Cheating is a social construct. That means it’s not real outside of what we make of it. It is something our culture created as a term and concept to describe a behavior. The statistics show it occurs as often as in 60% of all relationships. But cheating doesn’t even come with a universalizable definition. And most couples have never discussed the specifics of what they deem to be “cheating”. This concept has permeated our society for long enough that most people live with it unquestioned as an apotheotic absolute. Monogamy was created, as was marriage, and we all fall into line and agree with these concepts and their assumed boundaries that we ourselves have not even chosen. When someone cheats, nothing actually changes but our own subjective interpretation of the event and of our partner’s character. Individuals are harmed, but only by interpretation and perspective. Humans lie, humans hurt, and humans cannot be trusted implicitly. Relationship, any engagement with an Other, must involve the conscious acceptance of this fact. “Cheating” needs to be downgraded from a relational act of emotional violence, to one form of many relational injuries to be expected from well meaning flawed humans. The sexual context of a behavior need not make it more “heinous”. Law & Order SVU loves this concept, as the show opens stating “sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous”. This sex phobic and sex hating statement exemplifies our cultural struggle to see sex as not being an inherently “special case”. We have colluded with the notion that lying is bad, but sexually themed lying is worse. This conceptual bias manifests with much consensus and support with shelves of “betrayal” books, and entire marital and sex addiction treatment programs existing to heal this “wound”. They both perpetuate the fantasy that within relationship or marriage one can expect no relational or sexual harm, ever. Only singledom comes with this promise. The “cheating industry” sadly does more damage then the act itself, by enforcing the notion of its consequential destruction and pain.
Cheating doesn’t injure. How cheating is conceptualized and dealt with does. How we see and treat “cheating” is an existential choice. The dismantling of this concept would alleviate the bulk of marital discord and misery and save most of them.
“How will I trust my partner again?” is the common question. You can’t. You cannot “trust” that you will never be disappointed, upset, uneasy, insecure, or wounded again. You will be! That is an outcome of being in a relationship with an Other. The acceptance of this can liberate you. I am NOT giving permission to relationally injure your partner by cheating. I am NOT condoning emotionally triggering behaviors. I am providing a much needed critical analysis of a concept that has been erroneously misused to villianize partners, needlessly end marriages, and assassinate the character of people we love. Monogamy, marriage, and relationships are difficult. The problem is often within these institutions and the associated unrealistic expectations carried parasitically within them, and not within the person.
We do have to be able to expect commitments that are made to be upheld. But cheating is a boundary violation, and these do occur often. Boundary violations and relational injuries are expected parts of the cycle of relationships. 21st century technology is creating new grey areas of sexual-relational engagement with others outside our primary relationship that couples are just now learning how to navigate. We are living longer and therefore experiencing longer marriages and periods of monogamy. This allows for more opportunities of struggle and more work to maintain a sustainable sexual life with our partner. Failures are to be expected and need to be “worked through” as normative phases of relationship.