Is cheating always the wrong thing to do?


It seems so simple: judging someone for cheating. And there are aspects to it that can be condemned, but cheating is often so complex and depends so much on the context that it would be too short-sighted to judge it as the most heinous kind of treason in a relationship. The aspect that isn’t okay, no matter the context or how complex the situation is, is the fact that someone will get hurt. When someone cheats, there is always someone whose consent was never asked for, who now feels hurt or rejected. Someone who has to deal with the insecurity that comes with a situation they never agreed to be a part of.

But apart from this, cheating seems to be so diverse that it’s not possible just to condemn it with a superficial judgment. Cheating comes in many forms and with a wide range of intensity. Basically, cheating is defined as a situation in which one of the partners (or maybe both partners) broke the rules set up in their relationship with regards to entering into intimate and sexual relationships. What those rules entail is for the couples themselves to decide. The tricky part here is that the rules are often not explicitly mentioned until a situation like this occurs. Or when both partners have a different view of their relationship limits and the possibilities of being in contact with other people.

Types of cheating

For some people, a partner has already crossed the line if he or she maintains friendly contact with a colleague, while other couples might allow for a certain amount of flirting. For some couples, physical contact is off-limits, but it’s fine if you text a few double entendres. There are also people who don’t mind their partner kissing other people, and some are even okay with sexual contact as long as there is no emotional connection. It’s good to set a few boundaries when it comes to this stuff, but also about how forgiving you can be when you and your partner are both pushing these boundaries. Because if you don’t clearly set these rules about your relationship beforehand, you might end up hurting your partner and cross a boundary without realizing it. There wouldn’t be any bad intent. You might not even know that your partner regards your actions as cheating.

Why do people cheat?

Most people will likely say you were in a bad relationship, and that’s why you cheated. That something was lacking in the bedroom, not enough chemistry or not enough attention for each other. But this isn’t the case for most people who cheat on their partners. Sometimes, people do feel their relationship is lacking in a certain department, and other people can fill this need. Some couples are dealing with cases of insecure attachment, the inability to invest in a healthy relationship, or even cases of psychopathology. But, more often than not, the reasons behind cheating are about the ‘me’ in the relationship. When you cheat, it says something about you. Not necessarily that you’re a bad person, but it does say something about the part of you that is looking to get something out of a relationship. A part of you that has trouble with some things in your current relationship. A part of you that was curious or simply didn’t want to resist the temptation. People hardly ever cheat with the intention of hurting their partner, even if this is almost always an unwanted consequence of cheating. There are also people who would cheat without ever feeling the need to question their current relationship. They couldn’t imagine a life with anyone other than their partner, yet even those people end up in situations where they cheat. So, this hardly says anything about their relationship, but more so about the context, a person finds themselves in. And sometimes there simply isn’t any other reason for it except: ‘It was an option, I was tempted, and so I just did it’.

Fess up or remain silent

It’s difficult to decide whether you should tell your partner you cheated on them or keep it a secret. In both cases, you need to ask yourself what the consequences will be. Are you sharing it with your partner just so you don’t have to walk around with your secret anymore? The result being that your partner now has to deal with it as well. Or will you carry the burden of keeping your secret and not bother your partner with it? What are the consequences of both options for you and your partner’s mental health and the quality of your relationship?

Keeping a secret often has a purpose: we’re afraid to lose the other person when they find out. But keeping it a secret also comes at a price: mainly guilt, shame and often both physical and mental issues. Yet, this is often preferable to sharing your secret with your partner because doing so could harm your relationship or your partner.

If complete transparency is something you both want in a relationship, then sharing your secret is always an option. But be aware of the impact this will have on your partner, his or her trust and your relationship. Make sure you know what you’re saying and remain calm, so there is enough room for emotions and questions from your partner. Don’t be defensive, but listen and be available for them. Take responsibility, and don’t point the finger towards your partner or your relationship as responsible for your cheating. If these factors played a part in why you cheated, then there is probably room to talk about it later on in the conversation, but you first need to make room for your partner to speak.


Has the trust in your relationship been damaged? Then know that building trust is based on: can I count on you? Will you be there for me, even if I don’t ask you? Often the focus is put on no longer exhibiting the behaviour linked to the cheating. And even though it’s definitely not a good idea to be in contact with the person you cheated with when your relationship is in a stage of recovery, it’s even more important to be there for your partner. Are you prepared to selflessly invest in your partner and be there for them when they need you, without you getting anything in return for it? It’s this sort of behaviour that is necessary to regain their trust. You should also know that the trust within a relationship includes many different factors: can you rely on the other person as a parent? Can the other person take care of financial responsibilities if needed? Can you be vulnerable with each other? When your partner cheats on you, it might feel like this trust is completely gone, but when you get over the initial pain, take a good look at your relationship: was your trust in each other only built on your monogamous sexual relationship or on something much more than that which you’ve built together? Is the trust completely gone now, or is it just partly damaged? If you’re able to look at it this way, the road towards recovery seems much more reachable than when it felt like the entire foundation of your relationship was destroyed.

Stay or go

Many people say they would immediately leave their partner if that person ever cheated on them, but most of those people realize it’s not that simple when it actually happens. There is often too much invested that’s worth staying for. And that’s nothing to be embarrassed about: you’ve built your relationship together, and it doesn’t have to be completely torn down because one of you cheated. You’re still allowed to love your partner, even if you hate what they did. You’re allowed to be mad at them, but also still want to be with them. It’s completely normal for these emotions to mix. It’s important not to make any rushed decisions during those initial painful moments, especially when children are involved. Allow yourself time to heal from the pain, and then try to figure out if there is still enough love, and other things, to stay for. If you still want to leave after that, you can. But, if you want to stay, that’s also fine.

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