When couples first get into a relationship, the whole thing would usually feel like a match made in heaven—something like the Carpenters’ song wherein birds suddenly appear, stars fall down from the sky, and all that other jazz. However, when the passion of the relationship finally fades away, the infatuation also often peters out along with it.
Unfortunately, when the infatuation period is over, some people begin seeking emotional fulfillment or sexual gratification from people other than their partners. As a matter of fact, according to psychiatrist and life coach Randy Dellosa, infidelity is one of the three most common relationship problems that couples experience, the other two being constant quarrelling and lack of intimacy.
So what is the reason why people in committed relationships cheat? And is “happily ever after” really too much to ask for?
Causes of infidelity The first easy answer to the question of infidelity is lust. After all, people are sexual beings who are biologically wired to reproduce in order to ensure the survival of the species. “This I always repeat: if not for religious beliefs and laws, people are basically still like animals,” says Randy. “We have a polygamous nature because biologically, we need to reproduce and procreate for our species. It is just our laws and our capacity to decide that prevents us from doing things on the streets.”
But of course, more than the genetic underpinnings, infidelity also has its roots in a number of emotional, psychological, and even cultural reasons. For instance, infidelity could stem from already existing problems being experienced by a couple. Randy says that although cheating, constant quarrelling, and lack of intimacy are problems that can sometimes exist independently, they are often interrelated. These problems often come to a head because couples choose to sweep them under the rug instead of addressing them. As a result, they fester and become breeding grounds for related conflicts to arise.
“Infidelity could be a substitute for getting one’s sexual and emotional needs met when the partner is unwilling or deficient. A cheating man, for example, would cheat on his spouse because he saw in his mistress some qualities that the wife does not have,” he says. “Sometimes, the partner would even wonder ‘why did he choose her?’ or ‘why did he have an affair with someone from a lower social status?’ However, it’s not that simple. As long as that other person is able to meet the cheating partner’s unmet needs, that person can become a substitute,” he explains.
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On the other hand, according to clinical psychologist Ma. Blesila de Guzman-de Asis, infidelity may also have other psychological and cultural basis. “There is an existing double standard which gives men more sexual freedom and greater power in relationships. In its original form, the standard dictated that women should not have sex before or outside of marriage, whereas men could,” she explains.
“Many men have also been exposed to a cultural conditioning that encourages them to separate sex from intimacy, whereas among women, sexual expression usually symbolizes connection with a partner and communicates intimacy,” Blesila says.
“Another reason is that some men grew up with parents who have had extramarital affairs in the past, which gives an unspoken permission for these men to do the same,” she adds. Randy is of the same mind, although he believes that the pattern is applicable to both men and women. He explains that people who grow up with parents who are unfaithful to each other sometimes become so acclimatized to the problem that it becomes normal to them.
“If they grow up with a father or a mother who fooled around, then that sort of pattern becomes so normalized in them such that they imitate their parents’ behaviors when they grow up. They begin to think that it is how relationships should be,” he says.
Relativity of infidelity Some behaviors are universally considered as acts of infidelity. For instance, if someone who is already spoken for engages in a sexual relationship with another person or kisses that other person intimately, then the former is almost always seen as cheating on his or her partner. But is it really that easy?
Most of the time, Randy says, a behavior is considered infidelity only if mutually agreed-upon covenants between partners are violated. “It really depends on the definition of the partners. For instance, some couples who are in committed relationships agree to swing or to partner swap—they engage in sexual activities with other couples. So, one can say that if that’s the agreement, then it’s not infidelity. Of course other people might see it differently and say that those couples are actually committing mutual infidelity,” he says.
But let us talk in terms of what everyday, run-of-the-mill people would consider as cheating. What if a person engages in activities that are not always easily discernible as acts of infidelity? For example, is flirting, dirty dancing, or confiding your feelings about your partner to another person cheating?