Cheating is one of those things that no one really likes to talk about—and for good reason. It’s messy, embarrassing, hurtful, and all around not a fun thing to experience or support someone else through.
No two instances are the same; no one piece of advice works for everyone. That said, two recent celebrity headlines caught our attention. In July, as Beyoncé and Jay-Z welcomed twin babies to the world, everyone was busy decoding lyrics about infidelity on Jay’s latest album. Meanwhile, actor and comedian Jenny Slate opened up about cheating in a press interview for her new movie Landline. In the case of celebrities, as with anyone, we never truly know what’s happening in personal relationships. But these stars’ vulnerability has helped us uncover a couple pieces of wisdom about why we cheat and how to avoid it.
01. Honesty Can Be Hard But Good
In late June, Beyoncé’s husband, Jay-Z, released his fourteenth album, 4:44. Soon enough, mayhem ensued as the world attempted to decipher what his lyrics meant, especially on the heels of Beyoncé’s painfully raw account of infidelity on 2016’s Lemonade.
Rapping such lyrics as “And if my children knew / I don’t even know what I would do / If they ain’t look at me the same / I would probably die with all the shame / ‘You did what with who?’” and “I apologize to all the women whom I / Toyed with you emotions because I was emotionless / I apologize ’cuz at your best you are love / And because I fall short of what I say I’m all about,” Jay-Z seemed to be directly addressing the increasingly public story of his alleged cheating.
While most of us would agree that it’s not advisable to air our dirty laundry quite so publicly, there is some surprising wisdom behind the Carters’ openness about their struggles. According to experts, being honest with your partner about difficulties to remain faithful is critical to saving intimacy. While it can be embarrassing and painful, it is the first and best step toward protecting yourself and your relationship.
Psychologist Paul Coleman told Verily that it is best to be open with your partner about what you are experiencing and then distance yourself from the person with whom you share an attraction. “Even if they must work in close proximity, there are ways to send out a signal of ‘not available’ such as telling positive stories about one’s partner or no longer confiding in that person or being their confidant,” Coleman said.
Coleman says that to help restore your relationship from an affair or a temptation, begin to focus on what you love most about your partner in order to recreate positive emotions: “Use that emotion as a motivator to connect with your partner. It could be as simple as a genuine, tender show of affection or the purchase of a gift. But because the feeling is there, it reminds you that you are not simply forcing your feelings but actually experiencing them as authentic.”
02. Infidelity Is a Distraction, Not a Cure
In a recent interview with Cosmopolitan about her new movie Landline, actress Jenny Slate offered a surprisingly poignant take on cheating. Slate, who plays Dana, a woman caught up in an affair, explains that the experience has given her a realistic perspective of cheating. Slate said, “Cheating is not freedom. Infidelity is not freedom. It’s a momentary respite from stressors that are going to come back.”
Those who are tempted to cheat often do so as an attempt to escape from some kind of anxiety, but it usually only gets them further ensnared in their problems. Slate’s wisdom—even if just gleaned from a movie role—is spot on. According to psychologist Mark Derian, while there is never truly an excuse for infidelity in a committed relationship, people often cheat in a relationship because of personal stressors such as feelings of inadequacy. Derian said that cheating is self-destructive behavior built on shame. “We cheat as a way to act out, to distract ourselves from poor self-esteem, which is uncomfortable,” Derian said.
The therapists we spoke to agreed that cheating doesn’t have to ruin a relationship forever, but it does require intentionality and a deep desire to repair the trust that has been (or was almost) damaged. All relationships face stressors, and if not taken care of, they can manifest in different and often painful ways. Personal inadequacy can come from depression, a hurt ego, or even fear of commitment. Psychologists recommend that you address these issues head-on rather than letting them continue to fester and consume you.
Keep your relationship strong and safe from outside influencers by seeking couples counseling even if you don’t think you need it and by developing good relationship habits. As Verily contributor Kathryn Wales said, “The heart’s desire is answered by investing in one person—real intimacy rather than sexual adventuring.”
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