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Why People Cheat on Their Partners (and How Counselling Can Help)

People cheating

by Andrea M. Darcy

Worried your partner is cheating, or tempted yourself? This article discusses why people cheat, and what you can do if an affair has hurt your relationship.

How many of us are actually cheating?

According to research by international data group Yougov:

  • one in five Brits have had an affair
  • a third of us have thought about it
  • and of those who did have an affair, only half stopped at one, with 20 per cent having had three or more affairs.

But what counts as cheating these days?

Note that the definition of ‘cheating’ can be flexible, not least with the addition to the lexicon lately of ‘emotional cheating‘ and ‘micro cheating‘.

In the research above, of the 20 per cent of us who have had an affair, only 17 per cent actually had sexual intercourse. This shows that some of us now see an affair as much more than just sex. 

At the end of the day, it’s up to you and your partner to discuss and be very clear with each other on what you see as fidelity, and what constitutes infidelity. If these definitions are not clear between you it can cause endless trust problems.

Am I in a healthy relationship quiz

Why people cheat

signs of an unhealthy relationship

photo by JD Mason for Unsplash

It’s easy to declare an affair happened because he/she ‘is a selfish idiot’. But that sort of one-swipe blame never leads to resolution or healing.

Affairs don’t happen out of nowhere, they are cumulative and complicated. And relationships involve two people, both of whom are making choices, even if that is just to stay, or not communicate.

In unhealthy, addictive relationships, affairs are just another power play in a long line of back and forth.

But in a generally healthy relationship, it’s very rare that a person who once loved you purposely sets out to hurt you in the way only an affair can. 

Why people cheat when it’s a healthy relationship, then? The reasons affairs happen in loving relationships are:

  • a need for excitement
  • dissatisfaction with another area of life
  • regret at not having enough life experiences
  • using relationships for personal validation
  • not feeling worthy of a partner so unconsciously ruining things
  • feeling less attractive than a partner and trying to ‘prove’ one’s desirability
  • suspecting an affair, even if its not based on any fact, then attempting ‘revenge’  by having one
  • stress
  • repeating a childhood pattern (growing up with a parent who had affairs).

Do I have to forgive them?

why people cheat

photo by angela roma for Pexels

It’s unrealistic and unhelpful to think you can just forgive someone for an affair.  Or for them, alternately, to think they should just have to say sorry and be forgiven.

There is no use in pretending to forgive someone if it’s not what you truly feel. It’s better to instead be honest with your partner about where you are at, and to take time to process your feelings honestly. Let them know if you want to forgive them and intend to do so with time, but don’t pretend. Otherwise your real feelings are more than likely to come out in an explosive way in the future.

Why is it so hard to get over a partner cheating?

Affairs are a betrayal of trust. When someone does something that damages our ability to trust, we can feel like our entire idea of what the world is, and what is and isn’t safe, is now on the chopping board.

Trust is such a primal instinct. From the moment we are born we instantly look to trust our caregiver, for example. So when our belief we can trust others is challenged, we can left feeling that life is dangerous. Or it can trigger old childhood pain. We are then not just dealing with the fallout of the affair, but a snowball of old hurts re-exposed. We might remember every partner that ever did us wrong, or even a parent betraying us.

The person who has been the victim of the affair can experience many negative emotions, including anxiety, low confidence, humiliation, jealousy and guilt. They may find it difficult to let go of the memory of the event and find themselves going round in circles with thoughts of how it happened.

The injured partner may find it hard to believe that the affair won’t happen again. They may find it hard to resist the urge to check their partner’s emails or Facebook page for reassurance, and might become distressed if their partner is late home or breaks a promise.

How to move on

If both partners decide that they want the relationship to continue, both will have to agree to work at rebuilding trust and establishing a fulfilling partnership together.

Forgiveness and acceptance take time. Small steps and a lot of communication are what’s needed to help the relationship to survive. Bumps and emotional outbursts are bound to happen along the way, so it will require long-term vision.

How can couples counselling help after an affair?

Although an affair is a deeply personal experience for both parties, this does not mean dealing with the emotions alone. Counselling can be instrumental in helping both partners to address a number of issues, both separately and together, to help repair the relationship.

How does counselling help?

The benefits of couples counselling include but are not limited to:

  • exploring the dynamics of the relationship before the affair
  • remembering that at one point things were working
  • learning how to communicate again
  • remembering what was the relationship like before things went sour
  • identifying the real (not assumed) issues that led up to the event
  • recognising what needs and wants were not being met.

It can of course be a painful process, but your couples counsellor can help to mediate any difficult emotions and encourage open communication.

Doesn’t a couples counsellor force you to stay together?

Not at all. A couples counsellor is there to create a safe space for you to communicate with each other and find the best solution for both of you. If that is breaking up, a therapist can make the process of ending a relationship healthier and kinder. Given how long bad breakups can go on and fester, that’s not such a bad investment!

Time to stop sniping at each other and start connecting again? We connect you with a team of top London talk therapists. Our couples therapists all have over ten years of experience and we also offer online couples counselling. Or use our sister site for UK-wide affordable therapy options.

Andrea M. Darcy mental health expertAndrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert with training in person-centred counselling and coaching. She often writes about trauma, relationships, and ADHD, and works as a consultant helping people  plan their perfect therapy journey. Find her on Instagram @am_darcy






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Blog Topics: Relationships, Therapy Video

One Response to “Why People Cheat on Their Partners (and How Counselling Can Help)”
  1. Brandice

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