Infidelity has been much discussed of late (thanks, Tiger Woods), so we asked sexpert Dr. Trina Read, author of Till Sex Do Us Part, to weigh in on the causes and signs of cheating, and whether there’s anything you can do to infidelity-proof your marriage.
Q: Why do people cheat? Are there certain things in a relationship that can cause it?
A: I have no scientific proof on this, but my observations tell me that half of the population is naturally monogamous and half is not. Some people feel comfortable with fidelity and others don’t. And when you go into a long-term relationship, no one tells you how difficult it’s going to be. We do our best, but there’s a tendency for both people to start taking each other for granted and for both members of the couple to get into a really big rut of habits. You get up, you go to work, you come home and make dinner, and you go to bed. All of a sudden you meet someone, and those love chemicals go off and it’s exciting and you feel alive. Everything that happens chemically at the beginning of a new relationship also happens when you cheat. If you talk to people who have cheated on their partner, they say that it was very, very easy — even if they feel guilty about it.
Q: Is cheating always a sign that there’s a problem in the relationship or does cheating sometimes happen to perfectly good relationships?
A: I think it can be both. People who cheat aren’t necessarily unhappy; they’re just sick of the mind-numbing routine and they want to feel alive. Sex was boring and all of a sudden sex is amazing.
Q: Can cheating ever improve a relationship?
A: It can, but it takes the concerted effort of two people to want to improve the relationship. And, understandably, the person who’s been cheated on feels betrayed and there’s a lack of trust. However, once the partnership decides that they are going to stay together and go to a counselor and work on their relationship as a team, people report that they do feel closer afterwards. But that’s mostly because instead of taking the relationship for granted, they’re making a sincere effort to make the relationship work, which ends up making the relationship better. They’re not ignoring it anymore and they’re putting some effort into it.
Q: So it’s not the cheating that improves a relationship but the work you put into it after the cheating?
A: Yes, absolutely.
Q: So if you did that work before the cheating, chances are one of you wouldn’t have cheated?
A: Chances are that it wouldn’t have happened, that’s correct.
Q: Are there some signs you can look for that might indicate that a partner is poised to cheat?
A: Any long-term couple can say that there are periods where you feel connected to your partner and periods where you feel disconnected, and I think that’s a very normal thing. During these periods where you’re feeling disconnected and you’re working through some issues, there’s a better chance that your partner is vulnerable to cheat.
Q: Any tips for infidelity-proofing your marriage?
A: Couples are busy and I get that. But if you plan to stay with one person for 50 years of your life, you’ve got to make an investment of time into the relationship. It doesn’t have to be big; it can be 10 minutes every week where you sit down with your partner one-on-one and just have a glass of wine, or do something together. People say that they can’t fit 10 minutes in, but if you can’t fit that in, then how do you expect your relationship to work? People put zero effort, zero time, zero everything into their relationship but expect their relationship to be magnificent, and it just doesn’t work that way. Making your marriage work means putting time into the relationship, spending time together every week, taking a vacation together once a year, and telling your partner that you appreciate them, if you expect to go the distance. Maybe it’s all cliched, but it’s true.