Cheating? Here’s Why…

Let an expert help you discover the real reasons behind your desire to stray—so you can start to fix what’s broken.

By Chelsea Kaplan

ot a wandering eye? Before the temptation of the fruit of another gets the best of you and your relationship, it might be a wise move to examine why you’re finding that fruit so tempting in the first place. According to Mira Kirshenbaum, author of When Good People Have Affairs, considering the reasons behind your desire to begin or continue an affair may be the key to bringing to light the fundamental problems in your relationship or, perhaps, yourself. Additionally, she says, doing so can actually save your relationship if you’ve already gone ahead and strayed. Confused as to what your cheatin’ heart is really telling you? Below, find Kirshenbaum’s translations as well as her thoughts on when it’s in your best interest to try to save your relationship and when you might want to throw in the towel.

In your opinion, are there ever instances when it is OK to cheat, or should people who cheat feel bad and guilty about their actions?

People cheat for a reason, so I believe feeling guilty about it is bad, but so is self-deception. Guilt fills your head with smoke and prevents you from thinking straight about what you really need, about who your partner (probably not as awful as you
Confused as to what your cheatin’ heart is really telling you?
think) and your lover (probably not as wonderful as you think) really are and about what’s actually best for everyone. When you cheat or want to cheat, try instead to focus your mental energy on forming a clear understanding of what you did or want to do, what the risks are or would be, why you did what you did and who all the players really are as people, including yourself.

In your book, you mention that affairs often fall into a few categories. One you note as particularly common is the see-if affair. How can someone recognize if she’s having a see-if affair?

See-if affairs are recognizable by how they play out. As one goes on, something striking happens. The cheater realizes one of two things: either “You know what? This person I thought I was so infatuated with because he or she had what I thought I was so hungry for really didn’t” or “I thought something was missing from my marriage that I really needed, and now I see how right I was.” As a see-if affair is a type of experiment, as with all experiments, sometimes you realize you’ve discovered something real, and lot of times you realize you haven’t discovered anything at all — sometimes when it is too late. That’s why you should try to “discover” this truth before you cheat, if at all possible.

What about affairs that are designed to remove oneself from a relationship?

Those I call ejector-seat affairs. Many times people reach the point, consciously or not, where they know they want to get out of their relationship, but they don’t know how to make that happen. They may not have the guts to say straight out, “I want to end this,” or they may feel they don’t have sufficient reason. Ejector-seat affairs create the exit you’re looking for. Granted, they’re not the kindest or most honest way to go about things, but for many people, it’s the course of action they choose to get out of a relationship.

Another affair you say is fairly common is the sexual-panic affair. What circumstances lead up to that one?

This affair isn’t about “I need to get laid immediately!” It means something deeper. A sexual-panic affair actually has to do with a person’s sense of waning desire for his or her partner; you could think of this as a sexual-reassurance affair because it validates that you can get aroused, you can perform and you can satisfy another person. Couples therapy can be helpful in warding off this kind of affair, but for some, they need to experience things with another firsthand, so to speak.

If someone is in a relationship and feeling compelled to cheat, do you think it means he needs to get out of his current relationship, or are there other possibilities?

The fact that a person feels compelled to cheat doesn’t necessarily mean that he needs to
Ejector-seat affairs create the exit you’re looking for.
get out of his current relationship. If you’re tempted to cheat but haven’t yet, I advise that you don’t. Honestly, it will cause far more problems than it’s worth. Instead, what you should do is think very carefully about the problems in your relationship that have made cheating attractive to you. Then let your partner know — without mentioning the cheating — how important it is that the two of you get help before real damage is done.

What advice would you give to someone who has already gone ahead and cheated?

Step back and get a much clearer sense of the two people you’re involved with. Doing so should provide you with a realistic view of what your relationship with your lover will really be like five years on, which you should compare with what your current relationship could be like if you worked on it. Consider which is a better scenario and act accordingly.

If someone suspects her mate is cheating, how do you recommend she respond?

First, see if you can obtain evidence of the cheating before you confront your partner. Here’s the reason: If you confront first, then your partner may try to hide all the evidence, and you may never be able to confirm your suspicions. You’ll be up in the air for much longer, and it will be more harrowing for you. It’s better not to suspect, but once you suspect, it’s better to know. Then, once you have the evidence, before you confront your partner, ask yourself what you want. Do you just want out of the relationship, period? Do you want to see if there’s a chance you can work things out? Knowing what you want will make it much easier for you to figure out what to do. If you just want out, for example, there’s no need to have a big ugly confrontation unless you want one. Instead, your best move might be to consult a lawyer first.

But if you’re hoping to find a way to heal the hurts, don’t put your partner in the position of having to lie. Just let him know that you’re aware of his affair, tell him you need him to end it immediately and that the two of you need to go into couples therapy to work on your relationship. And if you don’t know what you want, don’t act impulsively. If you have a therapist or wise confidant, it might be best to talk things over with that person before you make any move.

In your opinion, can a couple who have weathered a cheating situation recover?

Asking whether a relationship can survive an affair is like asking whether a car can survive a crash. It depends on the car and the crash! In the case of an affair, it depends on who the people are in the marriage and on the marriage itself. For things to get better, the cheated-on person needs to have a talent for forgiveness, and the cheater has to have a real desire to stay in the marriage and a willingness to do what it takes to heal the hurts. Let’s not sugarcoat it — healing the hurts is an ordeal. But if the cheater is willing to go through it, and his or her partner has a capacity to forgive, then the relationship can not only survive but also thrive.

Chelsea Kaplan is deputy editor of The Family Groove and a regular guest on Sirius XM Radio’s “Broadminded.” Read more from Chelsea on her blog,The Momtourage.”
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