Anatomy of an affair: The real reasons why we cheat
The fallout from infidelity can be brutal.
Hearts smashed, confidence decimated, trust trampled to pieces and flushed down the jacks. Like I said – brutal.
None of us want to be subjected to that. And most of us don’t want to put someone we love through it.
So why do we cheat? Are there certain types of people genetically disposed to cheat?
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And, if we are careful, is it possible to avoid all that vicious and bloody heartbreak?
First of all, anyone - no matter how virtuous - can be unfaithful.
And a history of infidelity does not mean someone is a lost cause, destined to cheat on every and any one, all the live-long day.
According to relationship experts, cheating is complicated, but there are common reasons (and there is always at least one reason) why someone strays.
Disconnect with your partner
The first explanation is pretty obvious - a lack of connection.
It is unrealistic to assume you will stay in perfect emotional harmony with your other half forever. Some days you’ll be madly in love, other days you’ll struggle even to like them.
But, if you start to spend most of your time hating their guts, it’s probably a bit of a red flag.
Psychotherapist and relationship coach Lisa O’Hara believes many things contribute to the erosion of connection in long-term relationships. Work stress, money troubles and, you've guessed it, kids.
“With every child you have, there is a loss of time with each other. You really need to invest in your relationship,” she said. “If there is no connection, then a partner can feel at a deficit and a loss”.
Helen Vaughan of Maynooth Counselling agrees.
“If people have not been showing up in a relationship, then it will erode the trust and foundation,” Vaughan said.
The best way to stay connected is talking and listening to each other. The latter is probably harder than the former.
“You need to communicate if you want your relationship to last,” Vaughan said.
Also, spoiler alert: lack of conversation and/ or emotional disconnect can lead to rubbish or non existent sex.
“Relationships can fall flat over time. Especially if you have not been investing in it. But the truth is that if you have had passion once you can have it again. It’s easy to reignite a spark,” Vaughan said.
“But you need to be open about your sexual needs and desires and negotiate them. If one of you has a higher sex drive and always instigates sex, then there will be an imbalance. That needs to be addressed.
“People are so afraid of talking about sex – they’re even nervous about admitting how frequently they are having sex," she said.
“We all go through quiet times in our sex lives. And more active periods. But talking is key. I don’t know how you are supposed to be passionate with someone if you can’t even talk to each other about how your day has been.”
Disconnect with yourself
Having said all that, a good relationship or marriage is no guarantee against infidelity.
Sometimes the reason we cheat has very little to do with our other half. Sometimes it's all about us.
“Often it's not because they want to leave their partner or are unhappy with them, it's because they want to leave the person they have become in the relationship,” Lisa O’Hara said.
“They are looking to reconnect with a different version of themselves. A younger, more carefree version they may have lost. They are trying to find and recapture that sense of self.”
The fantasy of a sexual Rumspringa
Cheating can take place at any stage in a relationship, and at any stage of our lives.
But it often happens a few years into a LTR, as we slowly start to realise our wild oat sowing days may be a thing of the past. This can lead people to fantasise about embarking on a sort of sexual Rumspringa.
According to Lisa O'Hara, cheating in these circumstances tends to indicate 'a sense of unfinished business and of loss'.
“It’s a time of your life when you are no longer young but not yet old. You are looking to reconcile something lacking in yourself,” she said.
If you discover someone has done the dirt on you, it can initially feel like the relationship is beyond salvation.
But it is absolutely possible to come back from the brink. Sometimes it can even strengthen relationships.
“People who have been cheated on can be traumatized for years afterwards," Helen Vaughan said.
"It’s a long and tough process to get over. Betrayers have to apologize abjectly, not only say they are sorry but show and prove it".
According to Lisa O'Hara, both parties tend to emerge from infidelity with a sense of shame.
“If you stay, you have those feelings 'I stayed, I put up with this behaviour'," Lisa O'Hara said.
“It's a double whammy of betrayal; it's a betrayal of trust from their partner and a betrayal of themselves.
“Couples are brave when they look for help. Infidelity is complex.
"You need to spend a lot of time working to rebuild. And reinvest in themselves and each other emotionally, psychologically and sexually.”