A cheat is a cheat is a cheat. This sentiment is echoed time and time again. Infidelity can deliver a devastating blow to unsuspecting spouses, obliterating their self-confidence, and instantly driving up walls around their hearts to protect from further possible heartache. Couples will have the inevitable ups and downs… ins and outs — good times, bad times, and everything in between. This is the maze that constitutes a relationship. Navigating our way through this maze will be tricky. Sometimes we’ll breeze through with ease and familiarity. Other times, we may butt our head against the same damn wall over and over again expecting the wall to move, rather than changing our direction. When a marriage is in trouble, that trouble is our metaphorical “wall.” We may choose to ignore it…hoping it will correct itself, and we can skip off into the sunset. Unfortunately, delusionally ignoring our marital trouble, or dissatisfaction, will lead us – not into the sunset – but into the arms of another. While some spouses actively search out a one-night stand to “fix” a problem they’re not sure how to fix at home, other spouses develop a seemingly innocent friendship that evolves into more. Sexual cheating…emotional cheating…sexual fantasy. What constitutes cheating? At what point have we shredded our marital trust?
You’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t agree – sex with someone other than your spouse IS cheating. When we’re unhappy in our marriage, we tend to seek out the missing component. If it’s the sex that’s missing, an occasional one-night stand will “satisfy.” Sexual cheating without emotional ties is usually committed by married men…not to say women don’t have one-night stands as well. But generally speaking, sex, or the lack of it, is the elephant looming in a man’s rapidly shrinking room – the glue holding his marital world together. So, when that glue pulls the disappearing act, is it any wonder he develops a wandering eye. Let’s face it, our eyes wander even when all needs are fulfilled – such is human nature. A sexless marriage, obviously, is an open invitation for an outsider to “fill in the gaps” and offer that much needed glue.
Some consider surfing internet pornography or frequenting strip clubs to be a form of cheating. While neither of these (in moderation) is technically cheating, either can most definitely make a woman feel inadequate and betrayed ~ especially when it becomes routine. Why? Because women don’t separate sex and emotion. They’re synonymous in the chick dictionary. So, discovering that her husband is frequenting porn sites or strip clubs can be devastating to both her trust and her ego…just as devastating as his discovery of her infidelity. Note to men: include her in your online fantasies. This may (depending on the woman) enhance your sex life. Excluding her sends the message that she’s not the one you want, therefore, making her feel betrayed and forsaken. But when enjoyed together, and in moderation, it can become the occasional spice needed to shake things up a bit.
Another blurred line in the world of affairs is emotional cheating – flying just beneath the radar, masking itself as friendship. Emotional cheating occurs when a spouse is emotionally connecting with another person, talking intimately with that person, sharing secrets, and bonding. Unlike a one-night stand, it takes time to form this connection with someone. Usually beginning as an innocent friendship, it can lead to sexual cheating given time and opportunity. The emotional cheater no longer feels that necessary emotional connection to his/her spouse. She/he (usually she) may feel “He doesn’t seem to care about spending time with me or connecting with me. I feel expendable and unappreciated.” Just as one may search out a one-night stand to fulfill a sexless marriage, one may also search out an emotional connection to replace the one that has gone missing. While some experts say emotional cheating is more destructive, a sexual affair is an image one will have burned in memory forever. This image will likely taunt the couple (in different ways: a bitter-sweet memory to the cheater — a threat and constant perceived comparison to the cheated). On the other hand, emotional cheating can form bonds that will never be broken and forever remain in the thoughts of all parties involved. It’s my opinion that one is not worse than the other…just different perspectives, different needs, and different methods of fulfilling these needs.
Cheating is an act that may portray itself as black and white, a simple clear-cut absolute. This would be a deception. It’s not only individual to the couple, their particular boundaries, preferences, and forgiveness thresholds – but it’s also a cry for help. If one felt no attachment to his spouse, he wouldn’t bother with cheating. He’d just walk away and fulfill his needs without the hassle of hiding it. But when one feels an attachment to his/her spouse, he doesn’t want to leave – nor does he want to forgo needs. Cheating becomes an outlet allowing both the opportunity for the original relationship to improve AND sexual, or emotional, needs to be met in the meantime. Affairs aren’t acts committed out of malice to intentionally hurt one’s spouse (although there are always exceptions). But, they are most frequently a symptom of an ailing relationship. A relationship consists of two people with completely different needs: men needing a regular sexual connection, women needing a regular emotional connection. These connections are dependent on one another for the survival of the relationship. So, it should be no surprise that when one isn’t getting his needs met, he OR she will eventually turn to someone else to provide it. With many couples, an affair will both further hurt and surprisingly help repair the broken relationship. Once over the initial betrayal of the affair, it serves as a wake up call. “Something was VERY wrong with us before the affair. I don’t want to lose what we had. What can we do to get it back?” While an affair is incredibly hurtful to a relationship, it can also be just the slap in the face we needed to wake us from our “too comfortable, routine stupor.” Of course, if cheating becomes a way of life, both you and your spouse should do everyone a favor and move on. But, if you’re wondering whether your flirty conversations with your co-worker, your late night internet chats, your frequent visits to porn sites, or your lunch date with a friend is considered cheating, trust your gut. Do you feel guilty? Do you want to keep it secret? If so, then you may be well on your way to breaching your marital trust. Let your guilt be your guide. Proceed with caution.