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Part 1--Is it true that "once a cheater, always a cheater?"
The reasons for infidelity are actually very complex, therefore seeking a one size fits all answer to "will it happen again" won't help the person asking it to correctly predict their partner's future behavior. The right questions to ask will be specific to the motives of the person who cheated and the state of the relationship where the betrayal took place. Like virtually anything, infidelity has a purpose and reasons behind why and how it occurred. Therefore asking questions that are targeted to understanding these will help give the cheated on partner the answers they need to make the decision to stay or go. Begin with the following commonly cited reasons for why someone has cheated.
Confusing fantasy and attraction with love
When two people are having an affair, they often share fantasies and talk about what they would like/like to do to the other. This heightens excitement, and having to wait, carefully plan, and sneak around can add to that arousal and desire. It's actually the same as that first stage of every relationship, when people are high on attraction hormones that subside and convert to cuddling and bonding ones once the relationship enters a more committed phase. In other words they can't be sustained once the relationship progresses--yet they are so powerful and feel so good, that we all want to experience them and some of us confuse them with feelings of love.
Believing they could get away with it
For anyone who has never even considered cheating to be an option, it may be hard to believe that the cheater didn't consider the potential consequences of their infidelity beforehand. What most cheaters will say is that they "didn't think I would ever get caught." Sometimes it is because the affair is with someone who lives at a distance, someone they only see very occasionally, or someone whose path will never cross that of their spouse/family. They rationalize that it is OK because it seems so unlikely their spouse would ever find out and if their hook-ups are out of town and have nothing to do with their real life, somehow it is not such a big deal.
Seeking attention to feed insecurity and neediness
When two people are having an affair, the time they spend together has little to do with their day to day reality. There are no conflicts over money or parenting differences, they do not need to work together on compromise apart from where to meet or what to eat while together. Affairs are not relationships--they are a series of hook-ups between Friends with Benefits. Sometimes one or both people develop stronger feelings, but this is far less common than the affair being discovered and blowing up and sending the spouses running back to their partners, or just dying a natural death when it no longer produces those chemical highs.
They are a good liar and it gives them a rush
Some people are good liars. While I could spend a lot of words theorizing why, that doesn't really matter. When lying comes easily, the person often lies just because, and over time many liars can't tell the difference between a truth and a lie. Lying can also produce a rush when someone gets away with it. There is that anticipation and worry beforehand about the possibility of being caught--then when that doesn't happen, they continue to tell bigger and bigger lies, looking for that adrenaline rush. When someone is a chronic liar, they are not good relationship material, not unless and until they can own their behavior and learn to be trustworthy and transparent. For some liars, the threat of losing someone they really do love or a life they value may be enough to help them turn this behavior around. However if this is your partner, trust, but verify.
Blaming their unaddressed needs on their partner/relationship
If only my wife was more interested in sex. If only my husband was more supportive with household and parental responsibilities--everything would be so much better. If these sound familiar it is because they are two classic excuses people use to explain infidelity. Obviously this solves nothing and only helps speed the couple towards divorce court. What needs to happen instead is each partner owning what they bring to the problem and identifying ways they can help address their behavior so that it is no longer harmful to the relationship. This requires openness, candid communication, and deep listening. Working with a good therapist can help facilitate this as the couple will be given new tools and taught new techniques that will improve their overall communication and help each of them to get their needs met.
Next month, Part 11--The climate in which affairs can thrive
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Toni Coleman, LCSW
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