What did he do that made you cheat?
July 13, 2009 9:46 PM   Subscribe

If you've felt the temptation to cheat, or have cheated, on a guy: what sorts of things was he neglecting to do around that time? Or what things was he doing?

I realise that there are a multitude of external factors, and no-one really drives their partner to infidelity, but I'd like some insight into what behaviours make a relationship more susceptible to infidelity.

A female friend is feeling an acute temptation, and the mistakes her partner is making are obvious: he's emotionally distant, he's uncontactable for days at a time. It got me curious: are there broad, general patterns? Are there mistakes that aren't as obvious?

I'm hoping for specific, empirical examples, as opposed to common-sense generalisations.

For example; I'm hoping for things like, "whenever I tried to tell him about concerns I had at work, he was uninterested and had a dissmissive attitude as if I were just sharing office gossip".

And I'm less interested in things like, "just be a good husband and have trust in your wife".

If privacy is an issue, you can send answers to what.didnt.he.do@gmail.com, and I'll post the answers here.

Thanks a lot!
posted by surenoproblem to Human Relations (32 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Generally the issue--if there is an emotional reason and not just 'hey, I want some'--is feeling like you're not getting what you need from your partner.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:06 PM on July 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

Mod note: few comments removed - answering the question without obnoxious generalizations about either gender will be the only way this question goes okay, please make an effort, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:14 PM on July 13, 2009

Your framework for thinking about this seems way out of whack to me.

I don't think that his "emotional distance" or "uncontactability" are causes of her (prospective) infidelity.

I think distance, uncontactability, infidelity, and about thirty other things are all equivalent but different ways of coping with some underlying problem that they probably have.
posted by rokusan at 10:38 PM on July 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

the mistakes her partner is making are obvious

It sounds like his biggest mistake is dating a girl who doesn't want to take full responsibility for her own actions.

Yes, it's extremely rough to be in a relationship with a partner who's emotionally distant, or doesn't contact you as often as you like, or isn't giving you what you need. But there are *multiple* options that someone involved in this kind of relationship can choose - talk to their partner, seek therapy with their partner, break up with their partner, examine and change their own behavior, and yeah....cheat.

That choice - how they handle the situation of a partner not giving them what they need - is entirely up to them. If the person chooses to cheat, it doesn't matter what the partner did or didn't do. That person still decided for themselves to make their own mistake and cheat, instead of handling the matter in a less deceitful way.

So I don't think there's any particular behavior of the "Potential Cuckold" that breeds infidelity, I think it's more about how the "Potential Cheater" chooses to respond to situations he/she does not like in their relationship.
posted by Squee at 10:38 PM on July 13, 2009 [36 favorites]

In my experience, the thing that a guy can do that will most incline his partner to cheat on him is have the nerve to not be every other guy on the face of the planet. Which is to say, the root cause of cheating seldom has anything to do with the person on whom the cheater is cheating.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:58 PM on July 13, 2009 [9 favorites]

I think that dnab & Squee, between them, have nailed it.

But it's very hard to talk about this kind of topic with "specific, empirical examples, as opposed to common-sense generalisations" because normally it comes down to whatever number of straws on the camel's back it takes for the particular woman in question to feel enough of an emotional disinvestment in her partner to:

- first, conceptualise a realistic desire to cheat;
- second, seek out or respond to possibilities; and
- third, actually go through with it & consummate the cheating.

And yes, those straws on the back can very often be a set of mutual symptoms of deeper underlying causes, and they have an entire ecosystem of their own - a whole complex of actions causing reactions, causing further reactions, and so on.

But if you really want a specific, empirical example, it's not uncommon for people to cheat in "revenge" for cheating; tit-for-tat. So, there's a start for you.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:32 PM on July 13, 2009

To make it easier, separate the issue of not liking what the other person is doing and breaking a promise. My experience is keep the promise by breaking up rather than cheating. There is no need to betray or lie to get what you want.

No matter what the problem, it is not the partner's fault that cheating occured--it sure as hell can be the partner's fault that she fell out of love. If they are married, get a divorce. If they are dating break up. If you decide poly is for you, then ask to have a different relationship. The key is to avoid attempting to having your cake and eat it too. One either has contempt or guilt that poisons both relationships.

