In its next column for TheLatch—, BARE Sexology poses the four questions someone with a wandering eye may wish to ask themselves before cheating on their partner.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs details the things that most motivate us as humans.
Down the bottom of the pyramid are the items we need the most — physiological building blocks for the spice of life to sit upon such as food, water, warmth and rest. The theory goes that once we have achieved our basic needs, we move up the pyramid and start seeking out intimate relationships, prestige and creative activities.
So why am I talking about a 77-year-old psychological theory in an article about cheating? Well, it’s because the same build-process can happen with our relationships.
In long-term relationships, we can establish a great safety with our partner, before seeking self-esteem-building adventure. And that’s when we start to contemplate cheating.
When your eye starts to wander to someone else, here’s what you should ask yourself:
1. Why do I want to cheat?
It’s a simple question, but in the heat of the moment, people often forget to ask themselves why it is they want to cheat. If there is something missing from your romantic life that you’re not getting from your relationship, such as sex or intimacy or support, communication with your partner could rectify the situation and enhance your relationship.
To start this conversation, discuss with your partner what it is that you love about your relationship before noting any changes you would like to see. Doing otherwise could cause them to become defensive.
2. How would my partner feel if I told them I cheated?
If you don’t think your partner would be surprised if you told them that you cheated, it may be time to look at your own actions in the relationship. Perhaps you’ve been making sly, sexual comments about other people that you thought were ‘off-hand’ but your partner has noticed. Consider if this thought about acting on your desire to cheat is actually reflective of the body language you’ve been exhibiting for weeks.
Your partner may feel hurt when they hear you cheated, especially if you are in a long-term committed relationship. Sit with how it might feel to watch your partner be hurt and ask yourself whether sleeping with someone else is worth it.
At this point, people can begin to qualify what constitutes cheating — is it a kiss, or a dirty text, or is it only sexual intercourse? Qualifying the deception is a sneaky protective behaviour we put in place to justify that we’re not hurting anyone. But unless you have boundaries around third-parties in your relationship already set up, the hurt will be real.
3. How would cheating impact me?
Your partner being hurt or leaving you is not the only personal impact you may experience if you act on your curiosity to cheat. You may experience deep feelings of guilt around your actions, even if you don’t come clean to your partner.
Other feelings you may experience are shame that you broke a vow (especially if married), fear that you will be found out, and a reduced sense of self-esteem if cheating is against your values.
Cheating is like an addiction — often we are quick to tell ourselves we will do it ‘just this once’, but if it’s good… will you really stop at once? The thrill of the chase can be addictive and if you want to get out of it, the only way is cold turkey.
Finally, don’t forget the increased risk of STIs and pregnancy when sleeping with new partners.
4. Is there an alternative to cheating?
If you’ve read all of the above and still think cheating is the right way to go, ask yourself if there’s an alternative to simply sleeping with someone new.
For instance, could you ask your partner whether they would like to bring a third into the bedroom so you could experience the thrill together? Consider increasing communication with your partner and discuss your fantasies, including roleplay, dress-ups or toys. If you find it hard to have these conversations yourself, you can engage with a sex or relationships therapist to help mediate.
We understand that all of the above can be tough to think about when you’re in the heat of desire, so if you can’t ask those four questions — ask just this one: How would I feel if they cheated on me?
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