I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while now, because despite what some people may claim, I do not believe that we are all susceptible to cheating, given the “right” circumstances. On this topic, I can say without reservation that when it comes to marital infidelity, “there but for the grace of God, go I” does not apply to me; I couldn’t cheat, and I know it.
However, I do think that cheaters tend to have certain traits in common, none of which has much to do with anyone else but the cheater. That it is to say, no matter what the entertainment industry and even society at large may portray, choosing to cheat is solely an individual problem, not a relationship or significant other problem. I do understand that there may be marital issues that can lead to deep divisions if both partners are not actively committed to each other and to their marriage, but it only takes one partner to choose to disengage…and to expose the relationship and the unsuspecting partner to betrayal.
So, what do most cheaters have in common?
- Cheaters have poor self-esteem. They have holes in their emotional buckets and though they are probably unaware of it, cheating is all about attempting to make the cheater feel better. Have you ever listened to a cheater talk about what’s so great about the affair partner? They say things like, “She makes me feel wanted” or “He tells me I’m beautiful.” They might as well be saying, “In my mind, somehow I am not ‘enough’ and this person is willing to blow sunshine up my arse so I don’t have to be alone with myself and own my shit.” The AP could be anybody…who is willing to mirror whatever is lacking in the cheater. Because let’s be honest – good people don’t encourage those they love to be their worst self.
- Cheaters lack empathy. This one’s huge, because the ability to empathize would necessarily lead one to want to avoid hurting others, whether they are loved ones or random strangers. In a stunning (and devastating) example of this, my husband acknowledges that moments before he had sex with OW, he thought to himself that what he was about to do would hurt me…and then, -bam- the thought was gone and he did it anyway, easily and readily. On the flip side of this, when an old high school boyfriend of mine indicated that he would be open to arranging a business trip my way so he and I could “…spend some time together and catch up on things”, my immediate thought was that even if I were single (and I was not), and even if I were interested in “…catching up on things” with him (and I was not), his wife would be crushed if she ever found out. I was offended – NOT flattered – that he thought I might consider stooping that low, and disgusted – NOT flattered – that he had proposed it. This is the same guy whose wife shared on Facebook how much she adored her wonderful hubby, and yet…he seemed to be able to cast her aside rather quickly. Not so wonderful, right?
- Cheaters lack boundaries. If you have to hide it, you shouldn’t be doing it, and if you need to be reminded of that, you’re already at risk. For a cheater, though, boundaries are …negotiable. Permeable. In infidelity circles, we talk about the slippery slope. Perhaps you start out by watching porn and getting off on seeing another woman or man naked. Or maybe you are frustrated because your job has hit a snag, and you get a coffee with a coworker, and talk to him about your troubles instead of your spouse. Every incremental step away from actions that honor your marriage and your spouse, is another boundary that you’ve allowed yourself to ignore.
- Cheaters have mastered compartmentalization. This world. That world. The cheater moves in and out of them effortlessly, even though the two worlds would be incompatible if he tried to live in them simultaneously. And by incompatible, I mean that social mores would not permit a married man to also have a girlfriend, or to go to strip clubs, or to have NSA sex with a string of random people. Instead, the cheater puts his wife and family in a mental box in a mental closet, and heads off to see his affair partner (AP). While he’s with the AP, he doesn’t think about his wife and children; if they cross his mind, he quickly pushes them away. Back at home, however, he tries to pretend that he didn’t just do something repugnant and cruel and wrong.
On DDay, my husband came home, kissed me hello, said dinner smelled wonderful, and wandered off to our bedroom to look at photos of OW and post a couple of comments on her Facebook page; fifteen minutes later, he came back to the kitchen, noticed that I seemed upset, and with great concern, asked me if I was okay. My husband also says that after DDay, and when he started to read Not “Just Friends” (not an affiliate link), he was shocked to realize that he was that guy – that he was a cheater, and that he had betrayed his wife and family. How was this a surprise? I mean, he was there…with the OW…he had sex with someone other than his wife after we’d been married for over 17 years…and yet, somehow, this was news to him.
- Cheaters are dishonest, and usually have been for a long time. Maybe they learned to lie in their FOO – for example, in order to avoid criticism or punishment. I think it’s true for many cheaters that lying becomes second nature to them, so much so that they often can’t remember the truth. In the early days of our marriage, my husband would lie about seemingly inconsequential things, and I eventually pieced together that this had become a coping mechanism from his early childhood, as a way to deal with his mother’s hypercritical nature. Over and over, I would point out to him that I wouldn’t have been upset with the truth, but it was such a deeply ingrained habit that, over time, I just accepted that he lied about “little” things.
- Cheaters are immature. Oh, I know – a cheater can be a competent leader of a large corporation, or a skilled surgeon, or a high-ranking political figure, but in the end, they lack the emotional tools to handle certain life challenges in an emotionally sophisticated way. Perhaps they learned unhealthy coping mechanisms from their family of origin (FOO), but then again, many emotionally healthy people do, too. Those who cheat, however, never seemed to reach a point where they could rely on and learn from introspection and self-awareness, and therefore, they remain stuck in certain patterns that they may know to conceal, but not enough to address.
I started this post nearly two weeks ago, and while I am not certain it’s complete, I think it covers a lot of ground and that these behaviors and tendencies, especially in combination, are going to be true for most, if not all, of those who have or will eventually cheat. If I’ve missed something, please let me know and I will include it here.