Psychologist view: The honest truth about cheating

WASHINGTON — Cheating on a spouse or romantic partner is messy, painful and nearly always spells the end of the marriage or relationship. So why do people do it?

Robin Haight, president-elect of the Virginia Academy of Clinical Psychologists, says, perhaps unsurprisingly, that it’s “a complicated question.”

“I don’t think people want to cheat … I think people are looking for something,” Haight tells WTOP’s Veronica Robinson.

Too often, Haight says, people are looking to their partner to make them happy, and when that doesn’t happen, “sometimes they look outside of their relationship.”

An unhappy partner in a marriage is sometimes trying to sabotage it, she adds.

“People who are dissatisfied, and can’t communicate their dissatisfaction.”

She says the dissatisfied spouse “may try all kinds of ways of indirectly communicating that, and cheating is one of those ways.”

“They may not even be conscious that they’re acting out.”

The stereotype is that men cheat more often.

But Haight says women cheat as well.

“In fact, in my practice I see more women who have cheated and are really distressed about that,” says Haight, who has offices in Tysons Corner, Va.

Often, people will cheat on their spouses after forming a close friendship with someone. It may seem tempting to put a ban on opposite-sex friends, but Haight says that shouldn’t be necessary.

She says such a friendship “doesn’t have to be a threat to a strong intimate relationship … But there is sort of a pact that good couples make to each other, even if it’s unspoken, that they will protect their intimacy. They wouldn’t put more energy into a friendship than they put in their marital relationship.”

If your spouse does cheat on you, does that automatically mean the marriage or relationship is over? Not necessarily, Haight says, but it’s not easy to recover.

“Couples do survive cheating … it is a very difficult road to travel, though. And those partners need to be willing to go through the painful process of reconstructing a relationship.”

WTOP’s Veronica Robinson contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP and @WTOPliving on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.  

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