Infidelity: When Love Stops Being Exclusive

July 23, 2018

Many couples agree to be faithful. They agree to love each other and honor the vows they made to each other. When one person breaks that agreement, you have infidelity. The unfaithful partner usually hides their infidelity because they know what it means. They’re aware of some of the consequences that it can have, even if they later confess or are discovered. Whatever the case, the victim of infidelity experiences a sense of betrayal on two levels. Not just betrayal of the individual, but also a betrayal of the relationship itself.

Infidelity doesn’t only mean having sex with another person. You can also talk about infidelity at an emotional level or a combination of both. Either way, it compromises the trust that the couple had. This is serious because trust is the foundation of a healthy relationship.

Infidelity is another area in life where men and women have their differences. According to several studies, men tend to be more hurt by a partner’s sexual infidelity. Women, on the other hand, find emotional infidelity more hurtful. This is an estimate; we know that every case is different.

What causes infidelity?

In love, the spark that lights the flame of unfaithfulness can come from many different places. On an individual level, these are some of the things that might make a person cheat:

  • Sexual attraction.
  • Gratification of sexual, emotional, and/or social needs.
  • To escape an unsatisfying relationship
  • The need for the excitement of the chase, or the need to dominate in the relationship
  • Compulsive behavior or sexual addiction
  • Revenge

Other causes are more systemic. In other words, they arise from aspects of the relationship itself. For example, infidelity might arise as a symptom of some problem in the relationship or a desire for greater intimacy. In addition, the opposite is true – cheating happens when one partner feels that the other wants to get more intimate.

woman who is a victim of infidelity

What does it feel like to be cheated on?

When your partner cheats, you can feel an array of emotions. Your reaction depends on your experience, personality, the type of infidelity, the type of relationship you have, and the social and cultural context. These are some of the most common responses:

  • Anger
  • Feelings of abandonment or rejection
  • Feeling powerless, lack of control
  • Loss of self-esteem and self-worth, feeling like a worthless partner
  • Loss of trust
  • Post-traumatic stress

Are there gender differences when it comes to infidelity?

According to sociological studies, the differences between men and women in relation to infidelity have significantly decreased in recent years. In fact, there are hardly any measurable differences between young people.

In this sense, evolutionary theories help us better understand people who are unfaithful. That is because monogamy is a sociocultural concept. In fact, these days there are plenty of non-monogamous relationships. Like monogamous relationships, they have their own set of agreements and ethical codes.

We all use long-term reproduction strategies that are more related to monogamy (compatibility, security, comfort…). In the short term, we think of passion, novelty, and risk. Consequently, there are probably more people who have thought about infidelity than who have actually done it. 

The dilemma of wanting safety and also wanting novelty and passion is very human. When faced with this dilemma, there are people who make choices that they probably wouldn’t otherwise. From an anthropological and evolutionary point of view, men tend to be less faithful. That’s because having several partners is a reproductive strategy and would benefit the purpose of assuring offspring.

Forgiveness after cheating

Infidelity is an intersection with many different paths. A lot of those paths lead to forgiveness. The need to forgive and to be forgiven is very common. In addition, it’s not just about restoring the relationship, it’s about restoring a person’s own image of themselves. No one likes to think of themselves as a cheater. We don’t want to believe we aren’t trustworthy and that we can be controlled by passion and instinct.

woman cheated on her spouse

In many cases, forgiveness is also the first step to healing the relationship. When someone feels betrayed, forgiveness is the foundation on which the couple can rebuild their relationship. Forgiveness is also the base for rediscovering trust, respect, and maybe even love. On the other hand, forgiveness is often linked to “strange” ideas or myths that can be confusing, like the following:

  • Forgiveness is always good.
  • Forgiving shows that you’re a good person.
  • It gets rid of conflict.
  • Forgiveness is a one-time thing.
  • If you forgive, it transforms negative feelings into positive ones.
  • Forgiving is forgetting.
  • To forgive is to admit that your own feelings weren’t appropriate or justified.
  • Forgiveness doesn’t imply asking for something in exchange.

Also, forgiveness implies recognizing what happened. It’s a process that integrates the event into your story. It’s also the process by which the wound stops constantly hurting. Sometimes vestiges of the damage remain in the form of a scar. That’s why, even though a couple gets back together and they trust each other again, things aren’t perfect. Certain things will always remind them of the infidelity. As a result, overcoming those moments requires a lot of strength and determination.

In conclusion, you can forgive, assimilate, or ignore cheating. It’s something that each person will handle in a different way. No doubt, the best option is the one that allows you to move on with your life.