Overlooked reasons why people in happy relationships still cheat

When people in happy relationships cheat, experts say it has nothing to do with the relationship. Getty Images

Cheating has always come down to unhappy relationships, ungrateful partners and a desire to seek something you can’t find at home.

But some experts say there are reasons why people — who shouldn’t necessarily be labelled as “bad” people — cheat on their partners.

Esther Perel, author of The State of Affairs, which was recently published in an adapted version in The Atlantic, wrote generally, affairs are described in terms of damage caused.

“The damage that infidelity causes the aggrieved partner is one side of the story. For centuries, when affairs were tacitly condoned for men, this pain was overlooked, since it was mostly experienced by women,” she wrote. “Strange as it may seem, affairs have a lot to teach us about marriage — what we expect, what we think we want and what we feel entitled to. They reveal our personal and cultural attitudes about love, lust and commitment — attitudes that have changed dramatically over the past 100 years.”

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READ MORE: 9 signs your partner is a cheater

Perel, who is also a couples therapist, recently told Business Insider, the reason why people in happy relationships may look to cheat has nothing to do with their partner, but more about themselves.

“Many times, people who stray are also hoping to reconnect with lost parts of themselves, with the lives un-lived, with the sense that life is short and there are certain experiences … that they are longing for. They are looking not just for another person but in a way, they’re looking for another self.”

“Instead of thinking that the person who cheats is unhappy with their partner or with their relationship, it is sometimes important to think that they may be unhappy with themselves,” she told Business Insider. “Or, at least uncomfortable, restless, longing for something else, longing to reconnect with lost parts of themselves, longing to transcend a sense of deadness that they are feeling inside, longing to experience a sense of autonomy over their life.”

The good and bad

Natasha Sharma, a therapist and relationship expert based in Toronto, says it’s not smart to box cheaters into one category.

“There’s no ‘bad’ cheater,” she tells Global News. “It’s just a behaviour that is harmful and hurtful. It’s the action that is bad.”

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WATCH: Do women feel less guilt about cheating than men?

She adds in many cases, cheating has to do with the individual cheater, and not their partner or relationship.

“They have an insecurity,” she says, adding most people who cheat in happy relationships may feel a sense of missing out on an aspect of their lives, or fulfilling something they didn’t get to do in their history of relationships.

Recognizing the signs

Sharma adds that the issue sometimes, when people cheat in happy relationships or marriages, is that the person who is about to cheat may not even realize what’s going on with themselves.

Sometimes, the cause of cheating is more direct. They are unhappy, they aren’t having enough sex or there are issues with communication in the relationship. “Sometimes, cheating is just an expression.”

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She says, sometimes, it’s not so obvious or has anything to do with how they act towards you particularly.

READ MORE: Should you tell your new partner about your cheating past? Experts weigh in

“Any major changes that are consistent, like they used to do something and they don’t think it’s fun anymore,” she says, could be a sign.

Or, if your partner is not acting like themselves. Other signs include becoming secretive, unavailable and a sudden change in mood.

How we view cheating

Sharma adds an important aspect of the dialogue of infidelity that’s often left out is how we classify cheaters. She argues anyone can be a cheater.

“We like to think we would never cheat or it would never happen to me,” she says. “But that’s not how it works. Sometimes because of the situation… it can happen.”

She adds while most people can regulate themselves if they feel “tempted,” we’re all still human beings who have the capacity to be unfaithful.

READ MORE: The dating website for people who don’t want to be cheated on (again)

Others, like Mira Kirshenbaum, a couples counsellor and the author of When Good People Have Affairs, argues cheating can even be good for a marriage.

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“They’re a wake-up call. They tell you there’s something seriously wrong here [and] you can’t go on with business as usual,” she told Time. “And if you really listen and you take that seriously and act on it, then you have an opportunity to make something wonderful happen.”

Sharma says cheaters are just making emotional decisions, and may not really care about the harm they are causing.

“The vast majority of people have something psychological that is driving them to do it, not because they are ‘good’ or ‘bad.'”

Read Perel’s full piece in The Atlantic here.

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