Why Do People Cheat on Their Partners?

Cheating is quite common and the reasons are multiple. Rather than reviewing the many reasons people cheat, I'm going to focus on one of the main one -- self-abandonment.
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Cheating is quite common and the reasons are multiple. Rather than reviewing the many reasons people cheat, I'm going to focus on one of the main one -- self-abandonment. Self-abandonment leads to an inner emptiness that results in a person seeking to be filled up externally.

For example, Celine contacted me for Skype sessions because she had just found out that her husband, Brent, was having an affair. She was feeling angry and hurt, but she didn't feel justified in getting too angry because she had also been having an affair.

Celine said that she and Brent still loved each other and they didn't want to break up their family, but she didn't know what to do. She had been able to rationalize her affair to herself, but she couldn't rationalize Brent's. She had to finally acknowledge that something was really wrong. She was worried that this meant the end of their relationship.

I assured Celine that the affairs, while challenging, were not the underlying problem. They were a symptom of the real problem, and the affairs did not need to mean the end of the relationship. She and Brent could decide to learn about the deeper problems in their relationship and eventually create a much more satisfying relationship.

Celine and Brent entered their marriage, as many people do, with the expectation that the other person would make them happy. They entered feeling some emptiness, unworthiness and insecurity, hoping their partner would fill them, validate them and complete them. Yet, as time went on, neither felt happy, secure, filled or complete. They began to look elsewhere. Perhaps someone else -- someone more attentive and more emotionally available, or sexier or more playful -- would fill the emptiness, validate their worth and make them happy.

The problem lies in the mistaken belief many people hold about what makes them happy. Almost any TV commercial will illuminate the underlying problem:

  • Get this car -- it will make you happy.
  • Get this house -- it will make you happy.
  • Wear these clothes. Then you will look good and get approval and that will make you happy.
  • Go on this diet -- then you will look good, find your beloved and then you will be happy.
  • Take this pill -- then you will be happy.
  • Go on this vacation -- that will make you happy.
  • Get this toy, this appliance, this new gadget -- then you will be happy.

But Celine already had the house, the car, the husband, the children, the money, the job, the antidepressants -- and she still wasn't happy. So she went looking for another person to make her happy.

The problem is that as long as Celine and Brent believe that something external will make them happy, they will continue to be unhappy, and they will keep looking for another person, better sex, a bigger house and so on to make them happy.

Infidelity generally comes from the same inner emptiness as alcohol and drug abuse, food addiction, gambling, spending, shopping and so on. In the case of infidelity, when the underlying reason is emptiness due to self-abandonment, the addiction is to attention, approval or sex -- using another person to fill the inner emptiness and take away the inner aloneness. Rather than end the relationship, taking their emptiness and aloneness with them into their next relationship, Celine and Brent have the opportunity to do some inner-healing work.

They decided that it was worth trying to save their marriage. They decided to have conjoint sessions with me to learn about all the ways they were abandoning themselves and making the other person responsible for their well-being and happiness. They learned the Inner Bonding process for taking responsibility for their own feelings, and for connecting with an ever-present source of love and wisdom to help them learn to love themselves. They discovered that they had no love to share with each other until they learned how to love themselves, and how to fill themselves with love to share with each other. They learned:

  • To stay inwardly focused, on their own feelings and behavior, rather than have their eyes on the other's behavior.

  • That their intention is the most powerful thing they have, and that, at any given moment, they are either in the intent to protect against pain, or in the intent to learn. They discovered that the intent to learn about themselves and each other creates intimacy while the intent to protect against being hurt creates distance.
  • To explore their own fears and beliefs rather than keep trying to get the other to change.
  • How to connect with their personal source of inner/spiritual guidance to help them know the loving action toward themselves and with each other, and they learned to take loving action for themselves rather than try to get the other to take care of them.
  • By being willing to do their inner work and learn how to take emotional responsibility for themselves, Celine and Brent were able to create a much more intimate and fulfilling relationship. The affairs, rather than ending their relationship, led to creating a whole new and satisfying relationship. At this point, neither Celine nor Brent has any desire to have an affair.

    Again, this is just one of the many different reasons people cheat, but it is the most common reason that I see with my clients.

    Join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Course: "Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships." Starts September 3.

    For more from Margaret Paul, Ph.D., click here.

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