by Monica Ross
Sometimes people come into therapy in pain over something someone else does. What I’m thinking about specifically are those moments in relationships where we feel like our partner may be pulling away even to the extent of taking an interest romantically in someone else.
With the threat of infidelity or perhaps the act of infidelity there is a questioning by the person who got cheated on, the faithful one, which amounts to a “What about me isn’t enough?” This question doesn’t come into play just in long-term partnerships, people ask themselves the same thing for example after three months of dating when the person one has an interest in decides not to go forward and explore the relationship any further.
Again the questioning, “What is wrong with me” and “Why am I not good enough for this person?”
It gets confusing because each person in the relationship has a separate experience of it. And it’s not I don’t think that we aren’t being honest about our emotions--certainly there is deception in relationships. But many are attempting to be honest about their feelings.
It’s as though at times we say and do things in a way to try out for ourselves how we feel in the act of saying and doing them if that makes sense. How does it feel when I tell this other person that I love them?
Let’s take the scenario that two people who have been seeing each other for eight months make wild passionate love one night and then one in the pair decides to break things off the next day. It would likely leave the other person asking what exactly happened here?
But maybe for the other person in the relationship, the one who left, the feeling was "Wow, even after eight months of dating and numerous attempts at getting myself to feel differently about this, I ultimately just don’t feel like we are all that compatible. I needed to try this one last time. And I can’t go on with the romantic part of our relationship any longer."
Even if feelings of mutuality were there from the beginning we know that feelings can change. They can change within the span of three months and they can change within the span of fifteen years. Think of the one that after fifteen years of marriage complains of disinterest on the part of their partner that started maybe four years into the relationship and yet this person held on.
But in terms of long-term relationships and infidelity including the lying and deceit and manipulation that also typically takes place by the person who is hiding the affair, it’s natural I think to want to ask, to want to know, "What it is or what was it about me let’s say that led to the affair?"
But it’s a slippery slope to go down that trail of thinking—that it was something about us. Often it’s the person who wants the relationship to work out, the faithful one as it were, who comes into therapy asking “What can I can do to make this relationship work?”
They ask maybe, “How can I change in a way that would make the person who has lost interest regain interest? How can I help them to see that they are being disrespectful, that they are being mean, that they are being distant, that they are withholding themselves from me in some way and what would it take to get back what we had in the beginning?”
And that’s when I say, it’s not you, it’s them. If it were something that you could change about you, you would no doubt do it because you are here asking me the question and I can see that you love this other person. That is not the issue. The issue is the other person and why are they unable at this time to show you the same level or love and concern?
Why have they emotionally fled?
The desire to think that we can be the one who changes and in so doing somehow fixes the relationship is I think an attempt to arrest the power in the relationship back when things are feeling outside of our control.
There have been many theories as to why people cheat. Some say it is because they are attractive and have the opportunity to cheat or maybe it is that they have a habit of lying or manipulating and to be honest and present is something they are unaccustomed to. Maybe they aren’t getting the physical or emotional connection they seek at home because they themselves have pulled away and find it easier to start over somewhere else.
Some say that people who cheat have a tendency to be anxiously attached and when their anxiety about the security of the relationship gets provoked they look to other options instead of dealing with their anxiety in a constructive way.
Perhaps they have a need to feel wanted and that need is going unfulfilled. Maybe they have a need for freedom and so they act out on that need only to find that the freedom they once had is under threat because they have sparked a lack of trust from the infidelity. People cheat out of boredom. People cheat to force a break up. People cheat to explore a different part of their identity. People cheat for all kinds of reasons.
But if someone cheats, it’s not your fault.