Dear Neil: What causes some people to cheat multiple times with multiple partners, or to cheat habitually? Can a person who habitually cheats also love his/her spouse? Infidelity changes a person into someone who is deceitful, foolish, cold and calculated. What is that person’s point of view? How do I overcome these feelings that have basically taken me over?
Stunned in the South
Dear Stunned: As I have said in the past, having an affair is the way some people search for the emotional nurturance, affection, attention and love that they feel they aren’t getting in their primary relationship. Thus, adultery is a form of communication.
An affair might be a very strong statement one partner makes to the other, in essence saying that something is really wrong in the relationship. It may be a sign that the relationship has grown distant or boring, or a vehicle by which one partner attempts to verify that he/she are still considered attractive and desirable in the greater cultural market place.
Most people who are unfaithful in a committed relationship are—knowingly or not—attempting to create distance in their relationship. It may be because they find the intimacy and closeness too uncomfortable and constricting. It could be because they don’t know how to be in a trusting, loving relationship, or it might be because they have poor intimacy skills and don’t know how to resolve differences, or negotiate and compromise effectively.
There are other reasons for infidelity: boredom, curiosity, anger, a longing for greater romance and passion or a craving for more excitement and adventure. It could be that one of you no longer views your mate as attractive. It could be an expression of self-sabotaging or self-defeating behavior. It could be a way of correcting a power imbalance. Or it could be a plain old ego boost.
Other than violence, infidelity is widely acknowledged as the single most destructive way of communicating to another person that you’re unhappy or that you want some changes in your relationship—because often, the two people still love each other and they may not be trying to destroy the relationship.
If you wish to break a pattern of repeated infidelity, you must address with each other what must occur for the relationship to be at the intimacy level that you both desire. To change infidelity requires more than just stopping extracurricular sex. It means living by a different code of honesty, communication, connection, vulnerability and desire to make your relationship the best that it can be.
Certainly, the affairs must stop completely, and the betrayed party needs to request behaviors that make you feel cared for, appreciated, valued and more secure.