Is cheating natural?
If you’ve ever been cheated on, you know the experience is incredibly painful. You feel betrayed, abused, humiliated, so our normal response to those kinds of emotions to demonize our partners.
“They’re evil,” we tell ourselves. “That’s the only way to explain it.”
But does that really explain anything? According to studies cited in The Washington Post, 70 percent of married women have admitted to cheating on a partner in their past. If infidelity is so common, does blaming that behavior on pure selfishness or some sinister agenda truly make sense?
It may be hard to see this in the moment, but there are often deeper reasons why people cheat on their partners, particularly after couples have children.
In the above video, Senior VP of YourTango Experts Melanie Gorman sat down with relationship experts Helen Fisher, Melanie McGrath Knuts, Deni Abbie, and Lewis Brown Griggs to discuss those deeper reasons and address the larger question of whether or not it’s ever possible to feel sympathy those who cheat.
That can be a difficult thing to hear — the idea that cheaters might deserve sympathy. (Cue the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil.)
However, that doesn’t mean that anyone is saying that cheating is excusable.
But that being said, once you understand the behaviors behind cheating, you can start to see the social and biological pressures that push husbands and wives in bad directions.
And some of those pressures are hardwired into our DNA.
For example, the YourTango panel notes many of the long-standing evolutionary predispositions that can make men and women feel restless after childbirth. We might seem pretty far removed from the days of hunters and gatherers, but the drives of our ancestors do live on in our genetic make-up, reminding us of the ages when men would mate with multiple women simply because they were trying to give their DNA a better shot of surviving into the future. (That excuse, of course, doesn’t fly today.)
They also reference the “primary maternal preoccupation” — that’s a period around the eighth month of a pregnancy when the expecting mother turns inward to pay attention to the growing baby inside her.
During this period, it’s common for their husbands and partners to notice that their spouses are withdrawing from them (granted, for biological reasons), and they often feel rejected and alone, which can inspire them to seek out affection from other sources.
Do those Darwinian impulses excuse cheating? No. Do the stresses of having a new child excuse cheating? NO.
But they’re there, they’re under the surface, whether we like them or not, and there’s only one way to combat them.
We need to acknowledge that those pressures are there. We need to talk to our spouses, our loved ones, our partners, and say, “Hey, THIS is how I’m feeling.”
Because we make bad decisions when we think we’re alone. We lash out, we jump to conclusions, we seek solace in strange places.
But, when we start a dialogue and we’re honest with our partners about how we’re feeling, it takes the power away from those impulses.
It might be embarrassing to admit to your spouse that you’re feeling neglected, but that embarrassment will be worth it if it helps save your relationship.
To quote Helen Fisher, “The best thing you can do for your children is to love your partner.”
And, when you’re considering cheating, the best way to love your partner is to be completely honest with them. Even if you’re worried it might make you look like the bad guy.
If you’re still struggling over the question of infidelity and how to humanize those who cheat, please visit the websites of our panel members and contact Helen, Melanie, Deni, or Lewis directly. They’re here to help.
This post first appeared at Thought Catalog
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