Cheating in relationships is rampant. We can assume most partners will cheat at some point in a committed relationship. Why? I’m going to answer that question a number of ways, and then teach you how to guard against it happening. But first, some statistics. The U.S. divorce rate for first marriages is near 50%, and significantly higher if you include second and third marriages. Divorces don’t necessarily involve cheating, but the two are connected. Cheating is sometimes a cause of divorce and at other times as a symptom of a weakened relationship. An estimated half of married partners cheat on their spouse. If you include other types of committed relationships, the percentage of cheating goes up.
I don’t mean to imply that cheating is always a bad thing. Affairs can sometimes make a relationship stronger, as many in the affair recovery movement can testify. Whereas a couple may have been neglecting their sex life, not paying enough attention to their emotional bond, or not communicating honestly about needs and desires, an affair can sometimes spur a couple to get their act together and function more securely. Cheating can sometimes be a way to end an unhealthy relationship, or gain clarity about what is truly fulfilling. An affair can be a way to make a move in a stagnant relationship rather than hang out in limbo for years. But cheating is also generally a very painful experience for one or both committed partners.
I also don’t mean to imply that monogamous relationships are somehow better than other kinds of arrangements. To each his own. But by and large, most people in the Western world still choose to function in mutually agreed-upon committed relationships. So it makes sense to explore what prevents cheating and how to protect your relationship from it, or at least stack the odds in your favor. Especially because cheating can have a negative effect not just on adults in relationship, but on young children who depend physically and emotionally on the stability of adult relationships.
1. Have Agreements
Dr. Stan Tatkin, author of Wired for Love, has written on the importance of having explicit agreements. “Everything that is assumed does not really exist,” he says. Agreements should be clear, and cover how to handle others’ advances, what information is shared (attraction to others), and how quickly you tell each other about romantic or flirty experiences. There should be a conversation on what constitutes cheating, because initially partners may not be on the same page. For example, one partner may think it’s fine to go out dancing with their friends, flirt with folks, and maybe even have some ‘innocent’ kisses on the dance floor, while their partner may consider that behavior out of bounds. Partners can have very different ideas on what constitutes an emotional affair, and if it qualifies as cheating.