Cheers Sexy People!
Recently a member of our awesome Loving Without Boundaries community shared with me this incredible TedTalk by Esther Perel – a relationship therapist – that answers very eloquently the question “Why do happy people cheat?” Wow. It is incredible. Totally worth the 21 minutes that it requires to watch it in full. I will offer some insights from it below.
I am absolutely fascinated by the question of why we cheat, and have pondered it on this blog many times as well as given talks about it at conferences. I have been both the cheater and the one who has been cheated on – as recently as a few months ago. I opted to swiftly end that relationship for a myriad of reasons, including that it just wasn’t working anymore – it was broken, so we broke up. My overall happiness is much more important to me than trying to fix what is irrevocably broken which just seemed to create drama and heartache in my life. You can’t get blood from a stone. Sometimes incompatibility is just that. ’Nuff said. “Cherish the happy memories and wish each other well” can be a lovely and respectable course of action.
I found this TedTalk to be timely and very worthwhile. Esther offers some great perspectives on why happy people cheat that go beyond the typical expected answers. Infidelity can be the ultimate betrayal. Esther examines “why people cheat, and unpacks why affairs are so traumatic: because they threaten our emotional security. In infidelity, she sees something unexpected — an expression of longing and loss. A must-watch for anyone who has ever cheated or been cheated on, or who simply wants a new framework for understanding relationships.”
Esther asks: If even happy people cheat, what is it about?
She says that many find themselves in a conflict between their values and their behavior. How fascinating, and I can really identify with this from my earlier cheating days before I discovered polyamory. Here are some excerpts and snippets from her talk that really resonated with me…
Affairs are an act of betrayal, and they are also an expression of longing of loss. At the heart of an affair, you will often find a longing and a yearning for an emotional connection, for novelty, for freedom, for autonomy, for sexual intensity, a wish to recapture lost parts of ourselves, or an attempt to bring back vitality in the face of loss and tragedy.
When we seek the gaze of another, it isn’t always our partner that we are turning away from but the person that we have ourselves become. And it isn’t so much that we are looking for another person as much as we are looking for another self.
She says that often when she is working with someone, they will explain how they feel ALIVE during the affair, and how exciting that is. She says that often an affair happens around a recent loss – such as a parent who died, or receiving bad news at the doctor. This really resonated with me partly because I truly began my polyamorous journey after both losing my father to cancer and then suffering through the effects of infertility. There was much loss in my life indeed. I was grasping for life in my own way. I just happened to be doing it openly and honestly, without the effects of infidelity. But I can definitely empathize with those that feel compelled to lie and cheat partly as a reaction to loss. She goes on to say:
Death and mortality often live in the shadow of an affair because they raise the question “Is this it? Is there more? Will I ever feel that thing again”? Some affairs are an attempt to beat back deadness and an antidote to death.
Affairs are way less about sex, and much more about desire. Desire for attention. Desire to feel special. Desire to feel important.
The very structure of an affair, the fact that you can never have your lover keeps you wanting. That in itself is a desire machine because the incompleteness – the ambiguity – keeps you wanting that which you can’t have.
She even touches on open relationships saying that indeed people cheat in those type of relationships as well. I raise my hand to that one! It happened to me. She says on this point:
We still seem to be lured by the power of the forbidden. That if we do that which we are not supposed to do, then we feel like we are really doing what we want to.
I really saw this as part of the reason that my ex cheated on me: He simply wanted to do what he really wanted to do – and he didn’t want to have to explain himself or answer any difficult or uncomfortable questions. Plus the lure of the forbidden is so fun – he was a self-proclaimed hedonist. His inability to be honest with me about who he really truly was is partly the demise of our relationship. And that’s ok. There is a time for every season. We learn and move on, taking the lessons with us.
On healing from an affair, Esther goes on to say that the majority of couples who heal from affairs do in fact stay together. Then they may experience during the healing process the most honesty and openness that they haven’t had in decades. She says about healing and restoring trust:
Something about the fear of loss will rekindle desire and make way for an entirely new kind of truth.
…quite a lot of people who have affairs may feel terribly guilty for hurting their partner, but they don’t feel guilty for the experience of the affair itself.
It is essential to do things that bring back a sense of self-worth to surround oneself with love, and with friends and activities that give back joy and meaning and identity. But even more important is to curb the curiosity to ask for the sordid details – questions that only inflict more pain. And instead switch to the more investigative questions. What did this affair mean to me?
I admit that I felt compelled after the infidelity that I experienced to ask those questions about “who did you sleep with?” “where did it happen?” “was this thing that you told me a lie, and how about this one?” … Not that I got the answers mind you. I had to let it all go ultimately to move on.
Finally Esther says “Every affair will redefine a relationship. Affairs are here to stay, and they are not going to go away.” Roger that, Esther. So we need to learn to deal with and heal from the aftermath of infidelity, whether we are in an open relationship or not. We also need to decide for ourselves who we really and truly want to be in our lives, what are our core values and what will we tolerate or not tolerate – both in our own behavior and in the behavior of others. Love is a many splendored thing. In my own life, I am doing my best to find ways to share and express love – both in my actions, my words and my thoughts. I prefer not to knowingly inflict unnecessary pain on others. How about you? What are your thoughts on any of this? Has this given you any insights into your own life and relationships? I’d love to hear!
Wishing you peace, love and happiness,
(and thrilling, fun sex too!)