Monogamy and divorce aside, there is something else that may be a side effect of our overtly monogamous conditioning, or it might just be human evolution, something altogether different, and it definitely impacts our monogamous status: Infidelity.
Helen Fisher in her book, Anatomy of Love: The Natural History of Mating, Marriage and Why We Stray, and Ester Perel in her famous TED talk "Rethinking Infidelity ... A Talk for Anyone Who has Ever Loved" have given us the low down on how infidelity may be a biological evolution as well as evolutionary reasons men and women in healthy relationships still may cheat. You should definitely check those out. And while the reasons for cheating may be somewhat understood and even explainable, there are some other basic tips to keep in mind when trying to get that healthy relationship back on track after an infidelity.
*Please note: This list will help you get started but is not an exhaustive list of dealing with infidelity.
1) Cheating is not a death sentence for a relationship. So many, too many people say that if the other person cheats, the relationship would be over. People often have the very reaction of wanting to run (or kick the other person out) after an infidelity. We can look at the infidelity in a few different ways. We can see it as a symptom of something wrong in our relationship. In other words, the non-cheater may ask him/herself: What was my role in "allowing" my partner to cheat, what did I do to make he/she stray?, etc.. But this slippery slope can sometimes turn into a detrimental way of punishing the victim. And, while we may claim to understand the reasons, and cheaters may claim to blame the non-cheating partner for the infidelity, the cheater still needs to be held responsible for their (yes, I'm going to say it) irresponsible behavior. It is irresponsible if you have made a commitment and a promise to monogamy and still plan to withhold that commitment while committing adultery behind your partner's back.
2) Cheating is lying. Plain and simple. Cheating is the breaking of an agreement, and not discussing the changes to the agreement up front. (yes, this can happen in non-monogamous and open relationships as well.) I am an educator and psychotherapist, specializing in helping couples open up their relationships and explore non monogamy. One of the most important things is the verbal agreements we make with each other. We discuss our desires whether it be as simple as attractions to others to our desires to completely change the rules of our agreement, and everything in between. Not always an easy task. An ethical relationship involves open and up front discussions of all feelings and matters. When we cheat, we break the agreement without discussion, thus making cheating the easy way out.
3) Cheating is the easy way out. Cheating is a cowardly move because you don't have to discuss any difficult feelings with your partner. Herein lies the rub for the non-cheater. Many relationships don't have an open discussion policy built into their relationship. This is where the non-cheater may have some responsibility. Do they encourage open conversations? Are they quick to judge? Fostering a relationship where open discussions about most matters of the heart is one of the best ways to foster honesty in each other.
4) The cheater needs to be the healer. In order to repair the relationship, the cheater must initiate the healing in the relationship. The victim, the one who was cheated on, must take care of themselves now and give the cheater the baton, so to speak. While still being present for the relationship, fostering that open communication, the non-cheater must now find a balance between healing from the trauma of rejection and lies, the pain of being hurt and taking some responsibility as to their criticism and judgment in the relationship.
5) The cheater may cheat again. The addiction school of thought see cheating as an illness, like a sex addiction. Think Tiger Woods, who checked himself into rehab after his wife found out he was cheating with other women. This thinking prepares the non-cheating partner for the ride. The key is not to get on. The cheater is on the journey to find his/her way out. Simply abstaining from cheating, while a good first step, won't heal the wounds that caused the cheating in the first place. The cheater needs to look at his/her behavior patterns, learn to communicate with his/her partner about what would be most helpful to feel connected, and lead the conversations which lead to more openness.
Cheating in healthy relationships is often a sign that something needs to change. If the cheater can take charge of the healing, and the non-cheater can allow this to take place with patience and non-judgment, the new version of the relationship may be a complete shift of balance. Changing patterns is not easy. If things don't shift dramatically in a relationship, the cheating may happen again. But as they say, if you fall, dust yourself off and try again. Slipping, falling and failing are the elements of true growth, and on the other side may be great insight, success and even the evolution of a true friendship.