What the guy does is irrelevant to whether she keeps her promise, that is on her. The guy is responsible in acting in a way which doesn't drive her away. What makes cheating bad is the attack on trust that poisons the minds of those involved. So just break up.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:13 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

The reason she's tempted to cheat is NOT his actions -- those, as others say, are good reasons to confront him and ask for what she needs, and get therapy or DTMFA if it's not working out.

Her REASON for cheating, more likely, is insecurity. Cheating in this situation is an attempt to stay in a stable situation while checking out the competition, so that one can presumably never be without at least a nominal partner.

I knew a woman who perpetually set up the next partner (by sleeping with him) before breaking up with the previous one. I don't believe she's been outside a relationship for 3 seconds since she was 16. She's married and 40 now. I feel very, very sorry for her, because she has never had an opportunity to find out who she is -- merely who she is as an extension of some male.
posted by lleachie at 12:20 AM on July 14, 2009 [9 favorites]

The reason I got cheated on was because I didn't break up with the girl when I realized there was absolutely nothing I could do that wouldn't get criticized.
posted by FuManchu at 12:39 AM on July 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

So to be less grudge-y: I'm just n-thing what others have said above as correct. There is usually something fundamental broken in the relationship when cheating becomes an option. At that point its just excuse-making among the flaws that most everyone has. Standards suddenly change, expectations are suddenly different from prior established boundaries. Cheating is basically saying "I'd like to break up, but you provide something material and non-sexual that I don't want to give up."
posted by FuManchu at 12:45 AM on July 14, 2009 [7 favorites]

I think the obvious mistakes this guy is making would lead your friend to break up with him, not cheat on him.

And yes, there are a multitude of traits that will get you continually broken-up with, a few of which you've already mentioned. I'll add abusive, immature, ne'er-do-well, and psychotic to the list.
posted by agentwills at 4:54 AM on July 14, 2009

Sometimes people cheat on their partner because slowly they have grown apart, and they are both too sad or scared to confront this fact.

I wish that wasn't true, but it is, and it's a surefire way to decimate the possibility of retaining a true friend out of an erstwhile lover.
posted by greenish at 5:13 AM on July 14, 2009 [7 favorites]

FuManchu has it right, I think.

People irrationally like to keep their options open, despite how detrimental that behavior is to everyone involved. It is irrational for your friend to spend energy on a relationship option she clearly doesn't want and unfair to the man she is thinking of cheating on.

If your friend has an unsatisfying relationship, she should take steps to end it. Sorry if this is not what you were looking for, but I don't think there are "behaviors" that lead to cheating. People can rationalize just fine on their own without outside help.
posted by PsuDab93 at 6:47 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here's where everyone I know (including myself) gets the temptation to cheat. (I said temptation. I wouldn't actually. I'm tempted sometimes to eat all the plums in the icebox, too, but I don't because it would be selfish and ultimately less fulfilling to hoard them.)

Sex. (I know! Shocking!) Or more to the point, desire.

So, as a long time couple you have a life together. The sense of urgency and insecurity and mystery of dating has long since evolved into something deeper. This is a good thing in a lot of ways.

But it doesn't mean that you've grown past wanting to be sexual and exciting. Getting noticed by a new person means that you see someone discover your desirability all over again, and that person isn't taking it for granted.

Talking about improving your sex life is the obvious answer, but the problem of how to evolve as a couple and not take each other for granted (particularly sexually) isn't something that can be fixed with a simple action. So it can devolve into "fine, tell me what you want me to do right now" and the answer is "it's not about doing something right now! do stuff all the time but not really all the time but grrr!"
posted by desuetude at 6:48 AM on July 14, 2009 [8 favorites]

I think it's baldly disingenuous to call two people who are attracted to each other, to call them "a relationship," as if it were a thing to be touched and repaired. In a similar way, I find it difficult to understand when people "work" on their marriages—as if it there was a measurable distance between themselves and their own involvement in a relationship.

Basically: a relationship does not falter; a person does. And because we are people—we are only human beings—it seems unlikely to assume something like a relationship can fix fundamental human flaws, even perhaps—if only to a relationship—the greatest one, infidelity.

