When Esther Perel, an internationally acclaimed couples therapist and relationship expert, set out to write a book about relationships, she didn’t just focus on the happy ones. She was intrigued by not only joyful, long-lasting unions, but also the couples who had been affected by hard times — including cheating.
“What happens when desire goes looking elsewhere?” asks Perel. As a society, we tend to look at affairs as the ultimate act of betrayal. However, Perel argues that roughly 80% of people are affected by affairs. Whether you’ve experienced cheating in your own romantic relationship or were aware of your parent, sibling or friend engaging in an affair, most people’s lives are touched by affairs in some proximity.
So, why do people cheat? Esther Perel claims that as people grow, they are looking to reinvent themselves. Some people find these reinventions alongside their partner, creating new rituals and practices with their spouse. Others turn outside the marriage to fill new needs, ultimately causing cheating in a relationship.
There are two primary reasons why people cheat: One partner feels neglect, loneliness or sexual frustration in their relationship. This causes the partner to feel hungry for warmth and attention. They want to feel appreciated and no longer feel that way at home.
The second main reason for cheating shockingly occurs within lots of marriages, even the happy ones. Perel regularly encounters clients who come into her office saying they deeply love their partner and don’t want to hurt them, but that they’re having an affair. Why does this happen? These people may be completely happy with their committed relationship but are choosing to express a different side of themselves with another partner. It’s not always true that they couldn’t express this part of themselves with their spouse, but that they’re choosing to not bring that aspect of their personality home.
Over the six years that Perel studied infidelity, she often found that the scenario mentioned above caused people to feel “alive.” Those in happy marriages who were cheating felt a sense of excitement when engaged in their illicit affair. They felt connected with their passion. “Maybe sometimes when people have an affair, it’s not that they want to leave the person that they are with, but they want to leave the person that they have become,” says Perel.
Those asking “Why do I cheat?” would benefit from doing some introspective thinking. Have you changed since you entered your marriage? Have you encountered disappointment? Did you fail to create a career you loved? Did you not have children like you thought you would? Essentially, does your life look different than how you planned, and is that what’s making you unhappy?
Oftentimes, it’s not about your partner — it’s about your growth, or lack of growth. People have six human needs that need to be met. When a relationship lacks one of those areas, partners will look outside the marriage to have those needs met — particularly, the needs for certainty, significance and variety. Are you certain in your love for your partner? Do they make you feel important? Are you getting enough variety in your marriage?
Everything else can look incredible on paper, but if these needs aren’t being met, you won’t feel fulfilled in your relationship. If couples realized that they could find all of these needs being met within their relationship, they wouldn’t stray. You can create variety in your relationship while still ensuring your partner feels significant and certain in your bond. You have the power to recreate your relationship over the years so that it continuously meets the needs of you and your partner.
For more of Esther Perel’s discussion with Tony Robbins, listen to the podcast in its entirety.
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Tony Robbins is a #1 New York Times best-selling author, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. For more than 37 years, millions of people have enjoyed the warmth, humor and dynamic presentation of Mr. Robbins’ corporate and personal development events. As the nation’s #1 life and business strategist, he¹s called upon to consult and coach some of the world¹s finest athletes, entertainers, Fortune 500 CEOs, and even presidents of nations.