The biggest mistake that you can make after experiencing romantic betrayal is believing that it’s about you. We make the act more painful by taking it personally. By telling ourselves that a partner’s infidelity is the result of our lacking in some area or them not caring for us as they should, we take on undue responsibility and unjust agony.
Our biggest mistake in any relationship, with anyone, is believing that we wield more influence than we do over their actions.
First thoughts and even spoken words after a partner has cheated are usually similar to:
How could you do this to ME?
I thought you loved ME.
If you loved ME you wouldn’t have.
What does he/she have that I don’t?
Are you trying to hurt ME?
It’s all about us, seldom about them. That’s because our minds are trained to believe that fidelity and loyalty are birthed from love, when these states could each be mutually exclusive. We think that if a person loves us enough and we meet all of their needs, they won’t seek the intimate company of another.
Just the same, I’ve seen those who’ve cheated grow annoyed (as though they have the right) with the idea that they did it to intentionally hurt someone. Because oftentimes, as difficult as it may be to believe, they didn’t. The person whom they love isn’t on their minds when with someone else — though perhaps they should be.
Love is love. Sex is sex. Emotional affairs are something different but in those that are purely physical, these two elements rarely intersect. That doesn’t make the cheating meaningless and therefore more acceptable, but it does make the behavior less about the presence or absence of love — and consequently, less about you.
I’ve known those who love their partners beyond measure, yet still cheated. They feel bad for breaking their vows and potentially hurting the person that they love but do it anyway. Sometimes the betrayal is made known, other times partners are kept in the dark — but the offender doesn’t claim or appear to love them any less.
Why? Because love isn’t enough to keep a person from cheating.
Now, in every scenario, there may be additional factors in play as to why infidelity continues or a partner doesn’t come clean. There’s manipulation— some wish to have their cake and eat it too. There’s the fear of losing a partner, even if the loss is justified. There can be genuine remorse and shame, and the certainty that such a revelation will crush the partner who’s so beloved.
You might say that one doesn’t treat a person whom they love this way. You don’t deceive, neglect, and in some cases endanger someone you claim to care for. You don’t do things that you know would devastate them.
Love is a factor, but only one — and perhaps not even the one most significant in determining whether or not a partner is faithful. It may be an infidelity deterrent in tandem with other components, but not alone.
Cheating is a choice unattached to anyone other than the person doing the choosing. Even if you’re the worst partner ever, even if your significant other is supremely miserable in the relationship, cheating is a personal decision. Don’t do yourself the disservice of believing that you control what another adult elects to do.
There are alternatives to romantic affairs if in an unhappy relationship or treated poorly by a partner — such as therapy, discussing the issues, or ending the relationship altogether. Though we can be driven away and turned off by a partner, the act of cheating is always a choice. It’s never the fault of the person who was cheated on — ever. It can’t be when other options exist.
So if love won’t keep a person from cheating on you, what will?
The answer is mastery of self. We’re faced with temptation every day. What separates those who succumb and those who don’t is often discipline, integrity, and an esteemed perception of self.
Many are simply not interested in sleeping with anyone other than their significant others. The idea of cheating isn’t entertained because yes, they love their partners, but also because they hold them in high regard. No one else compares. But it’s not because of anything extraordinary that their partners have done. Rather, it’s because of the standard to which the individual holds themselves.
It’s emotional maturity, conflict resolution skills, self-control, and even a bit of arrogance that has the greatest influence over what a person chooses to do outside of his or her relationship. One has to almost believe they’re “too good” to carry themselves in an undesirable manner.
The decision not to cheat on a partner comes well before lying in bed with someone else. Without crossing lines and putting oneself in compromising situations to begin, inappropriate relationships and intimate encounters would rarely enter the equation. This is where discipline and self-control come into play. We don’t have to act on every thought that comes into our minds — nor must we act on attention or flirtatious behavior directed our way.
This isn’t to imply that every person who cheats is lacking morals, has low self-esteem or poor impulse control. That may be the case for serial cheaters, but as humans, we all have lapses in judgment and may do things we aren’t proud of. This is just to say that mastery of self is the most influential factor in the process — more influential than love.
For someone who’s mastered themselves, who they want to be, and how they’ll cultivate and nurture this person, there is little that can make them behave in contradiction to their self-image. For someone who hasn’t, all the love and vows in the world won’t stop them from cheating. They’re searching for something in these other people that they don’t yet have within.
People don’t remain faithful and committed because of who you are, but who THEY are.
There’s a book called The Four Agreements that’s all about pacts that we should make with ourselves. One of them is to “Be impeccable with your word.” When someone holds themselves to vows and promises, it’s because they’ve made an agreement not just with a partner but with themselves to do so.
Give yourself less credit. Less power. If you’ve had your heart broken and romantic union decimated by a partner’s cheating, it doesn’t mean they didn’t love you. It wasn’t about you, at all.
Then, in evaluating the potential of future relationships, weigh heavily how in control of themselves an individual seems to be. Don’t put all your eggs in the “love” basket — it will never be big or sturdy enough on its own to hold them.
Originally published on Medium.com