Cheating – why it happens even in the best relationship and can trust be rebuilt?
It takes two to tango, they say. Similarly, it takes two to cheat and also two to make amend, if that's something you want. It's wise to remember that the choices we make dictate the life we lead.
Cheating is not merely being unfaithful, it is the breaking of trust—one of the most important components of a relationship. It is a betrayal that can cause deeper hurt than you can imagine. Whatever commitment you may have before goes out the window. The thought and discovery that your partner could actually look for a connection – whether physical or emotional – outside of the relationship is devastating.
Mental health therapist, Dr Christian Kohlross of Rekindle Centre takes us through the complexities of infidelity and relationship in this interview below.
Hi Dr Christian. Through your years a therapist, what do you think are the main reasons for infidelity?
I think there are plenty of reasons but only three main reasons:
1) The expectation that one partner has to meet all the needs one has – it's an expectation which will be inevitably disappointed
2) The incapability to discern between essential needs that a partner has to meet, and accidental needs which need not be met in order to experience contentment in everyday life
3) You and your significant other are not the right match; it's time for change. This is the best known reason of infidelity.
What is the most common myth about cheating?
That cheating is just an accident, which happens accidentally. It is not! It always is a further damage to something that has already been damaged before. And that is the border between two significant others (who have chosen each other) – and their social environment.
If a guy or girl suspects the partner of cheating, what should he or she do?
To confront him or her, as soon as possible and as inconvenient as it may be. No matter whether the suspicion turns out to be true or not. Avoidance only make things worse.
We're often told that communication is key in relationship but how do you broach a subject such as infidelity?
It depends on who you are: If you are the one who has been unfaithful, be aware of the fact that dishonesty adds an additional damage to your current relationship. Of course with your honesty, you will also hurt a beloved one. But without, causing even more. As you have already decided to inflict pain on your partner, don't expect him/her to react in a mitigated way. Keep in mind – the intensity of his or her reaction to your confession mirrors the intensity of his or her attachment to you.
Now if you are the one who has suspicions towards your partner, be aware of the situation your partner is in, if he or she has broken the rules. Your partner already experiences guilt, whether consciously or unconsciously. Being honest to you will make him or her feel even guiltier. So expect avoidance behaviour and to receive a confession in bits and pieces. If you manage to make your partner feel less guilty, you can facilitate an open and honest discussion about change.
Attraction to other people is deemed normal for us as humans. But how or can we keep ourselves in check?
Physical attraction and the desire to have a relationship with someone is not the same. Sexually, human and animals are polygamous. But as humans, we develop quite refined ways to attach to each other, love for instance. Love and sexuality are intertwined in a functioning relationship. In the case of infidelity, we have to identify the driving force behind it. Is it sex, love or both?
But there's a grey area when it comes to emotional infidelity – where do we draw the line?
Exactly here! Between sex and love.
Do you think social media plays a role in cheating these days?
They do! Tinder and dating websites alike have increased the number of possible partners an individual could meet. They have enlarged the offer and hence the probability to find a better or even perfect match. But they have also de-romanticised our understanding of true love, since they have created a market which follows the law of supply and demand. As a consequence, cheating presents itself as something far more valuable – as self-actualisation.
Infidelity is destructive to a person's self-esteem and confidence. What advice can you give to those who are currently experiencing this betrayal?
Take the pain! Don't avoid it! And take into consideration that healing takes longer than you might have expected, and will be dependent on the decisions you take. Be explicit and honest regarding your needs – towards your partner and towards yourself. If nothing changes, ask yourself why you avoid being compassionate with yourself.
Can a marriage survive infidelity? What if there are kids involved?
Of course it can! Marriages as well as individuals have an incredible range of coping mechanisms they could use. The human faculty of understanding is one, while the art of forgiving is another. If children are involved, things normally get more complicated. They are often forced to take sides or even to understand both sides. Even for adult children, that's normally too much to cope with.
Ok, let's say a couple wants to mend the broken bridge and try again. What should this couple keep in mind?
That it takes time to rebuild trust, normally years.
What is an effective way to go rebuilding the trust after your partner has cheated?
There are many ways. In most cases, a new explicit agreement about what is allowed or forbidden in the relationship helps to rebuild trust. If the relationship survives the emotional rollercoaster period, and if what happened remains a singular past event, then sooner or later the attention will shift and focus on something else. This is the time when trust will evolve again.
So what goes on during a couple's therapy? How many sessions before you see an improvement to the relationship?
When couples come to see me, they have already managed to build up a wall between them. They don't necessarily see this wall (they are distracted by something else, i.e. infidelity) but they react to it – with intense unwanted emotions. I help couples to make this wall, as well as the damage it causes, visible to them. Once this is done, we collaborate in order to bring those emotions to the light, which have been rejected in the past. The process of healing and change starts once these emotions are shared. This normally happens within the first three sessions.
Dr Christian Kohlross is a licensed mental therapist, who specialises in couples' therapy, addiction, anxiety, depression and other mental, social and personality disorders. For more information, click here.