At some point or another, we are all tempted by the fruit of another. It’s an inevitable part of human nature, especially when curiosity, boredom or monotony gets the best of our hearts — and, ahem, our groins. That being said, if you commit infidelity in your long-term relationship and fess up to your wanderings, could your union actually be better off than it was before you strayed? According to several psychologists, the answer is a resounding: nope, not at all.
As psychotherapist and author Dr. Jenn Mann explains, when it comes to trust, cheating is like a bomb that goes off between your twosome. “It destroys this core foundation that is needed for a successful relationship. The desire to have our beloved partner to ourselves is such a primal need that the breach of a monogamy can inspire a level of hurt and rage that is unique to other kinds of betrayal,” she explains.
Before you move in the direction of your disloyal ambitions, consider the consequences it could have on not only the relationship you’ve built, but your confidence and the self-esteem of your partner. Here, we present a closer look at what cheating actually does to a couple:
What Happens When You Cheat?
As Dr. Mann noted, the part of your relationship that takes the most brutal force is your trust. This vital bone of any couplehood is what glues you together, makes you feel comfortable, and encourages you to be vulnerable together. Without it, the love you once shared is severely endangered, says Los Angeles-based psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D. “When trust gets significantly damaged, emotional and physical intimacy can become infrequent or non-existent, and a multitude of upsetting feelings such as anger, resentment, jealousy, insecurity, hurt, and/or sadness can cause disconnection,” she explains.
Another big way cheating impacts an otherwise happy couple is by fracturing your bond, begging you to question not only your past and your present, but your future, according to psychotherapist Crystal Bradshaw. “When a partner steps outside of the agreement or the contract of a monogamous relationship, the hurt partner’s own identity comes into question. ‘Was I not enough?’ The hurt partner also begins to not trust themselves, their intuition, and their decision-making process,” she explains.
This is why a gut check before heavily flirting or sleeping with someone else is essential — you’re not only toying with your Facebook relationship status, but the emotional well-being of another person, a person you love and are committed to making happy. “Cheating can do enormous damage to the self-esteem of the person who has been cheated on. It can make a person doubt their attractiveness, their performance in bed, and their desirability. It can wreak havoc on one’s sense of self,” Dr. Mann adds.
Why Do Some People Cheat in Hopes of Changing the Relationship?
Dr. Mann explains that it’s rare for a person to believe that being unfaithful might actually improve their relationship; rather, thoughts of infidelity are almost always a sign of underlying trouble in the relationship. “The number one reason why people cheat is a lack of connection in the relationship. Most people do not realize how important creating, maintaining, and nurturing connection in a relationship is. There will always be temptations, but when a couple is feeling connected, the odds of acting on those temptations go down significantly,” she explains.
And it’s not the allure of someone sexy or irresistible, but rather, a disconnect of feelings. While sexual adventures might be interesting and enticing at the start, when people start to look for love elsewhere, it’s not about making love. It’s about feeling intimate from an emotional standpoint, according to Dr. Mann. “Studies show that only 7 percent of cheating women and 8 percent of cheating men cheated due to sexual dissatisfaction. The vast majority cheated either because a lack of emotional connection in the relationship or a combination of a lack of emotional and sexual connection in the relationship,” she adds.
Bradshaw continues, noting that sometimes you might feel the urge to explore other pastures because you’re trying to make your partner change, a quest that, for most, will end with disappointment. And other times, cheating happens at random, indicating a need for more self-evaluation and reflection outside of the bounds of a relationship. “Cheating can be a way to get a partner’s attention and to facilitate the change they seek. For others, an affair can be a way to exit the relationship. Some people cheat and it has nothing to do with their partner. Happy people in happy relationships cheat. People who have no intention of ending their relationship, who deeply love their partners and they life they have created together, cheat,” she explains.
In other words, it can always happen — but how do you prevent it? And what do you do if you were unfaithful?
Can It Ever Work?
This question is an easy one, according to Dr. Mann: cheating is never, ever a good idea. Ever. But if it happens, it’s an important crossroads to pass through with someone you love and cherish, to determine if the relationship is worth working on or if it’s time to part ways. “Sometimes a crisis where a couple thinks they may lose each other makes them realize how much they value one another and inspires them to fight for the relationship. Sometimes cheating allows a couple to reassess their relationship and discover the flaws that led to the cheating. When they are both able to look at how they have contributed to the problems in the relationship and then address it, ideally with therapy, relationships can be turned around. When couples are willing to do that kind of work on their relationship, it can result in a deeper, more meaningful relationship between the two,” she explains.
Bradshaw echoes this sentiment, explaining that many couples are able to improve their relationship following the aftermath of an affair, but that it’s not the right way to provoke change or transformation because it takes a significant amount of time. And most of the time, the memory will never be completely erased. “An affair should not be the chosen catalyst to improve a relationship. Affair recovery takes a long time, it’s not something you bounce back from in a few months. The remnants of the affair will remain with you forever. When you have an affair, you make that part of your couple’s history and you have to find a way to incorporate that pain into the story of your relationship,” she explains. “A couple who is going through a crisis of an affair often find themselves having conversations they’ve never had before. Conversations that have needed to take place but never did. They will engage with each other in ways they haven’t engaged in for years, or even ever.”
What To Do if You’re Tempted
What’s the one trick that can prevent you from making a mistake you can’t take back? Bradshaw offers one word: communication. If you’ve already tried that route and feel like you’re hitting up against a wall over and over, it might be time to seek professional help in the form of therapy. And if your partner isn’t up to it? Go alone. “Sometimes you can implement the desired change within a relationship by doing your own work. Perhaps your partner will attend after you have a few sessions under your belt, or maybe through your solo work you can explore what you are getting out of the relationship and assess if it’s one you wish to stay in,” she recommends.