (even for a second) is almost akin to blasphemy. However, I don’t want to blame mothers (or fathers) because I don’t think blame is helpful but I do want to encourage you to have the courage to take a long look inside and ask: how did I become the person I am today? Infidelity always says more about us than our partner.
3. You want a quick fix
You’re bored, you’re lonely and you’re a long way from home. Instead of doing the hard work, finding interests to occupy you, learning to cope with your own company etc. You go for a quick fix because the attention of another woman will make you feel better for probably a whole five minutes (but you feel guilty afterwards and she starts to have ‘expectations’ and before long it’s a horrible mess). It would be much better to address the communication issues so you could talk to your wife when you’re unhappy about something, discuss it and come to some compromise – rather than smiling on the surface, getting angry and feeling justified to have another round of cheap sex. Although, changing and learning is difficult it does break the pattern and I believe that you can use the courage it took to write this letter to start this process.
4. You believe in the power of love or sex
In fairy tales, films and pop songs, love will always save the day. So if there is something wrong with your relationship, it’s not because you don’t have the skills to communicate properly and sort out your differences, it’s because you’re ‘wrong’ for each other. We’re back to the quick fix, so you go out and find someone else. Simple! Sorted! There’s a similar message being repeated over and over again in pornography and that’s ‘the perfect orgasm’ will save you, make you feel better and give your life meaning. However, because all problems are over-determined and have multiple causes, the perfect pussy (for men) or the big strong arms around you (for women) is not going to be enough on its own. Sadly, instead of realising this, we go for a bigger fix instead – in the hope of getting more power from sex. In your case, going for a much younger woman.
5. There’s personal work to be done
This is the good news. You can change, you don’t need to have to an alternate ego and keep on hating yourself. It’s why I’ve written a new book called ‘Wake Up and Change Your Life’ where I explain how to stop living on auto-pilot and to look deeper at what’s really going on. You’re in the fortunate position where your wife still wants to be part of your life, I think you should use her support to see if you can behave differently in this relationship and become the sort of man that you’d been proud to be.
Why do I cheat? It’s just one of the topics covered in my book Wake up and Change Your Life: How to Survive a Crisis and Be Stronger, Wiser and Happier.
I’m seeing a married woman, started out as emotional now physical. She cannot except the fact, when asked, what would she do if her husband also was having an affair? It’s ok for her, but not for him, I just don’t get it, help!
Andrew G. Marshall says
People who are having affairs live in sealed compartments. What happens in affair world, does not have any impact on her other life: husband, children, parents etc. Obviously, this is untrue and when they find out – because they always do – her life will descend into chaos. You also need to think about what will happen at this point too. Do you want to be sucked into the maelstrom of unhappiness, guilt and shame? Would you be better of finding someone who is available for a relationship? If she has children, do you want to be seen by them as the ‘baddie’ who ended their parents marriage and have sulky and disruptive kids visiting every fortnight – plus a woman who feels so guilty for leaving their father than she will let them get away with blue murder?
So… pretty much: I’ve always considered myself a cold person. I feel that i’m not a fighter and when things get complicated, I prefer the easiest way out. For so long I’ve accused my bf of 8 years of cheating and ended up doing it myself. Even after that, it felt like I didn’t do it and at some moments like he deserved it for causing me insecurities in the first place. After 3 years of feeling like I never cheated, when faced with proof that my bf really loved me and had never cheated, I immediately spilled it out and told him what I had done because i realized I had been unfair to him. Pretty much, I just transferred my burden to him immediately. He loves me and wants to continue our relationship together. Logically, I should feel happy but I don’t. It all feels like a burden to me: his suffering, his sleepless nights, my guilt, my understanding of being a shi**y person. I feel like him still wanting to be with me and me having to face myself, is my true punishment. I feel like if he would have broken up with me, it would have been much easier for me. I don’t know what to think about myself and what to do. I don’t know how to categorize myself: narcissist? sociopath? depressed? selfish? I’ve never hurt anyone intentionally and never wanted too. I feel and I accept that I have issues with responsibilities. Looking forward to any advice or suggestion. I’m 26.
Andrew G. Marshall says
I think you sound like a regular human being – rather than a sociopath or narcissit. We all look for the easiest way through a problem and put ourselves first (and forget or conveniently overlook the impact of our behaviour on other people). Fortunately, you’ve been given a wonderful chance by your boyfriend to learn from your experiences (rather than run away). So I would grab it with both hands, learn to accept your feelings (rather than label with them) and change what you don’t like. Have a look at my book ‘Wake Up and Change Your Life)
This letter sums up my husband to a T. He is passive aggressive, completely avoids conflict, has a dominant, controlling, passive aggressive mother, and refuses to acknowledge her bad behavior. Woe to the person who speaks badly about his family. (His father was a “dirty old man”, too, but he says that was harmless.)
And so, I live with a man who, for 32 years, has pursued other women in one way or another and chides me for not being able to “adjust”.
Oh, and as for compartmentalization, yep! Master of compartmentalization.
Andrew G. Marshall says
Glad the letter helped focus your mind, the important question to ask yourself is: what are you going to next?
What if there hasn’t been a Discovery… although an affair has occurred. Should one always be honest and tell one’s partner?
I told my husband ILYB about two years ago. He was very upset initially but has never really made any effort to really understand what went wrong. I was reading some threads there and was struck by the men who immediately sought self help books. I think that my husband believes that its all my fault and he doesn’t have any responsibility in any of this. Help?
Andrew G. Marshall says
Great question. However, to answer it properly, I’ve decided to write a whole post. It’s called ‘Should I confess my affair?’I have three reasons not to tell and five reasons for being honest. Hope it helps