The Thinking Other Woman

What you should know BEFORE your affair.


An ENLARGING Perspective on Why People Cheat

Posted by The Thinking Other Woman on September 29, 2022 at 10:00 AM

If you don't care to read or listen to the above link, here's the juice: Marie Murphy, Ph.D. is a sociologist who specializes in life coaching with people who are cheating.

Because she has a sociology background, and sociology is the study of societal forces and social norms and how they impact both humanity and the individual, she does what nobody else does: Incorporate the idea of social norms into why people cheat. In very short form, what Dr. Murphy says is that we live in a society that expects marriage, does not consider people real adults unless and until they are married with kids, and also glorifies marriage, weddings, and romantic love in a way that leads people to expect unremitting joy and does not talk about the realities of marriage, nor prepare people for those at all. In addition, it encourages people to marry long before they are ready, it does not talk about any alternatives to living one's life married in any real way, and it expects that people will be married for life. Therefore, divorce is still looked down upon, and affairs are really looked down upon. 

If you leave your marriage to be with your affair partner, you are the scum of the earth.

Dr. Murphy basically emphasizes heavily this aspect of society, which she argues sets people up to cheat, and calls placing explanations for cheating that place the cause for cheating entirely within the individual person, um, not entirely accurate.

Actually, she calls most of them "horseshit."

I think this is a little extreme
at best.

At worst, I might choose to apply the "horseshit" label here a bit myself.

The reason for that: Having applied myself to the study of the extramarital affair, not in a Ph.D. program, but on a practical basis, for some seven years now, I think it's blatantly obvious that some of the individual causes of cheating Dr. Murphy is calling "horseshit" actually DO exist, and I think some of the folks who have experienced those causes (and their associated fallout) would definitely argue the same.

I am personally acquainted with a victim of narcissistic abuse--she writes for this Medium publication--whose spouse's main symptom of narcissism was chronic cheating and lying. Real, live, pathological narcissism may be a number of things, but "horseshit" ain't one of them. Sad to say, it exists. Many people want to call all cheaters pathological narcissists and abusers by simple virtue of the fact that they cheated, but most cheaters do not fit this category. However, it exists, and it is no joke.

I have read and published the folks whose marriages fell apart due to illness and those whose marriages went dead and distant because unresolved emotional issues and skills unlearned in childhood killed communication in the marriage. (And I've personally been a part of one of those.)

They ain't "horseshit" either.

After seven years of diligent study, I made up my own three broad categories explaining Why Cheating Happens, as follows:

1.) The Hardcore Hardwiring Problem

This is the narcissist, addict, or other personality-disordered person who is out for thrills or kicks and pathologically incapable of any empathy towards the spouse, children, and extended family. This person is basically a swindler and user of other people.

2.) The Skills and/or Courage Deficit

This category holds the greatest number of cheaters. What happens with these people is they have grown up without the emotional skills to know themselves and connect with their partners on into the late stages of marriages when the "new relationship energy" has worn off and the married partners are deep into the grunt work of children, housekeeping, and jobs. (Connection is easy when you've first met, and your mind is ablaze with the vision of how the other person is going to effortlessly meet your deepest needs.)

Sometimes the problems are so bad that the people in the marriage are deadened and cut off within themselves and aren't even fully aware of how they themselves feel. Sometimes they do know within themselves, but are afraid to speak up, for instance, about how they felt when their spouse refused sex three times last week, because they are afraid to make waves, afraid it might start an argument, afraid if they say what they are really feeling, their worst fear might be realized: It really is something about them, and their spouse does not or cannot really love them the way they were hoping and dreaming about being loved.

People are really scared about this, folks. Fucking terrified. And fear of the unknown in a marriage leads to not talking. Not talking leads to assuming the worst. And assuming the worst leads to emotional and sexual shutdown.

And most of this starts in childhood, where parents did not meet a child's emotional needs well enough or did not teach or model a healthy, loving marriage and courageous communication in relationship.

If people were abused in childhood, it's even worse.

3.) The Caregiving Cheater

This is a marriage in which one partner has Alzheimer's or some other devastating, long, lingering illness which destroys their ability to be a functional partner in the marriage, yet the other person does not want to abandon the sick person.

We as a society don't realize how grueling and miserable family caregiving can be until we're the ones who are doing it. In the case of Alzheimer's, as we saw with former president Ronald Reagan, the period of caregiving can last a decade or even longer.

This spouse chooses another romantic partner while still married to the ill spouse, and often comes under fire for it.

I would sincerely hope that neither Dr. Murphy nor anyone else would view any of the above three categories as "horseshit." I've read their stories, and the pain is real.

However, this idea of looking at the broader background of the society we're in has a lot to contribute, when we're trying to understand why someone cheated.

We do live in a society that pushes people into marriage without doing anything to prepare people to be emotionally ready. We do glorify heterosexual two-person-only marriage as the only way to live. We do paint romantic love as a Twilight-style fantasy where people should be frozen in the youngest, most sexual, and most optimistic point in their lives forever ... when real marriage is coddling crying babies at two am on no sleep and dealing with the dirty dishes in the sink. Struggling and struggling to pay bills.

We do treat people who are having marital trouble as insufficient or wrong somehow, while we don't acknowledge that our society sets them up for that in the first place. And we act as if, once a person is married, their job is to sacrifice themselves and all their happiness for the rest of their lives if need be, in order to keep everyone around us enjoying the fake picture we're showing them of their idea of the ideal family, fulfilled.

If you don't believe me, just announce you are getting divorced, especially if you met someone else prior to divorcing your marriage partner. Immediately the focus is on what you owe everyone else.

And all of this comes from religion. It comes from TV, movies, and romance novels. It comes from this cultural story that expects people to emerge, like Athena from the mind of Zeus, fully formed and with everything they need to make marriage work, and no acknowledgement that children need things in childhood in order to become that way.

If we want to understand why people have affairs, we need to understand that the true reason encompasses all of the above.

I know this is difficult news if you've just been cheated on or you know someone who has--because pain drives us to want to make things very simple and all someone else's fault--but if we really want to understand, we need to be able to expand our minds to hold complexity.

Because infidelity in marriage is, in most cases, a multifactorial problem.              

Categories: Life Lessons