I'm not sure if that helps. But I became a lot more at peace with myself once I realized that marriages, or relationships don't falter as-a-thing-in-themselves. People do, and that's everything.
posted by trotter at 7:02 AM on July 14, 2009 [5 favorites]

I have never cheated. Ever. However, in my last long term relationship I did contemplate cheating there towards the end. I did have a ton of good reasons, he never showed physical affection, the sex was non-existent, he constantly talked down to me and treated me like a child, blah, blah, blah. When I was trying to decide how to end it, and how to break it off, I actually thought, "Gee, if I just cheated on him, it'd be easy. That'd end it and then I wouldn't have to deal with all this crap."

But I didn't. Because I wanted to be able to look myself in the mirror and not be ashamed. Because to me, cheating is a crap way out. It's what you do when your a silly teenager and just want to avoid discussions and the "I don't think this is working" talk. There's a ton of reasons why you may think about looking elsewhere for whatever it is that you aren't getting in your relationship, but in my opinion, adults don't cheat. They address the situation and either fix it, or get out. Then you can move on to that nice cutie that treats you better, or whatever. Cheating is not a situational solution, it's a solution that is only acceptable to certain people.
posted by teleri025 at 7:43 AM on July 14, 2009 [5 favorites]

After my ex-boyfriend and I broke up as a result of my cheating on him, my friend (the "other" guy) told me,

"Well, it's his fault for letting you take him for granted."

I blinked, and realized I'd never thought of it that way before. I'm still not sure if he's right, but there's one guy's opinion for ya.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 7:45 AM on July 14, 2009

Nobody makes anyone else cheat.

If she's not happy with the relationship (and it sounds like she isn't, for quite good reasons), she should tell him, and they should either work on it or break up.

How does cheating help anything?
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:02 AM on July 14, 2009

I've had guys that I was dating tell me they don't care if we're exclusive, and if I wanted to, I could hook up with other guys, even though they weren't looking to hook up with other girls, and even though they insisted on calling me their girlfriend. Obviously these weren't serious relationships, this was when I was 18-20, and the guys I dated were that age as well. And obviously, this hurt a little, knowing that they didn't care enough to have me all to themselves. So with one guy, when I was on a vacation with friends without him and the opporunity came up to drunkenly make out with some marine in North Carolina, I took it, because I figured, "why the heck not? If the so-called-boyfriend doesn't care and specifically gave me permission, might as well have fun."

With another guy I dated, he also told me he didn't care, just didn't want to know if anything happened. I actually liked this guy a lot and didn't want to make out with anyone else, but he started acting distant and not returning phone calls, so once again, when the opportunity came up to hook up with a guy I did, just because I thought "well I could go back to my dorm now (where 'boyfriend' lived 3 doors away), but he won't pick up the phone, so why the hell should I go back now just to be sad and alone in my room at night?" So I made out with the other guy. I felt guilty about this one mostly because if things were going well with the boyfriend I would've never done that. With the other guy I didn't care as much.

So with the 1st example it was just because I could do it with no consequences, and the 2nd one was because the guy was being distant. Not blaming him, but I *did* try to make things work with him for a couple of weeks before the cheating, and he wasn't responsive. Sure, I should've broken up with him when he wasn't being reponsive and then it wouldn't have been cheating, but I didn't want to because I liked him.

Alcohol was involved both times. So:
imperfect relationship + alcohol + someone to hook up with = cheating
posted by KateHasQuestions at 8:06 AM on July 14, 2009

Here's the thing about cheating: it's like burning down the house because there are some roaches in the kitchen. I had to learn this the hard way and therefore I now pass it on to you and your friend who will hopefully take it to heart while it can still be put out with baking soda, before the whole house is gone. In other words, I'm going to nth what everyone else is saying about how nobody drives anyone to cheat. That's a decision you make all by yourself and your partner is blameless. Yes, blameless. They are not the person making the decision to wander off. So they're not giving you sex? Break up first, then have sex with someone else. So they're boring and annoying? Break up first, then get someone less boring and annoying. You get my drift.


There is one way, however, to drive someone to cheat on you and it's this: being insanely jealous for no good reason will often succeed in driving your partner to cheat. You've heard of a self fulfilling prophecy; this is essentially the same thing, only it's a partner fulfilling prophecy. Yeah, this is dysfunctional thinking but many people are dysfunctional. If your partner spends hours each week talking about how miserable he's going to be when you inevitably cheat on him, you might just give up and do it. If your partner times you at the grocery store and then throws a vicious fit when you return, accusing you of being gone at least 10 minutes too long and therefore obviously having spent that ten minutes having mad passionate sex somewhere with someone, anyone, because you're the kind of slut who does that - then eventually you may decide you might as well give it a try. After all, you're already paying the consequences and probably you are a slut after all.

