The Five Phases of Cheating and How Your Relationship Can Survive It

What does it mean to be in a monogamous relationship? Better yet, what are the “rules” for having a successful monogamous relationship?

Everyone has their own ideas of what a relationship should look like and many times couples have difficulty aligning their visions. Will they be married with children? Will you have joint bank accounts? What about ideas of what constitutes cheating?

The traditional and perhaps biblical view of cheating is not touching or having any inappropriate thoughts of individuals outside your marriage. However with the expanding population, ever-changing culture and more open sexual practices, it is encouraged to define cheating according to what fits the individual’s understanding, and not placate to society’s understanding.

Phase 1: Understanding the Different Forms of Cheating

For instance, some couples don’t view kissing as cheating, but only view intercourse as cheating. Other forms of cheating include emotional cheating or when someone in a relationship develops feelings for one another and entertains those feelings through different forms of communication. More seasoned couples may consider swinging; which can roughly be summed up as trading spouses with another couple to have intercourse or experiment with sexual desires. It is a common notion among swingers that it is not cheating until the relationship extends beyond the sex parties and the other spouses are not aware of their interaction.

With all these different ideas of relationships, how can we even begin to talk about cheating for the purposes of this article? Well to be clear cheating in a relationship can roughly be defined as one or both spouses violating previously agreed upon rules and definitions of their relationship through the act of betrayal, lying and deceitful practices to fulfill a desire or unsatisfied need.

So with that said, who is more likely to cheat in a relationship. We often hear about a male’s libido and that they think about sex constantly throughout the day, so should they get a pass because they can’t help it? What about women who are coming into their sexual prime? Usually around their 40’s or 50’s a woman’s libido has known to increase, and life stressors that interfere with sex declines. So then would women be more likely to cheat later? Well—yes and no.

Phase 2: What Are the Causes of Cheating?

These are all important things to take into account that affect intercourse and your relationship. For starters, statistically speaking men do cheat more. “In general, men are more likely than women to cheat: 20% of men and 13% of women reported that they’d had sex with someone other than their spouse while married, according to data from the recent General Social Survey(GSS).” That number may, in fact, be low given the expansion of anonymous hookup sites such as Ashley Madison, a discreet dating and affair site that has 46 million members worldwide as of 2016. According to the GSS study, women’s infidelity peak in their 60’s at 16%, whereas men are more likely to be unfaithful in their 70’s at 24%. It is difficult to determine the exact cause for the rise in cheating so late in life, but medical issues may be a contributing cause. When an individual experience cognitive issues like dementia it makes maintaining a healthy sexual relationship difficult. One might also hypothesize the new influx of erectile dysfunction medication to be a possible reason behind heightened cheating and sexual promiscuity.

Phase 3: What Do These Cheating Stats Mean for You?

In order to safeguard your relationship or to prevent cheating, one must know why. For starters, it is always good to define the boundaries and rules of a relationship right away. Unclear ideas of monogamy often get couples into trouble. Our values and priorities also evolve along with us in life, so it is always a good idea to check in with your partner and see if any of their beliefs have shifted. This is true for all things in a relationship and not just how one defines monogamy.

What are the more common reasons individuals might cheat?
  • Ego Boost or self-validation
  • Mistreatment by one’s partner
  • A new addition to the family
  • Seeking attention from one’s partner
  • Intoxication
  • Sexual addiction
  • Risky behavior
  • Revenge
  • Boredom in the relationship
  • Hoping to get caught
  • Need for sexual satisfaction or variety
  • Lack of emotional satisfaction
  • Falling out of love with one’s partner over time
  • Falling in love with someone new
  • Curious to try new experiences
  • A medical or mental defect that makes sex with current partner difficult
Phase 4: Can Couples Come Back From Cheating?

These are all common reasons mentioned in therapy, and many of them can be worked through given the proper couples counseling and individual therapy. But in order to amend the broken trust and heal the relationship through time the couple needs to be motivated and the infidelity must stop. It’s kind of like having a broken bone. Depending on the severity of the event, your bones can heal, but you need time and should avoid the danger that may cause further injury.

The act of cheating is a symptom of a deeper problem with the relationship. After cheating occurs, the couple is confronted with the underlying problems in their relationship, and are forced to deal with them if they want to move forward in a happy relationship.

As mentioned before, individual therapy is recommended along with couples counseling in some instances because depending on the situation one might need to work on own issues like impulsivity, low self-esteem, addiction or previous trauma, just to name a few.

It is also a common societal held belief that if one partner cheats then the relationship is over. That is simply untrue. We have certainly experienced instances with clients where an extramarital affair followed by counseling and teamwork has brought the couple closer together. Not that I am recommending anyone to be unfaithful, but in some cases, the act of cheating is a symptom of a deeper problem with the relationship. After cheating occurs, the couple is confronted with the underlying problems in their relationship, and are forced to deal with them if they want to move forward in a happy relationship.

