Do you want to know how to stop yourself from cheating? Or prevent it from happening in the future? Check out 3 questions to help you and your partner(s) move forward from infidelity.
For our purposes, I’ll define “cheating” or infidelity as any breaking of emotional, physical, or social boundaries agreed upon by two or more partners. An important acknowledgment here: while this is largely aimed at monogamous relationships — infidelity is equally possible in polyamory or when practicing ethical non-monogamy.
The cultural messages about folks who engage in infidelity are frequently as severe as they are unhelpful. These messages can be reduced to a few:
“Once a cheater always a cheater.”
“If you really love someone you could never cheat.”
“People who cheat are bad.”
If you have been cheated on, we recommend you to read part one of this blog series on infidelity: How to Move Forward from Infidelity? With and Without Them.
Can Cheating Be Justified?
Now you might be asking yourself, “Is this therapist about to defend cheating?”
When we make commitments to others we should do our best to keep them. If we find that we cannot, then I think we should explicitly acknowledge this and renegotiate. Preferably before we cause our partner(s) tremendous pain.
Do I think infidelity is harmful and damaging? Yes. However, simply stating some variation of “cheaters are bad (forever)” isn’t enough for me.
I’m wary of moral essentialism at the best of times. More so when it stems from cultural norms that people are not allowed to question or negotiate, but are met with harsh and lasting judgment for failing to uphold. And to be clear, many people fail. Infidelity is notoriously hard to study because even in anonymous surveys people don’t want to admit to cheating, but studies range anywhere from one in ten people cheating to over half of all people in their lifetime.
I’ve worked with folks who are dispositionally poly but realize this only after “failing” at monogamy for years because they were never aware alternatives existed. I’ve worked with many folks, especially cis women, who were taught that needs around sex and intimacy were secondary — if they made the list at all — when selecting a partner. While personal choice plays a large role in infidelity, I think it warrants consideration of how social forces create the conditions that make it more likely.
So, without further soapboxing, here are some things to consider if you are the one who has engaged in infidelity. Specifically, to help you understand what happened and whether you can stop cheating in the future, so you and your partner(s) can have the best chances moving forward together or separately.
3 Questions to Help You Stop Cheating in Your Relationship
1. What emotional needs were you attempting to fulfill?
Many studies that address the causes of affairs are in agreement: physical infidelity, at least, is rarely about sex itself. Often it happens in response to an emotional disconnection between you and your partner(s). If this resonates: What factors created the disconnection? How will you address and bridge such disconnections in the future? Can you do the personal and couples work of addressing both the rupture and the relational challenges that preceded it?
2. What physical needs were you attempting to fulfill?
In the case that the affair was around sexual needs: What is the nature of this disconnection? Can it be renegotiated or addressed in the context of your current relationship? Are you and your partner(s) willing to work with a sex or couples therapist?
The need for sex and sexual novelty are valid needs. Frequently I see a knee-jerk reaction where the partner who cheated, in an attempt to salvage the relationship, makes a promise that is essentially an agreement to suppress sexual needs. Usually, it’s not stated explicitly but comes in the form of “having a moment of weakness” or “poor judgment” that will never happen again.
You’re probably making the above promise in good faith, but such needs cannot be suppressed forever. They won’t simply go away. To be clear, part of the challenge here is something I mentioned earlier: due to social and cultural norms, people may not feel that they’re allowed to have said needs or mistakenly believe that sex and intimacy or merely wants.
3. Is your current relationship architecture congruent with your needs and identity?
To be clear, this isn’t necessarily a push for polyamory or ethical non-monogamy. All relationship types require a high degree of trust, emotional intelligence, and skillful communication. However, sometimes the architecture of a relationship itself is a contributing factor to infidelity.
It’s important to engage in deep self-reflection here. Does the nature of your current relationship work for you? I would strongly encourage you to consider if the challenges around infidelity are partially based on a mismatch between your relationship’s format and what feels most authentic for you.
Working with a professional counselor for individual and relationship challenges can be a vital part to get over infidelity.
Marriage Counseling and Couples Therapy in Baltimore, MD
Have you been trying to stop cheating in your relationship? Do you want to know how you can prevent it from happening again? While an affair can cause tremendous pain, it doesn’t necessarily mean that cheaters are bad people or doomed forever.
Couples therapy can give you and your partner(s) the tools to overcome infidelity and build a new happier future (either together or apart). Our therapists at New Connections are experienced in working with couples toward healthy and stronger relationships. Contact us to know more!