Having an affair or tempted to? Here are some things to keep in mind...
What if YOU cheated?
Usually when there are articles or media coverage about cheating, it’s the guy who’s sneaking around: What to do if he cheats on you, What are the signs he’s cheated, about to cheat, or is in the middle of a full-blown affair, How can you get over it, Should you get over it, John Edwards, Elliot Spitzer, the list goes on. Men, we assume, are naturally the cheaters.
Although its not often talked about, and not considered to be the norm, women cheat too—much more often than people realize. The numbers vary depending on the study, but the majority report that women cheat almost as often as men. If you’re having an affair—or are about to—these are the things you need to think about:
Why are you cheating/tempted to cheat?
As a woman, maybe the fact that you’re unhappy in your relationship isn’t the easiest conclusion to come to. We grow up hearing that girls should fantasize about weddings, how important it is to find a husband, and how having a family should be one of our ultimate goals. Then, some of us jump into those commitments without taking the time to think about if it’s something we really want.
If you are truly happy in your relationship, then chances are, you won’t want to cheat. But if you’re cheating or thinking about cheating, your relationship is in real trouble. Maybe it’s because you’re having personal issues with the idea of commitment, or maybe it’s because you and your man have grown apart. Either way, adulterous thoughts or actions mean problems in your relationship.
What are you trying to solve?
If you’re having an affair, you’re doing it because it’s filling some sort void. What you need to figure out is exactly what void it’s filling. Sex? Intimacy? Affection? Understanding? Then, if you want to save the relationship you’re in, you have to talk about the relationship problems with your guy. “Too many women talk to their husband about a problem, and then when he does nothing they just move on.” Says Kristina Gordon, PhD, co-author of Getting Past the Affair. “If your husband isn’t responding when you talk about your needs, don’t be afraid to bang him over the head with it and be very assertive or demanding.” After all, if your man knew your issues with the relationship were bad enough to make you cheat or want to cheat, you can bet he’d want to change his behavior.
Do you want to stay in the relationship?
You’re not helping anyone out by trying to work through problems of a relationship you don’t want to be in. Barbara Feld, LCSW, a couple’s therapist at Park Avenue Relationship Consultants suggests asking yourself: “Is this affair a way out of the marriage? Am I leaving clues behind because I want to get caught?”
If you do want out, don’t wait for your husband or boyfriend to catch you cheating. Have the guts to end the relationship in a way that is more direct, and less hurtful.
Are you idealizing your affair?
There’s a scene in the movie High Fidelity where John Cusack is explaining the difference between the reality of being in a relationship with someone and fantasizing about someone new. He says to his girlfriend, “You have great lingerie. But you also have cotton underwear that’s been washed a thousand times…. and other girls have it too, it's just that I don't have to see it, because it's not in the fantasy.”
If you’re having an affair and sneaking around, that relationship doesn’t exist in the real world. You’re not living together, you don’t have commitments together, and the newness of it all is completely seductive. “Affairs can feel wonderful because they take place outside of the stresses of everyday life,” says Kristina Gordon. Your long-term relationship can’t compete with your affair because your affair is the fantasy and your relationship is real life. But if that affair was ever to turn into a long-term relationship, the cotton underwear would be there too. And in Dr. Gordon’s experience when women do end up with men they’ve cheated with (which is rare) those relationships have all sorts of trust issues because of the way it started.
Should you tell?
Honesty, we’re told, is always the best policy. But when it comes to affairs that may not always be true. Dr. Gordon says, “As I’ve worked with more people I’ve moved away from thinking telling the truth about cheating is always the right course of action because I’ve heard so many people say, ‘I just wish I didn’t know.’” If you decide to get out of the relationship you’re currently in, then does your spouse really have to know? And if you decide to stay, will telling make the relationship stronger, or just relieve your own guilt?
Are you putting your partner at risk?
While there may be some moral grey area about telling your partner the truth about an affair, there is no grey area about putting your partner at risk for STDs and HIV. If you are engaging in risky sex acts and then coming home and having unprotected sex with your partner, you are threatening their physical health. You have to think about the health consequences of your affair as well as the emotional consequences.
The reality is, cheating is just a temporary solution to a much bigger problem. If your relationship is broken beyond repair, get out. If you’re not able to commit yourself to someone else, jumping right into another guy’s arms isn’t going to change that. And if there are serious—yet fixable—problems in your relationship, “don’t turn to someone else” says Barbara Feld, “turn to each other. The way out isn’t to have an affair, the way out is to think, talk with your husband or boyfriend about what’s wrong, and if you can’t fix it yourselves get counseling.”