As time goes on, relationships get harder, and your heart becomes more unsure, is it ever okay to cheat on someone?
If you’ve clicked on this, you’ve done so for one of three main reasons:
- You’re a friend of my wife or I and are concerned Matt is about to do something stupid
- You’re in a long term relationship and you’ve started contemplating other options
- You’ve been affected by the fallout of someone cheating on someone else
Rest assured, number 1 is absolutely not the case. I even gave my wife a heads up that I was going to write this one so there wasn’t any alarm.
But you know, this is actually a real concern and a real pressure for a whole lot of people in the worlds of love and sex.
When I used to have Foxtel, there used to be entire blocks of TV programming dedicated to 3 or 4 different types of shows all about paternity and faithfulness checks. We’ve all seen the GIFs from the Maury Povich show where young men would get absolutely lit and burst out in the best prepared breakdance they knew how when the DNA test would come back and they would hear that “you are NOT the father!”. Usually the lady (but sometimes the roles are reversed on these types of shows, dunno why, probably stereotypes of infidelity) would be blaming this dude for the whole show about his women on the side and his various side hustles. Then when the truth came out that she was actually the cheater, it would be on for young and old.
Now this sort of stuff is fairly entertaining for a large variety of people, but when you’re the one worried about infidelity, whether someone else’s or your own, it takes on a whole different context.
People do cheat in shorter term relationships, but I think the real damage and the real concern is around cheating in long term relationships. A University of Chicago study which asks about affairs every year for the last 30 or so years has turned in that about 10% of people have cheated. That’s a lot of people.
So, is this ever justified? Is it ever okay to cheat on someone? While the answer should be obvious, I think it would be more pertinent to look at some of the reasons why people do what they do.
Look at all those options
As I’ve written about before in When Nobody is Good Enough For You, I think one of the most difficult struggles in modern relationships is the amount of choice, or at least perceived choice, that is out there. On the topic of cheaters and adulterous affairs, one of the most infamous events in recent history occurred when “life is short, have an affair” website Ashley Madison was hit by a data breach. This threw multiple relationships and individuals into mass panic as they scrambled to try to cover up their activities via the website that were now exposed for all to see.
I’m not so sure if Ashley Madison could even be considered the main site that people would use for hooking up outside of their committed relationships. That may even just go to the social media platforms of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. I mean, look at all those options out there, or at least perceived options. When people aren’t happy in their current relationship, all they have to do is scroll through their feed and see those seemingly available men and women that may accommodate them in ways their current partner isn’t.
Options are the greatest enemy of commitment. This is true in every area of our lives, but especially in our relationships with a partner. Whilst many are now turning to the idea of open relationships, ie. cheating with permission, the cheating options even in these types of relationships are still capable of eroding the initial commitment of the circle of people.
Failing to resolve the conflict points
When we were doing our pre-marriage counselling before we got engaged, the goal was to identify areas of our relationship that we seemed to have strong disagreement on, or hadn’t yet talked about. During the sessions, you would then talk about any differences or oversights and make sure you were on the same page about an issue, or had discussed how you were going to handle disagreements around it. I’d recommend such a course to anyone thinking of tying the knot, or even after you have if you haven’t done something like that before.
I think everyone would be familiar with a variety of different conflict management and resolution styles in the corporate world, but often we’re not well equipped to handle conflict with rings on. Our society terms irreconcilable differences as the breaking point of relationships, where what has occurred is refused to be dealt with by one or both parties. It only takes one person in the relationship to decide they no longer want to try for the relationship to break down, or even for a secret (or public) affair to become a viable course of action.
All the more reason for us to get good at resolving conflict. If we don’t learn to resolve it, it will take us out. Fortunately, there are heaps of great resources out there for how to fight fair and to resolve those issues that seem to keep us apart.
The unspoken destroyers
I was looking at some of the statistics for reasons citing it being okay to cheat on someone, or at least for the thought being present. What was very interesting about an Australian study was that men and women equally responded with the same reasons in relatively the same percentages, with both genders citing emotional disconnection as by far the number one reason for an affair. Our stereotypes would probably try to tell us that men would be doing it for the physical pleasure, but it just goes to show that there is a level playing field in the human heart. We really do desire the same things.
But we don’t often say what those things are.
What are you struggling with in your relationship that no one knows about? It could be someone’s sexual addiction, a fight that just has no end, a mental illness that derails or dominates every conversation. It could be that thing that you just will never ask your partner for, whether it be physical or emotional. It could be that you have a dream that you’ve never fully expressed and you now harbour resentment towards your partner for their inability to make it happen.
People aren’t mind readers. We are grown men and women. We have to learn to get good at saying things out loud.
And especially with the person we’re connected to. I’ve watched time and time again where someone will just up and leave or suddenly announce they’re dating someone else because of something they’ve never told their partner. I heard an amazingly accurate quote from a marriage seminar that turns out to come from Stephen Covey in The Speed of Trust – “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviours”. We blame our partner for what we do see against what they don’t see.
We may be feeling like cheating is justified based on how we’re feeling inside, but we don’t make the same allowances for why the other person in our relationship may have acted a certain way. Something I’ve heard and read from counsellors and psychologists is that if you write down on paper what has happened as if it were a story book, it can really help see what’s real and what hasn’t been spoken yet.
A first century Jewish rabbi threw a spanner in the works when he began to talk about infidelity and it being okay to cheat on someone. He said that adultery was pretty commonly accepted as being wrong and destructive, but took it one step further and said that anyone who lusts after someone else has already committed adultery in their heart. He later would say that “porneia” is the destroyer of relationships.
You’ve probably seen the word pornography – this is the word it comes from. Porneia is a powerful word that isn’t just someone looking at pornography or explicity having an affair, but it’s actually marital unfaithfulness.
This highlights the real challenge of long term relationships, in that it is any unfaithfulness to the marriage covenant that is problematic.
We have our standard in our heads that cheating means abandoning our partners or having multiple women on the side or having that Ashley Madison account or hitting up all the hotties on Snap. And while those are forms of cheating, these definitions show us that cheating is a heart attitude before it ever translates into those bigger actions.
In my relationship, am I being faithful? Am I being the best husband I can be? Am I attentive to the needs and concerns of my wife? Or do I let myself wander, disregard what’s close to her heart, make it all about me?
That is the true moment when you and I are unfaithful. That is the great equalizer for all of us in loving relationships, that we are to be faithful in the big and the small.
So, is it ever okay to cheat on someone? I haven’t explicitly said it yet, but of course the answer is no. But you already knew that. That’s why I thought it would be more worthwhile to look at those factors behind cheating, and the higher standard that’s been put to us that faithfulness is a position and attitude of the heart before it is a laborious or blown out series of affairs and infidelity.
And hey, if you’re struggling with any of these things, you need to involve someone. Your partner for one. If you can’t work it out, maybe it’s time to involve a professional or a trusted mentor. Deal with it before it deals with you.
How about you? Do you think it’s ever okay to cheat on someone? How would you address these sorts of challenges in life long love?