Love and Sex

What You Can Learn About Your Own Relationship From People Who Cheat

One of the most despised and harshly criticized groups in the world are people who cheat on their partners (cue the revenge songs). Yet, they’re more common than people would like to believe. In a 2018 U.S.

How to Respond If You Discover Your Partner Cheated

Working with this group exclusively, Marie Murphy, a relationship coach with a PhD in sociology of sexuality, has found that the common perception of infidelity as an act carried out by self-centered individuals without morals is simply untrue.

She says that most people who come to her are married or in committed relationships and care a great deal about both their partners and their families. “But they’re genuinely unclear about what they really want out of their romantic partnership. They’re unclear about what they want out of life.”

A lot of the people that wind up in this scenario entered into marriage too early, for the wrong reasons or due to external pressures. Or, their relationship has been stagnate or sexless and they’re confused how to get their needs fulfilled even after trying seemingly everything. Or, they’re sad and the infidelity adds something pleasant to their life.

“We think there is a right decision or a wrong decision when we’re faced with a given choice, when in reality, in most situations in life, any decision we make is going to come with results or consequences that we find challenging to deal with.”

Murphy’s clients

The thing is, a lot of the time, there isn’t a clear right answer. Murphy’s clients end up arriving at a wide range of conclusions. Sometimes, people choose to leave the partners they’re cheating on and find something that better suits their needs. Other times, they seek to open their relationships so they can stay with their partners while also getting their needs met. Sometimes, people choose to stay in their relationships and continue their affairs covertly for the sake of their families, their mental health, or other factors.

“And so no matter what we choose, it’s just a matter of being able to manage our mental or emotional relationship with what comes. I don’t have any sort of agenda for the person I’m working with other than for them to be honest with themselves and to make decisions they feel good about.”

Sometimes, taking care of broader mental health needs helps people to do this. Some people use sex outside their relationships to feel good when they’re anxious or depressed, and teaching these people to better manage their emotions helps them avoid resorting to behaviors that go against their values.

Murphy’s advice to those who are cheating?

Guilt can actually backfire. “You can’t shame yourself into making sustainable positive changes,” she says. “You may be able to shame or scold yourself into making changes in the short term, but telling yourself that you’re bad or awful or a terrible person is not a great way to make a holistic change to the situation.”

Still, it’s important to take responsibility for your actions and to know that if you want your life to change, you’re going to have to change your behavior. “Change can be really hard, but there are two choices,” Murphy points out. “You get to choose the discomfort of the familiar or the unfamiliar, and only one of those choices presents the opportunity for growth and evolution and something truly different to occur.”

The other thing Murphy wants those who are cheating to know is that the cheating can be an opportunity to examine what you want out of your relationships and life. She recommends thinking about what needs the cheating is fulfilling and asking yourself how, ideally, you would like to get those needs met. Some people, for example, may have a need for a non-monogamous relationship, though she cautions against expecting this to fix the problems in your relationship. Others may have a need for more adventure in their lives or a more active sex life.

Cheating can present an opportunity to get off this hamster wheel by forcing you to examine what’s important to you — if you let it be.

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