Why do we cheat? Why do happy people cheat? What does infidelity mean to you? Why do we always think that Men cheat out of boredom and fear of intimacy, but women cheat out of hunger and desire for intimacy?
Esther Perel has been working with couples for 20+ years, and has seen many couples struggle with infidelity. Infidelity seems to be a hard topic that shatters many people and relationships. The famous Esther Perel challenges our assumptions and gives us a new perspective on both the position of the partner who’s cheated, and the partner who’s been cheated on. Infidelity is an act that is so commonly acted upon yet so widely misunderstood. This act has existed since the beginning of time and is the only commandment that is repeated twice in the Bible.
“How do we reconcile what is universally forbidden yet universally practiced?”
Throughout history, men who cheat have been defined in society by their evolutionary theories that drive their desire to roam. The pressure for men is to boast and exaggerate in the bedroom. The pressure for women in society is to hide, minimize and deny and their sexual desires. In the world there are still 9 countries where women can be killed for straying from their partner. Esther says, “before, monogamy used to mean one person for life. Now, monogamy means one person at a time.” We used to marry and have sex for first time, but now we marry and we stop having sex with others. Monogamy has nothing to do with love. Men used to rely on women’s fidelity in order to know whose children these are, and who gets the cows when they die. When marriage was an economic enterprise, infidelity threatened our economic security. But now that marriage is based on love, infidelity threatens our emotional security.
A question Esther commonly gets is “what percentage of people cheat?” Her answer is, “It depends”, because the definition of infidelity keeps on expanding. What constitutes cheating in one relationship is just a mother day in the park for another. Is it cheating to check out another person? What about watching porn or reading erotica? The answer can be anywhere from 26%-75%.
Esther likes this definition of infidelity: A secretive relationship, which is the core structure of an affair, an emotional connect to one degree or another, and a sexual alchemy. We live in a society where its never been easier to cheat and never been more difficult to keep a secret.
3 Ways Infidelity Hurts Differently Today:
- Romantic ideal, in which we turn to one person to fulfill an endless list of needs. We believe we are chosen, unique, indispensable, irreplaceable. Infidelity tells me I’m not; its the ultimate betrayal. It threatens our sense of self. A violation of trust. A crisis of identity.
- Discovering infidelity on technology. Finding your partner’s betrayal through photos, text messages, emails, etc. The vivid details your partner’s affair unfolding in real time. Esther calls infidelity in the media age is “ a death by a thousand cuts. “
- We rely on our partner’s fidelity with a unique server, but we’ve never had more desires to stray because we live in a culture where we deserve to fulfill our desires and be happy. Back then, we would divorce because unhappy, now we divorce because we could be happier. If divorce carried all the shame, today, choosing to stay, when you can leave, is the new shame.
So, if we can divorce, why do we still have affairs?
The typical assumption that if someone cheats there is either something wrong in your relationship, or there is something wrong with you. Millions of people can’t be pathological! The logic goes like this. If you have everything you have at home, there is no need to go searching elsewhere. What if passion has a finite shelf life? What if there are things that even a good relationship can provide?
If even happy people cheat, what is it about?
Most clients who see Esther for infidelity are people deeply invested in their monogamous ideas. However, one day they cross a line they never thought they would cross. Why? Affairs are betraying, but they are often a symptom of yearning and loss. A longing, and a yearning for an emotional connection, novelty, freedom, a wish to recapture lost parts of ourselves, to bring back vitality in the event of loss or tragedy. Oftentimes, someone who cheats is experiencing their affair as a symptom about something else going on in their life. When we seek the gaze of another, it isn’t always our partner we are turning away from. Rather, turning towards the person that we have ourselves become. It isn’t so much that we’re looking for another person, that we are looking for another self.
Death and mortality often raise the events of an affair, because they raise existential questions in us, like “Is this it?” “Is there more?” Affairs make us feel alive again. Some affairs are an attempt to beat back deadness; an antipode to death.
Affairs are way less about sex, and way more about desire. The very structure of an affair keeps you wanting due to the ambiguity, wanting what you can’t have.
Affairs happen in open-relationships too. The conversation about monogamy is not the same about the conversation about fidelity. We somehow seem to be lured by the power of the forbidden.
Esther tells her clients, that if they could just put a little bit of the boldness and ambition that they put into their affair into their relationship, then they would never have had to come see her in the first place.
So, how do we heal from an affair?
Desire runs deep. Betrayal runs deep. But it can be healed. Some affairs are “death nails for relationships that were dying on the vine.” But the majority of couples who experience affairs will be able to turn a crisis into an opportunity. Couples might be able to have deep and honest conversations that they haven’t been able to have in decades. There is something about loss and fearing loss that drives lust and desire.
Healing begins when the perpetrator acknowledges their wrong doing.
For the person who’s been cheated on, it is essential to do things that bring things a sense of self worth.
If you’re currently healing from an affair, ask investigative questions instead of ones that inflict more pain. Ask about motives, desires, values, wants in the relationship. Every affair will redefine a relationship, and every couple controls the legacy that they leave. Betrayal in a relationship comes in many forms. The victim of the affair is not always the victim of the marriage.
Esther is not pro-affair, but she does think good can come from it when it does happen. It can yield partners a new perspective and most can grow from it.
“Your first marriage is over. Would you like to create a second one together?”
Contact us to schedule an appointment with Respark Certified Sex Therapist: 512-537-0922.