Note, however, that any relationship where that kind of prophecy is made all the time is deeply, deeply fucked up and just ending it would be kinder - also, safer - for all parties concerned than opting for the scorched earth cheating option. Because, make no mistake, when you cheat you are burning down the house to get rid of the roaches.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:10 AM on July 14, 2009 [7 favorites]

So with the 1st example it was just because I could do it with no consequences, and the 2nd one was because the guy was being distant. Not blaming him, but I *did* try to make things work with him for a couple of weeks before the cheating, and he wasn't responsive. Sure, I should've broken up with him when he wasn't being reponsive and then it wouldn't have been cheating, but I didn't want to because I liked him.

I want to say that I wouldn't consider either of these examples cheating, as you had permission from the other partner to hook-up with other people.

I'm in a committed monogamous relationship, but I've watched plenty of friends (also nominally in committed monogamous relationships) stray. The common thread there wasn't that their significant others were boors, or ignored them, or whatever. The common thread was that they wanted to cheat.

I don't mean that they wanted to have sex with other men (or women). Doing that would have been much easier to do while single. They usually seemed to want the attention of both their partner and their significant other. They often also seemed pretty fond of the high level of drama involved; often, the affair fizzled out once the other partner found out, or when the cheatees started making demands on my friends that they dump their SO/come clean/date them.

Some of the significant others involved were just about the nicest people in the world. Many were attentive, loving, and caring. Quite a few of the people I know who cheated admitted to not loving their significant others, but that seemed to have little to do with the SO's actions.

I think it's normal to feel somewhat tempted while in committed relationships. You're human--you like sex and attention, even if partnered. The friends I've known who cheated usually make a much bigger deal out of crushes than I would. Maybe that's understandable. I think, in many cases, they're looking for an excuse to have an exciting, high drama sort of life.

I think the best way to ensure that your partner doesn't cheat is to look for someone who seems reasonable stable and trustworthy. Beyond that, there's not much you can do.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:04 AM on July 14, 2009 [6 favorites]

I agree with the person who said they "cheat" because you're not every other guy on the planet. Monogamy is unnatural. It's the fretting and worrying about staying monogamous that causes more problems than "cheating" ever will.
posted by Zambrano at 9:37 AM on July 14, 2009

Things that have stressed relationships I've been in:

Partner cheated on me and we decided to work it out. Insane insecurity on my behalf followed.

Insane insecurity goes berserk when partner repeatedly decides to play World of Warcraft instead of spend time with me.

Whether the stress is handled by cheating, thereapy, talking it out, etc is up the the individual.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:45 AM on July 14, 2009

He neglected to be the person I actually wanted to be with.
posted by decathecting at 11:03 AM on July 14, 2009

I agree with the person who said they "cheat" because you're not every other guy on the planet. Monogamy is unnatural. It's the fretting and worrying about staying monogamous that causes more problems than "cheating" ever will.

In an odd way, this is right. The cheating isn't the sleeping with the other person. It is the breaking of the promise to not sleep with anyone else. That is wrong--it is betrayal.

As for monogamy being either "natural" or "unnatural," monogamy is a choice. As such it can neither be "natural" or "unnatural." What your friend needs to do is break up or ask for an open relationship--and be prepared for the consequences. That's being an adult.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:30 AM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sure, I should've broken up with him when he wasn't being reponsive and then it wouldn't have been cheating, but I didn't want to because I liked him.

