Ask Wendy

Why Does Infidelity Happen? Is Forgiveness Possible? And How Can I Prevent it from Ever Happening Again?

Friday, August 8, 2019
Hey Wendy,

I’m wondering, why did my husband cheat on me and how can I forgive him, trust and move on knowing this will never happen again?

Delia N. — London, England

Hi Delia,

I’m sorry you’ve experienced infidelity. That’s painful. You are certainly in good company out there. Did you know that 45 to 50 percent of married women and 50 to 60 percent of married men cheat on their spouses? Yup, the American Psychological Association (APA) brings us those stats, and while they don’t distinguish between the States and across the pond where you are in London, I can’t imagine the numbers being that far off.

It might make you feel better to know that research shows that infidelity has very little to do with love. It’s likely that your husband’s infidelity has very little to do with you. It might, and it might not. Understanding why an infidelity happened might be useful to your healing process so you can move on and put it in the past.

To forgive an infidelity, you have a few choices:

  • If your partner is truly remorseful that it happened in the first place, and they pledge to never, ever, ever do it again, you could just decide to take them at their word and forgive them. Decide is the key word here. Decide they made a mistake, they had an adventure, and now they’re back to staying true to the commitments the two of you have made in your relationship.


  • You could learn the “why” behind the infidelity, accept your part if you have one, and then both of you follow what I’ve outlined in option #1.

Now, what do I mean by owning your part? Some of the reasons for cheating have to do with you, and some don’t. Let’s take a look at a few of the reasons people cheat:

A Need For Sex: Some people cheat because they need (more) sex and they can’t get it from their partner. This can be anything from not feeling they’re having enough sex to being cut off altogether by their partner.

I know a woman who hasn’t had sex with her husband since the ’90s. Not sure what he’s doing, but I would bet he’s finding a solution for his predicament one way or another.

Let’s say you only desire sex once a month and your husband desires it three times a week at a minimum. This presents a mismatch—one that drives the partner who wants more sex to find it outside of the relationship.

In this scenario, the two people in this relationship both have a part to own. Does this mean you should have sex with your husband even when you don’t want to? No! Yikes. It does mean, however, that you two would need to have a frank talk about what you both can do to make sure each of you is getting what you want and need in your relationship.

A Need for Positive Attention, to Experience a Win, or to Make Someone Happy: Some people cheat because nothing is going right in their life and they need a little positivity boost, or a “win,” so to speak. The old tropes of the husband who has an affair with the secretary, or the wife who has an affair with her tennis pro point at a need to be desired or admired by someone new.

We run the risk of getting complacent in our relationships when we’re “roommating” all the time. We forget that while we love this person, we sometimes need to actually work at liking and desiring them.

It’s common for women in long term relationships to think, “Respect him? Why? I raised him” or “I make his life happen—without me, he’s inept.” These types of attitudes lead to a loss of affinity and will drive a partner to look for admiration in all the wrong places.

Another trap we fall into is not appreciating our partner’s efforts, and we might even withhold our happiness or affection. You know, because if we do, our partner might try harder. This pretty much always backfires. Instead of trying harder, they might find someone they can easily make happy and focus their energy where it’s sunny for a while.

In this scenario, the two people in this relationship both have a part to own.

A Need to Experience Newness, Feel Alive, Encounter Risk and/or Adventure: Do you ever just get sick of yourself? I know from time to time that I do! Do you ever think or feel, “Is this all there is to life?” We humans can get stuck in ruts. We get bored. We box ourselves in, wear deep grooves into our daily routines, see the same old faces, tell the same old jokes, run the same old errands over and over again. Sometimes we need to shake things up a little bit.

How we create newness, risk, and adventure in our lives is up to each individual. Some of us go on vacation or travel to foreign lands. Others go back to school. Reading, retreats, and self-fulfillment workshops, meditation, jumping out of an airplane, zip-lining at the nearby entertainment park: these are all ways to tap into that call to adventure that all humans have at our core. It’s part of being alive! And some people, unfortunately, access this feeling by cheating.

In this scenario, only one person in the relationship has a part to own—the person who cheats.

A Need for a Certain Type of Sex: Okay, so I’m going to talk about something that’s a little bit scary here, so please bear with me. Some people have a need for a particular kind of sex, or have a need for a variety of partners in their sex life. This is not the majority of people, nor does it make up a large percentage of the people who cheat, but this column would be incomplete if I didn’t mention it.

There’s a big difference between someone who, say, would like to try anal but could live their whole life without ever doing it versus someone with an actual deep affinity toward a type of sex or fetish. Often, if doesn’t feel safe to tell their partner the truth about their sexual desires. It makes more sense to simply compartmentalize these needs—or outsource them to someone other than their spouse or beloved.

For example, a man who likes to cross-dress and wear women’s undergarments might not feel like it’s a good idea to tell his wife. What if she rejects him? What if she loses respect for and attraction to him? But if it’s something that means a lot to him, the desire to express this sexual side of himself won’t just go away. So instead of doing what he sees as potentially jeopardizing the marriage, he has “regular” sex with his wife and goes to see a professional to express the less conventional sides of his sexuality.

So here’s a trick question: In this scenario, is one person or both in the relationship accountable to own part?

Answer: It depends. Who do you want to be in your relationship? Are you willing to know all the things about your partner’s sexual life? Or are there things you don’t want to know if they could negatively affect your relationship? And if you’re unwilling to know, is he able to express his needs outside of your relationship, or is the relationship over?

Complicated, right? Our sexual desires can be like that sometimes.

All of this is a very long-winded way of outlining why infidelities happen, and now you get to decide how you’re going to forgive and move on.

Are you just going to forgive him?

Or are you going to look at your part (if there is one) and forgive him?

And if you do forgive, you’ve got to go all the way. Be willing to put it behind you. Work on being as happy, trusting, and fully present with him as you were before it happened. You can’t lord it over his head or trot it out every time you need a big club to beat him with. Forgive.

It’s time to address the last part of your question: How can you prevent it from ever happening again?

I have the answer for you, but I warn you, you probably won’t like it.

We want what we want in our relationships. And most of us want a monogamous relationship without any incidents of infidelity. The trouble is that, as a culture, we’re failing at maintaining that standard at epic percentages (40–60 percent).

There’s a way you can 100-percent eradicate infidelity from your relationship.

Are you ready for it?

It’s radical.

The surefire way to make sure infidelity never happens again is to take monogamy off the table completely. You can’t cheat on someone if there are no rules around sexual exclusivity.

Those who commit to each other but take sexual exclusivity and its subsequent rules off the table don’t worry about being cheated on because cheating’s been removed from the design of the relationship. When there’s no rule to break, the relationship can’t be broken—not by infidelity, anyway.

Okay, beyond that radical idea, there’s no other way I see to guarantee 100% that infidelity won’t happen again. The world is a very dangerous place with very little certainty, and there’s nothing any of us can do about that except to be as open, honest, and caring with each other as possible. And to look after each other’s needs and desires as best we can.

Good luck to you and your husband. I hope you two navigate this well.

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