Infidelity is a major factor in broken marriages. It destroys families, and paves the way for traumatic experiences for children.
Cheating does not always mean actual sexual activity. Emotional cheating and flirting are still considered as cheating.
The cheater’s actions hurt the spouse who was betrayed, their children, their families, close friends. But these aren’t the only people infidelity hurts. Cheating hurts the cheater too.
Despite the initial thrill of an affair, cheating often negatively affects the cheater emotionally. It’s common for them to feel anxiety, guilt, shame, worry, regret, confusion, embarrassment, and self-loathing when they contemplate how their actions impact those they love and why they cheated in the first place.
When they think about and experience how their actions impact them and others they feel the sting and anguish of their poor judgment.
All of these thoughts swirling through their heads and the rollercoaster of their emotions can lead cheaters to live two completely different lives while the affair continues. One where they feel the addictive ecstasy of love and one where they feel hatred.
Of course, living these two polar-opposite lives puts extreme stress not only on themselves, but on their marriage too. And when the spouse does discover the truth, they will feel pain to their core as they rightfully wonder what part of the relationship with their wayward spouse was real and what part was a lie.
Not only can the spouse now blame the cheater for every bad thing that happens to them and every problem in their relationship, but their children get to blame them too. If they feel depressed, if they cheat or their spouse cheats on them, that will be their cheater-parent’s fault. When their children are sitting on the therapist’s couch unmarried, unloved and childless at 44, the cheater-parent will be the reason they can’t trust or make and keep commitments.
Cheaters often are not able to trust others to be loyal to them. After all if they did this themselves, anyone can. If they could violate trust and hurt someone they love in such a deeply damaging way, what’s to stop others from doing it to them?
Being on the receiving end of the pain their spouse is suffering because of the cheating can easily become too much for the straying spouse. At one extreme, they may deny their responsibility for causing the pain and blame their spouse for forcing them to cheat. At the other extreme, they may feel they deserve the punishment, accept it as just, and live out the rest of their lives as a mere shadow of their true selves.
How cheating affects the cheater is complicated and painful. Why do they cheat then?
There are a lot of reasons why cheaters cheat, including:
- emotional immaturity,
- personality disorders: narcissism, borderline personality disorder, and psychopathy.
- childhood trauma, or
- being raised with bad influence regarding relationships.
Cheaters often deeply fear abandonment and seek out their second relationship as something of a security blanket against physical or emotional loneliness.
Repeat cheaters often have certain core negative beliefs. They feel unworthy, feel no one can genuinely love them and so on. As a result of these insecurities, people addicted to cheating tend to avoid intimacy and to compartmentalise and split off part of their sexual, romantic or intimate life. Being intimate with a spouse is problematic for them and they find an escape.
People who cheat will look for opportunities where the potential mate may be in a vulnerable state, such as after a break-up or divorce. When the preyed-upon is in a more vulnerable state, they are more likely to be open to and engage in the cheating behavior because they miss the feeling of being loved and are not emotionally grounded enough yet to set secure boundaries.
Like with all addictions, repeat cheating is a dependency on a ‘drug’ to escape pain, fear and other negative emotions.
The prospects for repeat cheaters can be good if addicts give up all the related behaviours and get treatment that addresses their insecurities and their fears around intimacy; in other words the “deeper work”. This might involve:
- Professional help to uncover the root cause of cheating
- Practicing total transparency with the spouse OR
- Changing the relationship type. Instead of cheating, they can find partners who are comfortable with non-monogamy. Sometimes it is better to follow a less traditional — but honest — path, then live a life of destruction, betrayal and lies.
As with all recovery, it takes time and treatment to change a lifelong adaptation. It also takes vigilance. Even well into recovery, addicts may still be drawn to sexual validation and non-sexual forms of cheating. But these behaviors will continue to fade away over the years.