Cheating is one of the main factors responsible for the break-up of marriages. It can rob a couple of their relationship, their happiness and their very identity. It is an extremely common human experience, yet it’s so poorly understood. It is forbidden in most societies, yet it is universally practised. Why do people cheat in marriages? Why does an affair hurt so much? When we say infidelity, what exactly do we mean? Do our romantic expectations of marriage set us up for betrayal? Is there such a thing as an affair-proof marriage? Is it possible to love more than one person at once?
These are some of the thought-provoking points American relationship expert, Dr. Esther Perel, stated in her book, “The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity,” excerpts of which were stated in a study published in the Women’s Health Magazine.
In the study, a relationship expert and assistant professor at the Texas Tech University, United States, Dana Weiser – together with her colleagues – asked hundreds of couples what constituted cheating to them.
Through the answers provided, the researchers were able to explore what couples saw as cheating and found that “it is the secrecy, deception, and omissions that seem to be really central to the definitions of infidelity.”
The researchers also stated that cheating typically involved at least one of these three elements: secrecy, emotional involvement and sex.
Weiser said, “Ask 10 people what counts as cheating and you’d probably get 100 different answers. Infidelity is a grey area because different individuals have their own boundaries and ideals for romantic relationships.
“While you might consider texting an ex to be crossing a line, other partners might not consider something cheating until intercourse is involved. In fact, if one is in a consensually non-monogamous relationship, being physically and sexually involved with another individual would likely not be considered infidelity.”
Since instances of infidelity are as unique as individual couples, the study discussed the different types of cheating and what they looked like in relationships.
Being physically intimate with another person
Of course, physical infidelity is pretty self-explanatory and is perhaps expected to be number one on the list. “It’s typically construed as any type of touching, kissing or other sexual behaviour with a person who is not your exclusive partner,” Weiser said.
A marriage counsellor and psychologist in Lagos, Dr. Sade Badejo, also noted in a telephone interview with Saturday PUNCH that physical intimacy with an opposite sex is a key destroyer of marriage.
She said, “If a partner is always with another person of opposite sex, it can eventually lead to what you never planned for. Of course, it’s always a mistake, but the mistake is usually as a result of carelessness. I always advise couples that even though they have the opposite sex as friends, even best friends in some cases, they should always be careful.
“Your spouse might pretend they are cool with you always being with your opposite sex best friend, but what I have observed over the years is that they are not usually cool with the idea. Hence, apart from public places, partners are encouraged to not always be alone with their friends of the opposite sex. It will save the marriage a lot of trouble.”
Having ‘secret’ social media habits
In her research, Weiser found that infidelity either through social media or facilitated by social media was becoming very common. She also explained that social media infidelity had two forms.
She said, “First, the overtly sexual. If you’re lusting after an influencer you follow, liking an ex’s suggestive posts, or even checking in on your ex’s profile, those behaviours all fall into the grey area of social media cheating.
“The other form of social media infidelity can be thought of as cheating on your partner with your phone. Looking at your phone and social media when you should be connecting with your partner suggests that you’re having a deeper relationship with social media than you are with your actual significant other.
“The bottom line: Because cheating can mean different things to different people, it is important to openly discuss with your spouse what your boundaries are and what you consider infidelity.”
Badejo agreed with Weiser, saying that social media had taken over the place of discussion in some marriages.
“I’ve had to talk to several couples on this. Don’t go into your bedroom and start fondling your smartphone, tablet or laptop. Instead, fondle your spouse. Smartphones and social media shouldn’t be responsible for break-up, and it’s unfortunate that’s exactly what they are doing,” she said.
Hiding your money habits
Since cheating is so heavily rooted in secrecy, Weiser explained that failing to inform a partner about financial matters or decisions that affect both parties could be a kind of infidelity.
“If you and your partner agreed to save for a project, but you’re blowing your own money on shopping, that’s cheating,” she explained.
On this note, Lagos-based economist and financial expert, Mr. Babatunde Adams, advised couples not to be shy of discussing their finances together.
He said, “Sometimes, money habits lead to break-up. I know so many couples who parted ways or are not living happily because of their money habits. For instance, if a partner knows how to save money and the other only knows how to spend lavishly, it can affect the mood of the relationship.
“By the time the one who spends lavishly goes broke, they would have to depend on the other partner, who might now be thinking that perhaps they are the foolish one. This whole thing can lead to what they never imagined. That’s why it’s advisable for a couple to be financially open to each other and plan their lives based on their income. You can’t be spending your money anyhow and expect your partner to always cover you up. It can work temporarily but it can’t forever.”
Harbouring feelings for someone else
Emotional infidelity is a different form of crossing the line. “It can refer to liking, loving, or having romantic feelings for a person who is not your exclusive partner,” explained Weiser.
She said just like limits needed to be discussed around what sexual behaviours were considered cool in relationship, emotional connections should be discussed, too.
She said, “With all sorts of couples, there’s an important conversation around transparency. Having a close relationship with someone your partner doesn’t know or who doesn’t know your partner can be a no-no.
“To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with having emotionally intimate relationships with people other than your partner. The question of cheating comes into play when those relationships aren’t respectful of your partner.
“In other words, if you’re having a heart-to-heart with someone else behind your partner’s back – something you know could be hurtful – that enters emotional infidelity territory.”
Fantasising about someone else
Having a fantasy about someone else, that is, wishing you were with someone other than your spouse, is purely cheating, according to Weisner.
“Fantasies enter the infidelity territory when they could lead to unsafe or dishonest behaviour,” she said.
In her opinion, Badejo advised couples to tell their partners what else they could do to make them become more attractive.
She said, “If there’s a particular thing you’re seeing in the other person that is making you to be fantasised about them, you can tell your spouse what you want instead of fantasising about another person.
“For example, if a man likes the way a particular lady in his workplace or church dresses, instead of fantasising about the lady, he should be free to tell his wife what he would want her to wear. It could also be a particular jewellery or cologne. Get them for your wife if that will stop you from cheating.
“Likewise, if a woman likes the way a particular man keeps his beard or shaves his hair and is making her to be fantasised about him, she should tell her husband to start keeping same hairstyle. Simple discussions like this go a long way in stopping cheating among couples.” (Punch)