It is often difficult to move past the infidelity because trust has been violated and deceit has occurred in the relationship. Therefore, this results in worry that the problem of unfaithfulness will repeat itself. This is the first and most difficult step—rebuilding that solid foundation of trust.

Phase 5: How Do Couples Rebuild Trust and Connection After Cheating?

There are a series of steps in couples counseling that therapists will follow to help the couple process the infidelity and repair the relationship. For starters, the one being cheated on will likely have a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.) When we think of PTSD, we often think of soldiers coming back from war or someone who witnesses a heinous crime, but anyone can experience PTSD. Discovering that your partner is cheating can feel like a huge betrayal or the death of your relationship. This can be a traumatic experience that should not be undermined but instead validated.

In therapy, the idea that one partner is the victim and one is the perpetrator should be demolished. This narrative creates a sort of separation. The goal in couples counseling is to transfer “I” into “we” again.

Cheaters will have to endure daily questions, (and rightly so.) “Was she prettier than me?  Did you love him? Was the sex better? How could you do this to us?” During this period of time patience and honesty and regret will be your best friends. It is advised that the cheating partner shows their remorse and unwavering devotion. They will need to be completely honest and reveal any information that his/her partner requests in order to rebuild the trust.

In therapy, the idea that one partner is the victim and one is the perpetrator should be demolished. This narrative creates a sort of separation. The goal in couples counseling is to transfer “I” into “we” again. The partners will gradually move to realize a common goal of bettering their relationship rather than arguing for their side. Also, if the victim label is further enforced, then the cheating partner will continue to feel a loss of power, which is unhealthy for all parties. They may lose patience with the narrative that they are the sole fault barrier in this relationship.

During the couples counseling the couple may come to a point that infidelity needs to be forgiven and put away in order to move forward. Continuing to bring up events from the past only to inflict pain is unhealthy for the relationship. This can be said for instances beyond that of infidelity. Keeping score of past wrongdoings is never good in any relationship. So it may take some time, but once the injured partner is ready to forgive then the affair should be put away. In some cases, it is even helpful to do a symbolic burial or putting away objects of the past.

Phase 6: Rediscovering Your Sexual Attraction to Your Partner

Another step in therapy that can be a fun one is a renewed discovery of sexual desire. After the couple has rebuilt the trust, it is natural for one or both partners to want to feel sexually desirable again. In this portion of therapy couples are encouraged to experiment with toys, sexual positions, outfits, role-play, etc. Go at a slow pace and re-discover your partner’s body and your sexual needs. Like I said, this could be fun, but it may also be triggering. If it is triggering to the previous trauma, alert your therapist and ask how to proceed. The key is communication. Communicate with your therapist, communicate with your partner and be understanding of your partner’s difficulties or challenges at this stage.

It is a good idea to continue therapy if at least on a maintenance basis after the infidelity and the couple has come full circle. This way they are less likely to slip into an old habit, whether it’s ignoring your spouse or life moments simply getting in the way. Having a regular couples therapist helps keep the focus on your relationship and ensures that you give each other the proper care and attention you both deserve.

Infidelity Doesn’t Always Lead to Divorce

After cheating occurs many couples automatically think to break up or divorce, but this isn’t is not always the answer. Here are some practical considerations many people forget to think over before dissolving the relationship:

  • If you have children, there will be emotional and mental health repercussions
  • Your children will not be with you full time
  • Someone else will be helping to raise your children
  • You will likely spend an ungodly amount on lawyers
  • You will spend money on alimony and/or child support
  • You will likely lose your best friend
  • You will likely lose mutual friends as they tend to take sides
  • You will be dating again which can be fun but can be trying at times
  • Your structured life will change
  • You may have to move or find new employment depending on the situatio

And of course, you can’t forget the ultimate reason. You may lose the connection you once had for good. Don’t allow your emotions to drive your decision to end the relationship.

In summary be very certain that divorce is the best route for you before you go down that daunting road. It is always a good idea to at least give your relationship time and at least attempt couples counseling, so you know you have exhausted every avenue prior to divorce. Cheating is not always the end at times if you can mark a new beginning and change in your relationship for the better.

Would you believe that your partner could still cheat even if you’re the best they’ve ever had? What if I said they’re more likely to cheat? That’s what this Florida State study says, and I’ve broken down their reasoning.  

At CWC Coaching, our team consists of licensed therapists, life coaches, and counselors. We assist clients with self-improvement, career development, negative self-talk, psychological pain, self-sabotaging behavior, past hurts and finding your purpose.

If you are ready to increase your self-awareness and happiness, breakthrough limiting behavior and understand your purpose in life, we’d love to help guide you on this journey.

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