Cheating always seems like such a black-and-white issue, doesn’t it? Of course, in one sense, it is. You cheated? Then you’re the bad guy (or girl) and your partner has every right to be upset, angry, hurt, and to never forgive you.
However, if you know a few people who cheat, you start to find out it’s not always so simple. That doesn’t mean the cheater’s justified, but it does mean he may have reasons for what he’s doing that go beyond not being able to keep it in his pants for more than five minutes at a time. The truth that no one likes to hear, especially after a person has been two-timed, is that happy, intellectually stimulated, sexually satisfied people who are deeply in love aren’t the ones who are playing around. Again, that doesn’t mean it’s okay or that the one who was cheated on is at fault, but cheating usually doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
If you know a lot of men (and women), what you’ll find is that there are a lot of common themes that come up.
1) He’s morally okay with cheating on his partner
Not everybody who cheats will cheat again, but on the other hand, the first question you should ask about whether someone will be faithful is, “Has he cheated before?” If it wasn’t so sad, it would be funny how many women have an affair with a married man and then are shocked when he later does the same thing to them. It’s not as if you have to give women hints and signs about what they need to look out for because they already know; it’s just that they believe it won’t happen to them, too.
2) The woman lets herself go
Here’s an unpleasant truth that shatters some of the romantic myths we like to believe about ourselves: Very rarely will you see an unmarried couple separated by more than 2 points of attractiveness unless the man is a celebrity or filthy rich. So, would that model-hot wife have ever fallen for the average looking senator if he had never been elected? Would Julia Roberts have ever dated Lyle Lovett if he wasn’t already famous? Would Kanye West date Kim Kardashian if she didn’t look like that?
We hate to hear this, but no, no, and no.
This is why it’s very dangerous for a woman to let herself become frumpy if her husband is still in shape. Because he might not say it (for good reason) or ever act on it, but the words, “Wow, I could do a lot better” are going to go through his mind. That’s dangerous because it means at some point, he’s going to be around some pretty little thing who excites him in a way the wife no longer does and next thing you know…
3) He’s stuck in a sexual desert
Nobody gets in a relationship to “not have sex.” Even men who date chaste women are at least thrilled by the promise of sex to come. That’s why it’s so strange that some women have come to the conclusion that it’s fine if copulation is going to be a once-in-a-blue-moon event. The “why” is probably something to share with a therapist, but the result is that the partner is going to be tempted to look elsewhere — and what else would you expect? Sex is an implicit promise in a long-term relationship and it may not be good, right, or moral for a man to cheat if his needs aren’t being met, but it’s about as surprising as the sun coming up in the morning.
4) He’s bored
There are a lot of negative things you can say about cheating, but one of them certainly isn’t, “It’s dull.” There’s the thrill of the hunt, the fear of getting caught, the challenge of managing a second relationship, the pride in having two women, the torrid emotions, and, of course, the sex! For a lot of guys in unfulfilling jobs who have a monotonous home life, having a fling may be the single most exciting thing that they’ve done in years. You’ve heard people say, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”? Well, tedious relationships are the devil’s bordello.
5) His relationship is a disaster
We all know people whose relationship is dead on arrival, but they’re still together for the kids, financial reasons, fear of change, habit, worries about their reputation; they don’t believe in divorce, etc., etc. So, the man is in a relationship that may be miserable or at least stagnant and he has very little hope that it’s going to get better. He doesn’t feel admired, intimate, passionate, or deeply in touch with his partner — but he still wants all of those things in his life. So, if he finds a woman who offers him the emotional connection that he’s missing, his heart (and his head) is going to drift towards her. Every man wants to be built up, stimulated, and admired. If he’s not getting that out of the relationship he’s in, then his eye and his heart are going to start to wander.
Previously on gender and relationships from John Hawkins: