Cheating, Explained

Relationship expert Dr. Gilda answers your questions about dating, lies and infidelity.

eing cheated on: Many of us wonder and worry about it—and some of us have to work very hard to recover from this devastating experience. To help address your questions on all facets of this topic, we recently hosted a live chat with Dr. Gilda Carle, a relationship expert and best-selling author. Here, we share her wise advice on how lies and infidelity can threaten a relationship—and what to do if you find yourself navigating this rocky romantic territory.

Q: What is the main reason for cheating?
Dr. Gilda: There are many reasons why people cheat. Sometimes it's what you've seen in the house you grew up in. Sometimes all your buddies are doing the same thing. Sometimes it's because you don't feel good about yourself and you look for people who will make you feel better. Sometimes your relationship is crashing and you don't want to deal with that reality, so you're going to use cheating as a bandage. And sometimes people are so self-centered and egocentric that all you can think of is me, me, me. So there are many different reasons why people cheat. The objective
“As you begin to trust your own judgment, you will find a new partner who is more trustworthy.”
for any single is to make sure that you size somebody up before you become deeply, emotionally involved. And when you do, when you see the pattern that existed in that person's behavior in the past you'll pretty much be able to predict the behavior that this person is going to demonstrate in the future.

Q: How do people deal with the guilt of cheating?
Dr. Gilda: Somebody who cheats is looking for justification and rationalization more than anything else. So, he or she usually finds a way out in his or her own mind so that there isn't any guilt. It's often the person who's cheated on who feels that he or she must have done something wrong to have caused it. My advice is to look more carefully at what's going on before deciding to take the burden of blame onto yourself.

Q: Is it cheating if you don't engage in sex?
Dr. Gilda: Cheating can be flirting or it can be kissing. Many people spend lots of time on the telephone flirting with somebody when they should instead be investing that very valuable time in their relationship at home. So, the question is would you want your loved one to be doing what you're doing with this other party? That's really the question that answers what cheating is.

Q: Do you agree with the phrase “once a cheater, always a cheater”?
Dr. Gilda: I think that people can change but they have to want to. You can't make somebody change!

Q: Is it true that all men cheat?
Dr. Gilda: That's not the case. Plenty of women are cheating—men are not cheating alone; men are cheating with women. Every time I answer a question on my Suddenly Single advice column on MSN about cheating, I get tons of e-mails from men and plenty of women who say they are in the same situation—cheating on their mates.

Q: I just ended a relationship that was full of lies. How do I trust again?
Dr. Gilda: Trust is the most difficult thing to build in any relationship. You must start to trust yourself and your own instincts about people. Trust begins with trusting yourself and your ability to assess the different people who come into
“I have found that relationships that begin very quickly usually end very quickly as well.”
your life. It's going to take some time so don't try to rush it. But I also don't want you to go out on dates and go through this whole speech about how you were cheated on and that you find it very hard to trust again. Because then your dates will feel as though they have to jump through hoops to prove otherwise to you. As you begin to trust your own judgment, you will find a new partner who is more trustworthy.

Q: I believe that my partner of two years is cheating. What are the main signs to look for?
Dr. Gilda: Does she start to care more about what she looks like? Has she stopped listening closely to what you say? Does she make excuses for not showing up on time, or not showing up at all? In general, you feel in your gut that something has changed. I believe every single person knows that his or her partner is cheating when that’s what is going on.

Q: How do you tell if a man is just saying what he thinks you want to hear?
Dr. Gilda: Well, spend more time with him and find out if there are inconsistencies in what he's saying. On first dates, lots of men (and women!) tell the other person what he thinks that other person wants to hear. That's why first dates only come around once! You have to see if what he said early on in the evening makes sense with what he's saying after he's had a few drinks in him—and makes sense the following week and the week after that.

Q: How is it that one day you are the love of someone's life and almost overnight you're forgotten?
Dr. Gilda: The question is how well you know this person from the start? If somebody is telling you you're the love of his life, how long have you known this person for him to justify that? I have found that relationships that begin very quickly usually end very quickly as well. But relationships that have maintained themselves over time usually have an investment by the two people, and one or both of the people will be less likely to just wake up in the morning and decide they want to pack it in.

Q: Can a man have a “friendship” with a woman outside his marriage or dating relationship?
Dr. Gilda: Absolutely. Actually, I encourage that because this is where they get information about how other women think, other women feel. Just because he has a friendship with a person of the opposite sex doesn't mean he’s jumping her bones.

Q: What are the success rates for relationships after cheating?
Dr. Gilda: It depends on how hard two people want to work on their relationship. Usually after cheating there's tremendous distrust, so it's going to take a while for both parties to prove to the other that it was a mistake. It really depends. Give it time—consider seeking out a therapist to help you take the relationship one step at a time, rather than
“Just because he has a friendship with a person of the opposite sex doesn't mean he’s jumping her bones.”
trying to make it alright the next day. Working through it can show where difficulties have been in a relationship, and the two partners are more committed than they've ever been once they see the errors of their ways.

Q: I separated from my husband due to his affair with a woman much older than me. I'm younger, in better shape and fairly intelligent, so why did this affect my self-esteem so badly?
Dr. Gilda: What you have just learned is that being attracted to somebody has very little to do with age, looks and all these other things. Being attracted to somebody comes from the way that other person makes you feel. So don't take it personally, but try to find out for your next relationship what was lacking in your marriage and what kinds of things you need to work on so you grow from the experience.

Q: Should a woman believe a man to be loyal even if he likes to flirt?
Dr. Gilda: Flirtation is one thing, cheating is another. Some guys need their egos stroked so they go out of their way to seem like big shots with other people (women). But it's usually quite harmless. However, if it bothers you, you owe it to yourself to level with this guy.

Q: If you don't bet on the prince, who do you bet on?
Dr. Gilda: Yourself! My book Don't Bet on the Prince has a subtitle of “How to Have the Man You Want By Betting On Yourself”. This goes for how to have the job you want, how to have the income you want, how to have the life you want. Everything in your life is dependent upon your willingness to put your faith in you.

Q: Is being with someone just to avoid loneliness ever justified?
Dr. Gilda: No, no, no. That reminds me of the line in Jerry Maguire: “You complete me.” In reality, nobody can complete anybody else—the key to successful dating is to be complete before you enter into a relationship.

Dr. Gilda Carle is a licensed therapist and author of the best-seller, Don't Bet on the Prince! How to Have the Man You Want by Betting On Yourself.
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