Sometimes cheating has more to do with our partner than it does about us.
Sometimes it has to do with us.
Sometimes, it’s some combination of both.
I was listening to one of Esther Perel's audible sessions called 'Where Do We Begin' a few months back.
If you haven't listened to it, please do yourself a favor and download it today.
You won't regret it.
She said these next few words that struck such a chord with me.
It just may have forever changed my perspective on cheating.
“If someone we love does something that goes so much against their own moral mode...
...maybe that is something we need to take a look at."
That hit something.
When someone we love who has such high standards and values in their lives cheats, how do we deal with that?
How do we even begin to look at that situation?
How do we cultivate a space inside of us to allow ourselves to feel deeply betrayed...
...and simultaneously try to grasp what has happened for our partner to cheat on us?
In a culture that doesn’t leave much space for or encourage that kind of human experience...
...what could be the first step?
My intention to write this was to help couples objectively understand what drives people to look elsewhere for connection.
To help couples better understand WHY people may cheat.
My intention is to help those that are wanting to work through that experience.
Cheating is just like any other coping mechanism that allows us to get our core human needs met.
And if we ONLY look at the person who does the cheating...
...we will never get a fair and holistic perspective on the entire situation.
If the one who cheats has been communicating a fundamental need over and over again…
...we must be willing to ask ourselves...
...have we been willing to hear them?
In an isolated moment of human desperation, they allow themselves to feel loved and seen by another human being.
They feel terrible remorse and are willing to look at their part and also need their partner to hear them too.
There must be a deep examination of BOTH partners for healing to take place.
...the partner who cheats will carry the full burden of shame and guilt...
...and the other partner will not face or have the courage to look at their own contribution.
The identified patient is often the one that is focused on.
The angrier, more visibly outspoken partner is often the one that is focused on.
But - we have to also look at the quiet one too.
The partner that may be in the relationship...
...but is keeping themselves shut down and disengaged in the relationship.
Rarely have we looked at the quiet one...
...the one who became indifferent...
...the one who stopped watering the love.
It’s much, much harder to see that side.
I know what you're probably thinking.
Being cheated on in itself affects one's self-esteem enough already.
Now you are asking me the one who got CHEATED on...
...to look at THEIR ROLE IN IT???
Let me tell you why.
I believe taking even some responsibility will help the partner who has been cheated on feel more empowered moving forward.
This doesn't mean they have to AGREE that what their partner did was right, or that it was their fault either.
Taking some responsibility means...
"I'm willing to meet you here."
"I'm willing to find whatever part (big or small) that is mine and fully claim that part."
"I'm willing to reach out and offer it to you as the most courageous expression of love that I possibly can."
Now, let's look at cheating itself for a moment.
Cheating is a symptom.
Just like heavy drinking and emotional eating are ways to numb us out.
They give us a false sense of SAFETY.
They are unhealthy ways to get our core needs met.
Cheating can be that same need of admiration that we are craving from our actual partner...
...or appreciation ...
... or excitement ...
... or adventure ...
... or recognition ...
... or physical connection.
It is meeting some fundamental need.
When we cheat ... we need to be willing able to look at what that need was in a gut-wrenchingly honest way.
We need to be able to look at what we were reaching for in the experience.
We need to be able to commit to giving our partner (continuous) acknowledgment for their pain in order for true healing and repair to take place.
We need to be able to ask ourselves if we have been genuinely risking to reach for and communicate our needs to our partner.
Esther Perel calls this couple the EXPLORERS - I love that.
I would add that that they are WARRIORS too.
This is the couple who are both willing to do the dirty work to figure out what ACTUALLY happened.
This is the couple who are both willing to see their contribution even if one side carried 80% of it.
This is the couple who is willing to get support or couples counseling or join a recovery program.
This is the couple that is willing to know and understand and honor both partner's needs ...
... and learn ways to communicate them more effectively.
This is the couple that is willing to discover empowering habits to replace unhealthy ones.
This is the couple that is willing to own all the tiny ways the pain has been inflicted onto the relationship.
This is the couple who has an ability to externalize the problem and find a way to work on it - as a team.
You don’t have to choose to stay.
Neither of you do.
You shouldn't feel any shame or pressure to if it genuinely doesn't feel right to stay ... or if your partner isn't meeting you in the exploration or in the depth of commitment.
Just like you don’t have to stay with a recovering alcoholic…
… or with someone who has depression…
…or with someone who is a recovering war veteran who has PTSD…
…or with someone recovering from bulimia or anorexia either.
I think you are getting my point here.
There are ways to choose to move through the chaos and create a new path, together, as a team.
And you are the only one who gets to choose if that path, is your path.