When you hear about people who cheat, you might assume they were in a less-than-desirable relationship. The surprising truth, though, is even the happiest couples can be unfaithful.
“[When we cheat,] it’s not our partner we are turning away from, but the person we have become.”
Esther Perel, a New York City-based psychotherapist, told The Atlantic that clients confide in her about cheating every day. And once they start talking, she hears the same thing over and over again: They love their partner and love their life. In fact, they have no idea why they got caught up in an affair in the first place.
Sometimes even when people are 100 percent in love with their partner, they still feel incomplete as a person—and that’s when an affair can happen: “It’s not our partner we are turning away from, but the person we have become,” Perel said. “We are not looking for another lover so much as another version of ourselves. The Mexican essayist Octavio Paz described eroticism as a “thirst for otherness.” So often, the most intoxicating ‘other’ that people discover in an affair is not a new partner; it’s a new self.”
Instead of being about the relationship, the affair can be more of a “form of self-discovery” and a “quest for a new (or lost) identity,” said Perel. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you’re still exploring and transforming as a person without hurting the person you love in the process.
Use these 5 strategies to help keep your already-happy relationship safe from infidelity.
1. Get to know your inner gremlin
…Or, you know, the sometimes-overbearing voice in your head. Then, challenge it.
“Rather than negating your current life and relationship, take a minute to appreciate the good things you have, and see what it is you’d then like to add to it.”
“The critical voice in your head may be telling you that this is all there is to life and you need to do something drastic to shake things up,” says New York City–based relationship expert Dr. Paulette Sherman. “Recognize that this voice has nothing positive to say and it will goad you to make fear-based decisions.”
Instead, Sherman recommends first shifting to a place of self-love, then making a decision from there.
“Rather than negating your current life and relationship, take a minute to appreciate the good things you have, and see what it is you’d then like to add to it,” she says. “Make sure to challenge any thoughts that are critical and fear-based by looking for the opposite point of view, so that you maintain a balanced and grounded perspective.”
2. Develop a relationship…with yourself
People always say you have to love yourself before you love someone else, and it’s true.
“If you’re feeling incomplete, look to this as the source of your conflict rather than reaching to fix it outside of yourself,” Sherman says. “Begin by developing a solid relationship with yourself. Spend time alone identifying your feelings and increasing your joy and self-care in healthy ways.”
3. Reignite the passion and pleasure in your relationship, and explore your sexuality
After being with the same person for a long period of time, things can get stale. But, this doesn’t have to be the case. Instead of trying to feed the excitement you’re longing for via someone else, spice things up in your own relationship.
“Try new things in the bedroom—and even explore your own sexuality—so you don’t get bored.”
“Even if a long-term marriage is good, it needs constant energy and reinvention,” Sherman says. “Date nights are great because they get you to have fun and to focus on each other away from all your responsibilities. You can also try new things in the bedroom—and even explore your own sexuality—so you don’t get bored.”
4. Take a class, or rediscover your passion
When you’re in a relationship, it’s easy to let the things that make you feel alive on a personal level fall to the wayside. When you rediscover your passion, you’ll fill a hole in your life you might not have even known existed.
“Passion for life comes from doing things that light you up, give you meaning, and help you discover new parts of yourself,” Sherman says. “This can be taking a new class, pursuing a hobby, or traveling. Find something that excites you and opens up a new path of exploration in your life.”
5. Identify your needs, and begin to meet them in appropriate ways
There’s never a wrong time to focus on you. Because when you pay attention to your needs and make sure they’re being met, your relationship will also thrive.
“Sometimes we’re so busy in our roles meeting other people’s needs that we become oblivious to our own,” Sherman says. “The key is to identify the issue and then brainstorm healthy ways to address it.”