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Why We Cheat

Deborah O. Day, Psy.D - Thursday, April 03, 2014

In a recent interview with Slate Magazine, Esther Perel, author and therapist, brings fresh perspectives to the age-old issue of infidelity. Surveys consistently show that most marriages/long-term relationships are touched by infidelity at some point. Ms. Perel cites research showing that very often, cheaters are basically happy with their marriages or relationships. This seems to be especially true for men. Most cheaters say they really do not want to leave their relationships, yet they are willing to take risks and seriously hurt their partners and families.


Esther Perel makes some excellent points in her interview. Key among them is her observation that what cheaters really are seeking is a different self. Through an affair, a different aspect of one’s personality is brought to life, often in an overwhelmingly intense manner. This intense activation of a perhaps long suppressed or previously unrecognized persona is the real unconscious goal rather than seeking to have a different lover.


Ms. Perel also draws a distinction between cheating and non-monogamy. She suggests that “examining monogamy is our next frontier.” Instead of the old roles of cheater and the cheated-upon, new relationship models are needed which can demonstrate how to respectfully handle the shades of grey around the many sexual/intimacy/friendship/digital issues that affect modern relationships.


Many couples still agree that sexual monogamy is their ideal. For these couples, a therapist can help impart and sharpen skills such as conflict resolution, caring behaviors, prioritization, and sexual enrichment. A therapist also can offer craving management to help relationships withstand challenges. For couples dealing with the aftermath of infidelity, a specific problem may need to be addressed, such as sexual avoidance or sexual addiction.


Other couples may mutually agree to explore more autonomy, self-expression, or personal fulfillment rather than cheating or lying to one another. Even an unconventional arrangement, such as swinging, requires relationship boundaries and expectations for both partners.


A qualified sex therapist can work within a couple’s value system to help improve their shared sexual satisfaction. Having the courage to address such delicate topics is a start. A therapist can help couples build upon that beginning by having both partners clarify their priorities and cultivate acceptance of one another.


Provided by Alan Grieco, Ph.D.

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