Photo Courtesy of Scientific American

In the words of psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, can we accept that the grand game of Love and trust are both “risk[s] masquerading as a promise?”


I remember sitting in one of my courses when my professor popped the hypothetical: “Let’s say your wife decided to cheat on you…” and about ¾ of the faces in the room dropped. It was comedic, if not mildly telling of the current culture: Cheaters are human trash. Period.

Despite this, we all seem to live in an age where people cheat on each other left and right.  And in modern times, the definition of cheating is ever-expanding; is it watching porn? Staying on your dating apps? Getting emotionally close with people of your preferred sex? The list goes on…

Eventually, it no longer becomes helpful to process cheating through the victim-perpetrator schema.  After licking your wounds, perhaps, it is time to ponder: “What made you do this to me?” (coupled with an open-hearted willingness to listen to the response.) “Can we salvage our relationship?” “What did you find elsewhere that I couldn’t provide here?”

These seemingly uncomfortable questions can provide insight into a wounded relationship. 

Before we look into answers, however, we must be willing to swallow this bitter pill:

If someone cheats, their “innocent” partner may have contributed to their decision-making.  It may very well be on you, for feeding your partner cake crumbs of attention and affection, instead of giving them the rich, decadent wedding cake of love and intimacy they deserve.

If we are to have a mature discussion about cheating, we should collectively do away with the narrative that the individual who was cheated on was blameless.

Yes, they are victims of this. And yes, being cheated on is an excruciating experience. But does that exonerate the ‘cheated on’ from being held accountable for not taking care of their beloved? Does it free them from taking any responsibility for their actions or inaction in their relationship? Or in the words of Adam Phillips, can we all remember that the grand game of Love and trust are truly “risk[s] masquerading as a [forever] promise?”

In her book The State of Affairs, Esther Perel categorizes two types of cheating. Let’s piece each one together:

Firstly, reinvention of the self: Sometimes, cheating has nothing to do with the partner and everything to do with self-transformation. At some point in the relationship, your spouse may have become bound to the roles of “dad”, “husband” or “breadwinner.” These labels could have a de-eroticizing effect, and so your spouse may long for a new and different self. A self away from the provider role, where he is fresh and desirable. Or perhaps a partner wishes to recover the adolescence they never had, and thus transgressed the bounds of marriage in search for youthful vitality.

Both of these characters are searching for a new version of themselves that they couldn’t find in the primary relationship. It is incredibly selfish when you think about it. However, this alone, should serve as a steely reminder for those in relationships: You don’t own your partner. They are their own self-sovereign human being.

This is not to excuse this type of cheating, but to act as a wake-up call to those who care about their fidelity; be mindful of the invisible “third person” in the relationship, communicate and don’t be shy to spice the relationship up if need be.

Secondly, the dance between longing and loss: “loss in the form of deadness” & “longing for the quality of aliveness.”

This deadness manifests itself in multitudinous forms; a dead bedroom, boredom in the relationship, catfights, or even the literal death of a loved one, serving as a catalyst for searching elsewhere for the partner-on-the-fence: “Is my partner truly the one for me? Life is so short.”

On the flip side, there’s longing for an element of “aliveness”, a longing for more playfulness, more experimentation, more wonder and excitement inside the relationship.

While I most certainly don’t condone cheating, if cheating is going to be a common occurrence, I do believe it is time to change the conversation – we must have a conversation that’s more compassionate and holds both partners accountable. What say you?