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A relationship can thrive after cheating if you avoid these common mistakes

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 11/09/2018 Rosie Fitzmaurice
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Cheating and the science behind why people do it is a topic that fascinates many. Perhaps it's because we're guilty of having cheated – or at least thought about it in the past, or perhaps it's because we're terrified of it happening to us.

Dr Ken Rosenberg is a New York-based psychiatrist and addiction therapist with over 25 years of experience. He's also the author of Infidelity: Why Men and Women Cheat, a book which came out this summer, in which he dissects the three types of cheating: emotional, virtual, and physical, using a combination of neuroscience, addiction theory and "common sense".

Rosenberg estimates that only around 10 per cent of people who have affairs get caught. He also believes, perhaps controversially, that a relationship can survive an unfaithful act. 

"Relationships can definitely thrive after the discovery of a betrayal," he says. 

According to Rosenberg, there are a whole host of reasons and circumstances that can lead someone to cheat.

Speaking to the Standard, he said: "People often enter affairs thinking 'this is what I’ve been missing my whole life', that this is some ticket to freedom, to Nirvana, that endless possibilities lie in this whole new world that is opening up to them.

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"And sometimes that's true, sometimes a new love can really solve everything in your life," he says. But things don’t always pan out this way for his patients.

"Maybe what you’ve been missing your whole life is less to do with your partner and more to do with you, which is something you may need to pay attention to," he said.

Sometimes people cheat because they feel they can get away with it. "They feel it's anonymous, that no one will find out," says Rosenberg. "That it's psychologically and economically affordable 'this won't hurt me, this won’t cost me any money – or much money – I can afford to do this'".

Accessibility is another factor. "If you’re in a position where people are throwing themselves at you, you're surrounded by sycophancy and everyone adores you so much, you have an opportunity to cheat that regular people don’t have," he said, quickly adding that he's not excusing this kind of "misbehaviour".

And social media is an added complication. Some, he says, are easily tempted by the "possibility of quick intimacy, to text and send images, all things they'd never do at the dinner table".

If you ever find yourself in this situation – either as the cheat or the betrayed – and you want a chance of your relationship surviving, Rosenberg says there are some common pitfalls that you should avoid in the immediate aftermath of finding out. 

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Don't be impulsive

First off, it's understandable that the shock, hurt and rage you might feel after learning about an affair can make you act on impulse, but this probably won't help, says Rosenberg.

"Impulsivity is what got you into this mess and now acting impulsively will just make it worse," he said.

"The worst thing you can do is make a decision immediately, you’re likely to say let’s get divorced and call a lawyer and that may be the path that you take but I would just urge people to be more thoughtful and not jump into anything."

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Don’t launch a campaign against your cheating spouse

You should also be wary about who you tell at this point.

"As we talk about in the book, betrayal trauma is terrible, I won’t say the worst but it’s pretty much up there," says Rosenberg. "When you’re in the throes of feeling so betrayed, so deeply upset, you can do some really terrible things like talk to the children or others in the community and say things you shouldn’t".

Rosenberg says instead you should "sit back and reflect. Gather information. Do it in a very thoughtful way that is compassionate to both you and your partner".

"Remember that you’re in this for the long-haul. This is not a decision to make in a night or a week or even a month. Perhaps this is not a decision you should make alone," he says, adding that it's a good idea to confide in someone you trust.

"But don’t talk to everyone, don’t mount a negative publicity campaign against your cheating spouse – it's a terrible idea in my opinion".

Sex is not the answer

On the other side of the coin, people should resist the urge to immediately jump back into bed with each other.

"People may decide they're just going to have lots of sex to forget about this and make it go away," says Rosenberg. "That doesn’t usually work.

"In an odd way someone having an affair can actually turn the couple on," he explains. "They’ve ignored each other or may have taken each other for granted and now all of a sudden there’s this third person in the relationship and this may infuriate them but it may in an odd way turn them on and make them more attracted to each other".

But this is not what he'd prescribe. Instead, he recommends taking the time to reflect and understand what's happened rather than simply patching things over with a fumble. Sex will only confuse things 

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Don't assume emotional affairs don't count

Another misconception people have is that if you haven't had sex it doesn’t count, says Rosenberg, who adds that in his experience his female patients sometimes find an emotional affair worse.

He describes an emotional affair as "when you put someone else in the primary spot in a way that supplants your partner or even diminishes them It's a secretive relationship that's not quite true.

"It's really very destructive," he said.

Be compassionate

Rosenberg says that if you want a chance of your relationship surviving an unfaithful incident the first step to sorting it out is acknowledgement. "Acknowledge what has happened and try to understand why", he said.

The most important thing? To be compassionate.

"The purpose of the book is to help people to be compassionate to themselves as well as their spouses whilst they deal with this issue".

Pictures: 50 secrets it’s OK to keep from your partner 


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