It's not cheating if you have permission, by definition.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:32 AM on July 14, 2009

-There is someone sexually attractive within proximity
-That person is probably willing to have sex
-Practically, it would be possible to have sex (there is a time, place, etc.)
posted by kathrineg at 11:45 AM on July 14, 2009

I should add to that that there is a difference between people who are tempted to cheat (pretty much everyone) and people who sit around ruminating and stressing and obsessing about it for days, weeks, or months. The former is normal and, I think, unavoidable; the latter is the sign of either hormones gone awry due to repeated close proximity to an attractive person or a significant problem in a relationship in which one or both people feel trapped.
posted by kathrineg at 11:48 AM on July 14, 2009

For whatever it's worth, desuetude's comment is pretty much the opening premise of Laura Kipnis' semi-tongue-in-cheek book Against Love: A Polemic. From an Amazon review which includes easily the most quoted excerpt from the book:
Social theory aside, Kipnis' descriptions of the process and feeling of entering an adulterous affair are dead on and extremely funny. Her first example involves hooking up at an academic conference, where she describes the interior monologue of the about-to-be adulterous player, "...you slowly become aware of a muffled but not completely unfamiliar feeling stirring deep within, a distant rumbling getting louder and louder, like a herd of elephants massing on the bushveld . . . oh God, it's your libido, once a well known freedom fighter, now a sorry, shriveled thing, from swaggering outlaw to model citizen, Janis Joplin to Barry Manilow in just a few short decades" (5).

Another point that rings true: at the heart of what makes adultery such a vibrant experience is that falling in love is not merely about loving the other, it's about rediscovering and falling in love again with oneself.
Aside from mentioning that, I'm trying to stay out of this side of the pool because of how unilaterally I despise this practice. I've never cheated and never will, though I do hypothetically understand a lot of the reasons people are bringing up to want to in this thread. But quoted for truth:
Because to me, cheating is a crap way out. It's what you do when your a silly teenager and just want to avoid discussions and the "I don't think this is working" talk. There's a ton of reasons why you may think about looking elsewhere for whatever it is that you aren't getting in your relationship, but in my opinion, adults don't cheat. They address the situation and either fix it, or get out. Then you can move on to that nice cutie that treats you better, or whatever. Cheating is not a situational solution, it's a solution that is only acceptable to certain people.
It drives me nuts when people assume being against cheating, no really fer realz, is to admit being a passionless prude. It has NOTHING to do with passion or libido or whatever to me. If you want to fuck someone new, have at it. The point is, put on your freaking big boy/girl pants and break up or talk to your partner about what's happening to your desire first.

I dated a guy who told me upfront he was falling for his ex again, and hence we broke up. That is how you do it. Obviously it hurt, but I will always be grateful and thankful he was man enough to do the right, honest thing.
posted by ifjuly at 12:46 PM on July 14, 2009 [8 favorites]

I had an "emotional affair" once on a former live-in boyfriend. This was after he had been a consistent, selfish and stingy (in all senses of the word) jerk to me for over six months due to addiction issues, etc, and the relationship wasn't that old to begin with. Perhaps I should have broken up with him but we had a lease to see out and honestly, I really don't regret it or feel remorse at all. Dude was such a prick it still makes me mad when I think about it.

Now, I would never, ever cheat in any form on my husband (not saying the temptation will never be there). That is because even though he may do something jerky every once in a while, he is consistently loving and good to me. He would really, really have to screw up royally before I'd even consider changing my stance on that and even then, I think I'd have enough respect to ask for a divorce first.
posted by Jess the Mess at 4:27 PM on July 14, 2009

People will justify their actions in many ways, but I often find that cheating is a symptom of "I am unhappy and I don't want to work on it or tried to and was rebuffed, so here I am, naked, with someone else."

Basically, a connection is lost. Instead of working to fix it, or at least working to maintain so it is not, one party decides that this other new, shiny person is the answer. But they're too selfish to just break up with the other party, and instead want both the hotness and the relationship.

If I was a man and was worried about cheating, I would spend time with my s.o. Paying attention and being involved, with all the cursory complimenting and whatnot.
posted by anniek at 6:35 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

If somebody really wants to hang an 'OPEN' sign in their window, no amount of loving, caring awesomeness is going to keep them from hanging that sign – they will do it and find a way to justify it to themselves.

Point being (and to echo some folks above with whom I utterly agree), the decision to cheat rests solely on the cheater. Sometimes people end up cheating when they are unhappy with their partner for whatever reason; sometimes people cheat when they are unhappy with themselves and need validation; sometimes people cheat just because they want to, or they assign too much significance to the attraction and crushes we all eventually deal with.

There are many paths we can take at any given point, and the decision to betray somebody's trust and undermine their self-esteem (this is – at its core – what cheating is; it's not the attraction or the sex, but the betrayal that really stings) is never anything more than one path of several.
posted by kaseijin at 7:49 AM on July 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

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