I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen people say stuff like “If you really love someone, you won’t cheat on them.”
The problem with this perspective is you’re basically saying that actions reflect what a person truly believes. If you care about someone, you don’t hurt them, and since cheating is hurtful, you can’t cheat on someone if you truly care about them.
Any time you try to explain someone’s behaviour without taking environmental factors into account, you commit what psychologists call the fundamental attribution error (FAE). Contrary to popular belief, environmental pressures play as large a role in determining behaviour as a person’s character. What does this mean, exactly?
Consider the amount of people who would kill another person just because they’ve been asked to as part of a psychological experiment. Prior to studying psychology, I would’ve said zero or close to zero. Maybe a few psychopaths or murderers if one just so happened to be asked. Would it shock you to hear the number is above 60%?
Obviously no one was actually killed in the experiment, but the people who were part of the experiment didn’t know that. They were asked by a scientist to apply shocks to a student for every wrong answer the student provided, with each wrong answer providing a larger shock. Eventually the student stopped responding, at which point people expressed concern. The scientist simply said they had to continue, and 65% of people did.
This experiment has been repeated around the world, and across several decades. The results are consistently between 60-65%. Does this mean 60-65% of the human population are horrible, murderous savages?
Of course not!
The experiment I described is just one of many, many examples of how people can behave in radically different ways when exposed to environmental pressures. In the case of cheating, environmental factors could be drinking or drugs, locations like bars, night clubs, or strip clubs, certain types of people, different forms of stress, and so on. There are dozens of factors at work.
Take a guy who’s in love with his wife but is under a ton of stress from work, goes out with some office guys he’s not really close with, has a few too many drinks, gets caught up in the moment and does some coke. Starts dancing with a girl and makes out with her. They go to the bathroom to do another line and stuff happens.
This is a real life scenario I encountered during a couples session. Were these bad decisions? Yup. Was it wrong? Absolutely. Were there multiple points at which this could’ve been avoided? You bet.
But none of this means he doesn’t love his wife.
Despite the evidence, his wife initially disagreed that environmental pressures are a valid reason for doing stupid things. There’s a very good reason for this denial – it can be terrifying to accept that people you trust can act in horrible ways.
This extends beyond cheating and infidelity, and into all areas of life. Accepting that good people can do bad things is scary. Accepting that you can do bad things is really uncomfortable as well. Try to imagine yourself cheating. Tough right?
Every person I’ve met who has cheated is ashamed to some degree, and I often hear things like “I can’t believe I did that.” So are we all screwed then? Is environmental pressure like a black hole for morals?
No, definitely not.
Although 65% of people “killed” the student in the experiment, 35% of people didn’t. That being said, it’s a lot better if you don’t have to fight an uphill battle. The strategy I recommend is avoiding the pressure in the first place. If you’re married, maybe getting bombed with the boys at Club BJ isn’t the best idea. Get what I’m sayin?
I know it’s tough to accept, but you can cheat on someone and still love them very much. The couple I worked with did end up working things out. In fact, over the last 5 years only two couples I’ve worked with have divorced.
If you’re going through infidelity, it IS a real possibility that your partner doesn’t love you. But don’t be too afraid to accept that just maybe, they do.