Why You Should Think Before You Cheat
As I opened my eyes groggily and realised where I was, guilt hit my heart instantly. Thinking I was about to be sick, I peeled myself out of bed and tiptoed down the hallway to where I hoped the bathroom was.
In the bathroom, I didn’t look at myself in the mirror, instead I waited to see if the building nausea inside me would amount to vomit. Then, when nothing happened, I splashed my face with cold water in an effort to wake up my hungover mind. It was time to get ready for the day. Time to move on. There was no use wallowing in my own self-pity.
Walking back into the bedroom and catching sight of my uni course mate, still asleep in bed, roused no feeling of desire or affection within me. If I was honest, I had never fancied him. And the sex last night was nothing to report anyway. Without orgasm, or any particular feeling of satisfaction, I had fallen asleep immediately after the deed.
So, why did I risk everything for a tepid sexual encounter and a deep feeling of guilt the next day? What was going through my mind, to ignore my three year relationship and race headfirst into an experience which would be a regret immediately after?
Cheating is less common than I thought
The statistics are varied and often challenging to collect, due to the understandable reluctance of cheaters to confess. However, “estimates suggest that over 25% of married men and 20% of married women engage in extra-marital sex over the course of their relationships” (Atkins, Baucom, & Jacobson, 2001; Greeley, 1994; Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, & Michaels, 1994; Wiederman, 1997).
Some reports even include percentages as low as 4% or 6%. So, why is infidelity such a major worry for a lot of us? How can we begin to trust our partners, and keep our own loyalty?
Cheating is a big worry
Inevitably it causes a huge amount of damage to both the individuals concerned and the relationship.
V. Michelle Russell, Levi R. Baker, and James K. McNulty in Attachment Insecurity and Infidelity in Marriage tell us, “the victims and perpetrators of infidelity also frequently experience negative intrapersonal outcomes, such as decreased self-esteem, increased risk of mental health problems, guilt, and depression.”
So, why on earth do we risk our own mental health and the success of our relationship to cheat?
V. Michelle Russell, Levi R. Baker, and James K. McNulty believe the reason is linked to the attachment theory.
Attachment theory is the theory that a child has to develop a healthy attachment with their mother, father or care-giver, in order for them to develop healthy relationships later in life. Without this, an individual could develop attachment anxiety or attachment avoidance.
McNulty explains, “Intimates who develop high levels of attachment anxiety are uncertain of the availability of close others and cope by seeking reassurance from and clinging to the partner. Intimates who develop high levels of attachment avoidance, in contrast, doubt the availability of close others and cope by avoiding behaviors that promote intimacy. Both types of insecurity may be associated with marital infidelity”.
So, how do you cope if you identify with one of the attitudes above? Does this mean you will never be faithful or develop a healthy attachment to your significant other?
“Individuals high in attachment anxiety tend to feel that their needs for intimacy are not being met in their current relationships and use sex to meet their unmet needs… Individuals high in attachment avoidance tend to be chronically less committed to their relationships and have more permissive sexual attitudes”.
But, all is not lost. If you have cheated in the past or recently, you can still become a forever loyal partner. Don’t give up the Disney dream just yet. Here are five tips designed to help you get rid of infidelity for good.
Identify the reasons you cheat
When I cheated, I couldn’t actually understand why I had. Initially, I confessed all to my boyfriend, and began the painful process of dissecting everything that had happened and my motives. We came to no clear conclusion.
However, once we inevitably split up and I had a year or two to reflect, I reached this verdict: I wasn’t getting the level of love I needed to feel secure and happy. Perhaps, I did have a mild attachment anxiety. All I knew, is not texting for weeks and not seeing each other for months (when I moved to uni) was just not enough for me in a relationship.
It lead me to feel separate, far from loyal and insecure. I saw no reason not to cheat, because I believed my boyfriend was doing the same. My mind had instilled a feeling of doubt inside me which I couldn’t shake. Cheating made me feel less vulnerable and needy.
Take time alone to develop and love yourself
When you are the perpetrator, it’s all about how terrible you are as a person. While you may feel this is true, it’s not going to help you. You have to banish self-punishment from your life.
I spent years regretting my actions and hating myself for what I had done. But, through different relationships and a whole lot of travelling, I began to understand a broader perspective.
I had to feel happy and loved by both myself and whoever I was in a relationship with. And whilst, I couldn’t control the actions of someone else, I could respect myself and choose to be around others who did too.
Through meditation, not being scared to be alone, and adding new and exciting experiences to my memories, I began to feel happier and more loved. I understood the power I had in my own life to make decisions which would help me to be the person I wanted to be.
In your next relationship communicate your emotions
When I did enter into a new relationship, I was able to communicate how I felt. I had developed my confidence, plus a deeper knowledge of my wants and desires. It took practice, but I began telling my new partner what I wanted and how I felt.
By speaking honestly with each other, we have built a strong bond. We can argue, but we know to talk freely afterwards about what upset us and what we can do moving forwards.
If I feel insecure or needy of more attention, I explore my emotions and then speak to my partner when it feels right. In the past, I would just bottle it all up, and end up feeling overwhelmed.
Make sure you give yourself love and attention
In a relationship, it’s easier to forget ourselves. But it’s essential that we don’t. In the study, Self-Esteem and the Quality of Romantic Relationships, “evidence suggests that high self-esteem is beneficial in romantic relationships (and) high self-esteem has a positive effect also on the partner’s happiness with the relationship”.
So, focusing on yourself will not only improve your happiness but your partners too. Make sure you do put yourself first, on several occasions. Of course, you work as a team together. But, you also have to do things just for you. Think about how you can follow your dreams, increase your confidence and feel free and powerful in your relationship.
Thinking before you cheat, is clearly a good thing to do. Even if you can barely get through to your drunken mind, it’s worth screaming some warnings at it. Forget about your partner, for now. Just think about yourself.
Will it make you happier to cheat? Think of the long-term effects. It’s scarier but much healthier to split up with your partner first and then go back to the amazing sex you were about to have. If you weren’t about to have amazing sex, and you don’t want to split up with your partner, then get yourself out of there now.
We all need to look after ourselves more. Actions which make us feel guilty, or punish ourselves, aren’t going to help. It’s time to take control of your happiness, and ask yourself why you are considering cheating in the first place.
You can then begin to find a relationship which suits you better, or talk openly with your partner to improve the one you’re in. Love doesn’t have to be complicated, you can simplify it with honest reflection and a whole lot of bravery.