The answer to why people cheat isn't always so cut and dry
Let me preface this by saying I've been on both sides of this. Both times I cheated, I felt terrible for hurting the person with whom I was in a relationship, but also knew I wasn't happy in the relationship for one reason or another.
On the flip side, according to a lengthy Reddit thread, many cheaters claim they're still very much in love with their SOs. Several studies, including one that was conducted at Rutgers, say this cheating while happy scenario is a common trend. Thirty-four percent of women and 56 percent of men who cheat(ed) on their spouses claim to be perfectly happy in their relationships — which are interesting findings to say the least. This Reddit thread gave me great insight into the, shall we say, not so cut and dry reasons behind why people cheat. Here are a few of the most interesting.
1. The 'It just sort of happened' cheater
This guy goes on to describe a pretty classic case of cheating, which I like to call the "it was never my intention, but..." story. He still loves his girlfriend, but finds himself in situations where he just can't help himself. The temptation is too strong, and his willpower is too weak. While certainly not the "right" thing to do, it's sort of understandable how it could've happened, at least the first time. However, in this particular situation, the cheater kept it going because, "this girl is just a physical outlet for me and I still love my GF."
He eventually comes to this conclusion: "You push the envelope, little by little, and by the time you've realized you've crossed the line, everything is f***ed up. Now you've got to try and break it off amicably, but it's not that easy because you like both girls and they both like you, so you try and let it sit, but it will, more likely than not, blow up in your face." The lesson here is, even passively-made decisions are still decisions that will no doubt have consequences.
2. The serial cheater
"It was like I went narcissist or psychopath or some shit overnight. It was like my ability to love or respect women just disappeared. So I cheated on literally every girlfriend I had from then on." - sexypleurisy
This one's fascinating because the cheater totally owns up to being a "narcissist or psychopath". He was cheated on by his high school girlfriend, and it just "flipped a switch" inside of him. In my opinion, it seems like he was trying to fill a void that her infidelity created in him, and eventually realized he was actually making it bigger by filling it with meaningless conquests.
The irony here is that once he finally found the love of his life, and decided to put the cheating behind him, she cheated on him. My favorite part is that he looks at it like the ultimate karma for his "dark days" before her. "I think I kinda deserved it, though. I had spent enough time being an insufferable bastard that I had it coming."
3. The 'I cheat because I hate myself' cheater
"I've been a cheater in most relationships I've had, and as a result, a self-hater for most relationships. I've been through therapy for about 8 years for other reasons and what I've come to learn is that I didn't feel I deserved love, affection, or appreciation. This stems from a whole host of other things from my childhood (sexual abuse, lack of fatherly relationship, latchkey kid, etc)." - this-damn-throwaway
I got quite sad after reading this one because this guy sounds like he suffered serious emotional trauma in his childhood. And while you might say that's no excuse since he's an adult now, and should be able to understand right from wrong, he explains why learning you deserve love after a lifetime of not having it is really difficult. On the outside, he looks like just another case of a serial cheater who got what he deserved — he found the "girl of his dreams" and she broke his heart by cheating on him.
However, unlike others, he didn't swerve from his path to better himself. He continues to battle temptations, like any other addict, but knows that ultimately the pride he feels when he does the right thing is better than the feeling of cheating. "I do still feel urges to cheat sometimes, but my unwillingness to hurt her saves me. Part of my self-hatred stems from not doing the right thing. Each time I do the right thing, I feel a sense of pride, and it makes me feel worthy of the love I receive. A positive cycle."
4. The 'I told my wife I was going to cheat' cheater
"My wife and I are best friends — we latched onto each other in our early 20s and know we will always be life companions. It's such a great fit, so much understanding, mutual humor, pleasure in each others' (sic) company.... Ideal, right? Well, yes and no." - nine-W
The basic gist here is this couple have a seemingly perfect marriage with just one thing missing: sex. They were virgins when they got married, and his wife just never seemed as sexually driven as he was; sadly not an uncommon tale. However, he came to her with his frustrations, and told her he needed to have extra-marital sex with an old childhood friend for whom he's always had feelings in order to hopefully quell is sexual dissatisfaction.
He went through with it, and returned home, terrified he'd ruined his marriage, but instead found something surprising. His wife welcomed him home with tearful, open arms. Moreover, the indiscretion seemed to have ignited a passion in her that had been dormant before. It was then that he found the answer to their problem — sexual competition.
"While I haven't made a pattern of explicitly seeking out actual adultery, 'emotional cheating' turns out to be beneficial to the marriage, provided she knows about it, or at least is encouraged to suspect it." This is something the two would never have discovered if they hadn't tried to be open with each other and share something that was difficult to hear.
5. The crisis cheater
Remember how I said I've been on both sides of this argument? Well here's a brief recap of my story. My boyfriend and I have known each other since we were 5. We got together right after high school and proceeded to have a Ross and Rachel, on-again-off-again relationship throughout college, and the first few years after. Then we started dating exclusively. We're best friends who also happen to have great chemistry, but things got tough career-wise for me a few years into the relationship.
Then his father passed away when he was 27 years old. Needless to say we were emotionally frayed and the relationship suffered. Instead of breaking up, we decided to try an open relationship for a while to see if that would help alleviate some of the pressure we were both feeling. Long story short, it was hard (mainly because he got involved with other people, and I didn't) but ultimately solidified the love and attraction we feel for each other.
So in conclusion, cheating isn't always bad. It doesn't always mean the end of your relationship or that your SO doesn't love you anymore. According to Dr. Esther Perel, the author of Mating in Captivity, "The tight, companionable, totally merged nature of the modern marriage is one of the factors pushing people in happy marriages to have affairs." Simply put, marriage can get too comfortable, and while we may be happy, we may also be bored, intimately-speaking.
However, cheating can also be a symptom of a bigger problem that should be rooted out before things get out of hand and someone ends up being unforgivably hurt. While this may sound therapist-y, the key to any good relationship is keeping the lines of communication way open.