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Does Cheating Mean They Don’t Love You?

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.

By November 11, 2014 July 15th, 2021 Blog, Psychology & Relationships
Ryan

Author Ryan

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Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Kenn says:

    This article didn’t satisfye me. This article made cheaters look like ”unlucky people who cheated because of enviromental factors. So now I should feel sympathy towards cheaters? Because they are all victims of ”enviromental factors”, like ”ton of stress from work”. Never because of sellfishness, since it wasn’t mentioned in article? And how about cheaters, who cheated on purpose? Do all cheaters still love their partners? What kind of cheater love their partners and what kind of cheaters do not? Opening your answer more could be more helping.

    • Ryan says:

      Thanks for your feedback Kenn, you have some great suggestions.

      In my experience, it is uncommon for a lack of love to cause infidelity. The most common cases I see are people who are in good relationships, are satisfied with their sex life, are happy with their partner, but who lack the ability to speak comfortably about their emotions.

      They tend to struggle with asking for what they want. They usually have a high frequency of shameful feelings in their day to day lives. They also struggle with expectations of others. Boundaries are challenging for them, due to the risk of disappointing someone by enforcing a boundary. Self-esteem is often an issue, so rejecting someone who is hitting on them means foregoing an emotional high.

      Engaging in infidelity is selfish, absolutely. That doesn’t explain much though – *why* did this person engage in a selfish behaviour that comes with a ton of risk? What force could be powerful enough to compel them to risk their marriage, career, children, financial security etc.?

      The purpose of this article is not to suggest that you should feel sympathy for people who commit infidelity. The purpose is to challenge the narrative that people who commit infidelity are manipulative, inconsiderate, conniving partners who scheme to cheat because they don’t love or care for the person they’re with.

      • Davis says:

        I cheated because I got away with it the first time and the consequences were not bad at all and I cheated the second time because I was chasing a old love and I thought she cared about me as much as I cared about her. I thought we could go back in time and I could rekindle some old feelings and unresolved issues and I could have me cake and eat it too. I was a product of my father and grandfathers who were all big time cheaters and poor examples for what a man should be husband and father. I got caught again and now I find I can’t deal as easily with the consequences as I bragged to the other woman that I could. The joke is on me and I knew this other woman was dishonest, slept with married men, and I never really measured up to her expectations or class. I am a total idiot as I may end up with nothing and maybe that’s what I deserve.

      • Kenn says:

        Thank you for answer! It means a lot to me! But… how to avoid cheating overall? and how to avoid cheating because of ”lack to ability to speak” and ”shamefull feelings”? How common is that people in good relationships cheat?
        But what should I do, if my partner cheats in situation you descripted?

        Thank you for your answers!

  • Ryan says:

    Hi Davis, thanks for sharing.

    Your comment is interesting and highlights one of the main issues the “why people cheat” debate can get so heated. There are proximate and ultimate causes. The apparent reason vs the deeper reason.

    In this case some people would leave it at face value – you wanted to cheat and thought you could get away with it so you did. But why?

    Many people think they can get away with cheating, but don’t. What explains this difference in behaviour?

    There is almost always a deeper level, ultimate cause at work. It may be worthwhile to seek a counsellor to dive into how the examples of manhood (father/grandfather) affected your belief systems.

  • Kenn says:

    What cheaters in good relationships have exactly or usually in their mind? Are they like:”Oh! I could cheat and have fun. But I don’t wanna cheat my partner and make him/her sad and ruin my life. I would regret this so much later, but I do it. I know the coinsiquenses.” and when they have cheated, they are like:” oh no! What have i done blaa blaa…”? I would like to know what they usually think, when they cheat in good relationchip. And do cheaters tell later to their partners that they cheated?

    And which gender cheats more? I would like to hear honest answer, because for me its hard to believe that both are equal. I would like to hear your answer from your experience and from what have you heard or read? Male people do most of the crimes, and crimes request selfisness, careless character, low conscience and courage to take risk and so on. You need some of those features to cheat, and usually men have more of those ”features”. So I would beleive men cheat more than women.

    Thank you for your time and answers! I hope you understand me and my writings!
    Looks like I have million questions, but you help me alot to understand more!
    I believe you have something better to do than, answering questions made by one boy in internet! Sorry for my bad english.

  • Kenn says:

    ”Despite the evidence, his wife initially disagreed that environmental pressures are a valid reason for doing stupid things.”

    I agree with wife, because there are people with more harder enviromental pressures, and they DON’T do stupid things.

    So I quess certain type of person or mind play a huge role, when we speak about ”doing stupid things under enviromental pressures”? Or maybe husband didn’t love enought to stay away from ”stupid things”, Is that option possible? Is there many factors?

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