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Answers and Advice for Wayward Partners

NEW QUESTIONS ANSWERED WEEKLY

Is Not Having Enough Sex at Home Enough to Cause a Man to Cheat?

Question

Thank you for the opportunity to serve. You ended your email by saying that “I’ve looked everywhere for reasons on cheating and can’t find his.” Let me begin by saying that in my opinion, that statement brings up a red flag for a couple of reasons.

First, there are no “reasons” for cheating — only excuses. To understand the difference between reasons and excuses, it’s important you first know the definition of an excuse.

Excuse: Any false argument used to make a “wrong action” appear “right”.  

Notice: Excuses are false arguments (deceptive by nature), and they’re also ways to “distort” reality by causing a “wrong action” to somehow appear “right”. Now think back to his excuses (loneliness and horniness) and ask yourself… are these really “reasons” or are they excuses?

Think about it carefully.

For example, loneliness… an emotion all human beings have to deal with. But does that give us permission to lie? Is that really a reason to have one-night stands? Or is it more likely just an “excuse” (false argument) used to follow through on a wrong action?

What’s the wrong action I’m talking about here?

The “wrong action” here is his lying to you and his lack of loyalty behind your back. The question then is… does loneliness, horniness or any other “millions of cheating excuses” really grant permission for taking those wrong actions? I don’t believe they do.

But sometimes, we can be too close to something to really see it for what it is.

So, imagine that instead of sexual indiscretion, this was a case of theft. His reasons for cheating would be like going before a judge and calmly explaining that he was broke and that lack of money is what drove him to steal.

How should the judge respond? Should he say… well, sir, since you have a good reason for stealing (lack of money), then that makes your decision to steal perfectly okay. Or should the judge appoint a committee to spend hundreds of hours looking for the “real” reasons behind this man’s theft? You see where I’m going with this.

The pointer here is, don’t confuse “excuses” with “permission” — they are not the same. If a human being wants to pursue a wrong course of action, he can always find an excuse to help him justify it. But just because you can “rational-lies” a choice… doesn’t make that choice okay (notice the spelling of “rational-lies”).

Which brings me to my second concern.

I get the impression from your email that you’re of the mind that if you could just somehow find and pinpoint the real reason — find the “smoking gun” for why he did what he did — then you’d be better able to handle what he did.

If this is the case… here’s a note of caution.

First of all, there’s not one answer that will help this to suddenly make sense (which is part of what makes it so vexing) because when we’re dealing with human emotions and human motives, we seldom find a smoking gun. Instead, what’s more likely is that we uncover a series of contributing factors that lead people to make bad judgment calls.

Take your partner, for example.

Chances are his loneliness did play a part in his decision, but chances are it was not the only thing at play… because there are plenty of men who travel for work and don’t cheat.

Here’s how I would look at it if I were you.

First of all, I would take all his excuses at face value, because chances are he’s well aware of his own contributing factors. Rather than treat them as “causes”, I would treat them as symptoms.

Let’s take, for example, his comments about loneliness. I don’t see this as having anything to do with you — it’s really feedback about him. What it tells me is that he has poor coping strategies for dealing with his lonely feelings. This is not something caused by you… he had poor coping strategies for dealing with loneliness before you ever arrived on the scene. In other words, it’s not your fault he can’t handle being alone, and neither is it YOUR responsibility to ward off his lonely feelings.

This is a key insight because if you allow him to make you responsible for warding off his loneliness… then what happens when you’re not there? What happens when your attention is needed elsewhere (for example pregnancy, new baby, new job)?

You can see how this is a disaster in the making, right? 

So, am I saying that people with poor coping strategies for dealing with loneliness are more vulnerable to temptation? YES! That’s exactly what I’m saying. Am I saying this vulnerability was there prior to you being in his life? YES, chances are it was.

What does this mean? It means your partner’s got some room for improvement. From my perspective, his decision to cheat based on his need to “ward off loneliness and satisfy sexual urges” indicates a man who has not yet learned how to be okay with himself… perhaps a man who’s never been taught how to override basic impulses… and above all, it indicates to me a man who has yet to realize why it’s not okay to “use other people” like a drug to numb, escape or ward off your own emotional pain.

Because if you really think about it, isn’t that what he did with that one-night stand? Didn’t he use that woman to ward off his loneliness and end his  horniness? (Notice that none of these really have anything to do with you.)  And maybe, to some extent, he applies that same frame of logic to marriage. Maybe he sees your role as his wife as primarily there to ward off his loneliness and end his horniness… and so when you fall short, he thinks he’s entitled to a substitute.

Now, if any of this rings a bell or makes you uncomfortable, let me reassure you…

You’re not the only one. Plenty of couples have a similar philosophy about marriage, where they view it as “transactional” — a type of barter arrangement — along the lines of “you scratch my back… I’ll scratch yours” type of thing. The primary function of the marriage then is to meet needs. These could be financial needs, child-rearing needs, status needs, publicity needs, the need to ward off loneliness or the need for sexual convenience. Sad news is, those types of transaction-based relationships don’t usually yield the level of intimacy and authenticity that leads to true relationship happiness. Couples engaged in this type of relationship always have an underlying sense of “something missing” without being really sure of what it is.

Think of it like this…

Marrying to meet needs is like playing in the baseball minor leagues. Yes, you’re playing the game, perhaps even at a higher level than most, and yet you have the underlying feeling that there’s more out there… that this is not as good as it gets, because deep down, you know there’s another level up.

Good News/Bad News/Weird News

The bad news is that not every couple levels up (just like how not every minor league ball player will make it to the majors). In fact, many marriages stay in the minor leagues for a long time… wherein couples mostly just go through the motions, meeting each other’s needs, playing their assigned roles and tolerating boredom as a way of life.

Now for the good news. Many couples do level up. Many couples start out with marriages designed to meet needs, and along the way, they find ways to move into deeper levels of commitment and end up upgrading their relationships from one that “meets needs” to one that “shares enduring values”.

And here’s the weird part. For many couples, the “call to upgrade” comes on the heels of devastating news such as infidelity. I know, I know… it doesn’t make logical sense, and yet it happens all the time, where an adversity like the one you guys are facing… is exactly what’s needed to peel back the mask and expose the deeper hidden issues because it’s only when they are revealed… that they can be healed.

So here’s my suggestion.

I strongly suggest you stop looking for the “why” he did what he did and start looking for the “how” and the “what”. For example, how can his (excuses) for cheating help you design a more infidelity-proofed marriage? And what does his excuse teach him about his vulnerabilities and weaknesses? And what does he need to learn from this experience to help him make the transition from being an excuse-maker to a loyal partner? Notice the primary emphasis is on his learning because regardless of what a person’s excuses for failure are, until they remove those excuses, they remain vulnerable to using them again. If you’d like to help him begin that journey to removing his excuses for failure, point him towards my article “What Does the Affair Say About You?” It’s designed to help wayward partners begin the process of correcting the errors in their thinking that lead to bad decisions.