Why do people cheat? 65



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Following the theft of the details of 37 million Ashley Madison members, women all around the world are learning that their husbands actively sought someone to cheat on them with. And we say women because we know that men were vastly overrepresented on the “dating site” that dealt exclusively with affairs, to the tune of 6:1.

That’s not to say that women don’t cheat, but of all those wannabe adulterers that have now been revealed, the vast majority are men. And they’re everywhere. They work at schools, for our government, in the defence force. We know this because they were stupid enough to use their work email addresses. Sigh.

As a result, in countless living rooms and bedrooms, couples are facing the truth about their partner’s infidelity. And even if nothing ever came of their paid membership to a cheats’ hook-up site, it still counts as cheating, right?

Esther Perel, a psychotherapist, has been studying adulterers for 10 years, trying to understand infidelity and answer the question: why do people cheat?

“Adultery has existed since marriage was invented, and so, too, the taboo against it,” she says in her brilliant TED talk. “In fact, infidelity has a tenacity that marriage can only envy, so much so that this is the only commandment that is repeated twice in the Bible: once for doing it, and once just for thinking about it. So how do we reconcile what is universally forbidden, yet universally practised?”

Once upon a time, infidelity was a part of life. Men bragged about it, women hid it, and quite often they died for it.

But along came modern society and the notion of marriage for love instead of the business of life. Suddenly adultery took on a new form.

In today’s world, cheating can happen in so many ways: sexting, watching porn, talking to women in other countries via the internet or through sites like Ashley Madison. However it comes, Ms Perel says the definition of infidelity is three elements combined: a secretive relationship; an emotional connection; and a sexual alchemy.

“And alchemy is the key word here, because the erotic frisson is such that the kiss that you only imagine giving, can be as powerful and as enchanting as hours of actual lovemaking.”

Depending on the definition you apply to the word “infidelity”, Ms Perel says between 26 and 75 per cent of people will cheat on their partner.

So why do they do it?

In part, says Ms Perel, it’s to do with today’s sense of entitlement – the notion that we deserve to be happier, and, if our partner is no longer providing us with everything we need, then it is our right to seek what we’re missing elsewhere.

But the Belgian therapist, who works mostly with “accidental” cheats who are deeply monogamous in their views right up to the moment they end up in someone else’s pants, says there is often a deeper underlying cause.

“When we seek the gaze of another, it isn’t always our partner that we are turning away from, but the person that we have ourselves become. And it isn’t so much that we’re looking for another person, as much as we are looking for another self.”

She also says infidelity is as much about betrayal as it is about loss. “[The people I work with] often will tell me stories of recent losses – of a parent who died, and a friend that went too soon, and bad news at the doctor. Death and mortality often live in the shadow of an affair, because they raise these questions: ‘Is this it? Is there more? Am I going on for another 25 years like this? Will I ever feel that thing again?’”

The aftermath of the Ashley Madison leak is likely to be messy, not unlike the relationship of the million or so Australians who have been exposed. Ms Perel says infidelity in the modern age is “death by a thousand cuts” thanks to the public nature of it all, and the emails, text messages and other evidence that can collect.

One would hope that those caught up in the scandal will be brave enough to confess their sins to their partners before they are ousted in public. Whether they will learn from the experience is anyone’s guess.

Tell us, could you forgive and infidelity? Have you ever had to?


Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. Sorry don’t feel anything for those who cheat. Married for 42 years and together 43 years , l have never as much as kissed another man, nor would l. When l married my hubby it was in a church before God. We had traditional vows which in part stated till death do us part. Our vows never mentioned going to a cheating web site and having an affair. Technology is viewd as a wonderful thing, however how many people will now be waiting for their personal information to hit the public sector. How many women , men, children, family and friends lives will be destroyed because of this. No don’t feel sorry for those involved in this site , just those who will be effected. Cheers.

    2 REPLY
    • I have been married for 43 yrs, not a thought ever to cheat, happy with each other, morals are lacking with some people.

    • I couldn’t agree more Heather. Life has changed and as we enter into the 21 st century our generation will never be repeated. Its a bit sad really. Cheers.

  2. I am atheist, and I never cheated, it is not about God it is about morals, you either have them or you don’t

  3. No and no. Have a good friend who’s husband is a serial cheater, just thinks it’s his god given right, but when she found out about one of them he wanted to know her every move in case she paid him back, hide of the man. Morals he has none, sleep with anyone with a pulse and his wife is still with him, I wouldn’t be if he was mine.

    5 REPLY
    • There is no pain like knowing that your husband has cheated on you, but more often than not it’s because of their weaknesses rather than a defecit in the relationshp you have with them. There is also the risk of them catching an STD and bringing it back to the marriage bed.

    • My ex did cheat, he got a 21 years old girlfriend the year I turned 40 years old, she was younger than my son, it took me ages to get my head around it, I felt like I was trapped in a nightmare, I got married at 17 years old and never cheated once Wendy, but I could have done so easily enough. I divorced him and am happier on my own

    • That, I think would be the absolute pits Libbi, cheating is one thing but having found out your partner is cheating with someone half your age would be worse in my view. Glad your happy now and he didn’t deserve you anyway.

    • I don’t know what to think about this. So many thought come to mind. It feels like another form of spousal abuse, she loves him so she forgives him. Is she aware of the “serial” cheating? Is she in love with him or just determined to keep the status quo of her life style? In other words rocking the boat is going to upset family and friends and change the rest of her life so she endures. She confronts him and he becomes “obviously” controlling. I think he has been controlling this relationship all their married life. Stay in her life and continue to support her she needs it.

  4. I think people cheat because they are not having their needs met, do l think it is forgivable no l don’t. I could never trust again let alone have that person touch me it would make me sick and angry.

    3 REPLY
    • So Tanya – given that notion – there is something wrong with the partner not meeting the cheaters needs. The cheating, imo, is laid fairly and squarely on the cheaters shoulders.

    • I never said there is anything wrong with the partner, l said the cheater cheats because they are not getting something they want. The cheater is tatally to blame, they are only thinking of themselves and don’t give a shit about their partner.

    • Thats like men saying to their wives, its your fault I hit you. Nothing about unmet needs. More like ego.
      And immaturity.

  5. Tanya my husband got everything he ever wanted and more and still cheated. Nothing to do with needs. What I really think of him could not be written here. And then three year down the track, without even so much as an apology, he wanted to come back.

    2 REPLY
  6. It has empowered you Libbi, that is good and you didn’t give into temptation, morals are a good thing unfortunately some people don’t have any.

  7. Must have been empowering for you too Fran not taking the cheater back when I bet he thought you would fall at his feet.

  8. Yes he did Wendy, what a joke. That’s the funny part -most of them think you can’t get on without them. They don’t see the destruction they leave behind, just that they are so great that they can just step back in. Not happening bozo!

  9. Depends on the circumstances! !! Takes 2 to make things go wrong usually !!!

    2 REPLY
    • Sometimes….but sometimes it’s all on one person who thinks they can have their cake and eat it too.

    • My husband had it all, a family, beautiful home and a loving and supportive wife who did everything for him, it was only when I was asked by a friend if I had an ‘open’ marriage that I realiesed he’d been having affairs from day one of the marriage.

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