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Sunday, 11 June 2017

Is cheating always wrong?

I know what you’re thinking. This is a stupid question to ask. Of course cheating is always wrong; to be unfaithful to your partner is a betrayal of trust, and hurts the other person. It leads to break-ups, divorce, fighting, tension, and no good in the end. It can even put your family in danger if you’ve seen Fatal Attraction.

But my question here is not whether or not the act of cheating is wrong; even though that sounds contradictory considering I’ve made that question my title. My actual questions are; does cheating make you a bad person, why do people do it and what is the general situation around it. What leads a person, male or female, to cheat? Why would you sleep with (or kiss, if you also view that as unfaithful) somebody who you weren’t with? Here is a list of reasons I can think of:

For fun
Because you felt like it
Because you could
Because you’re unhappy in your relationship
Because you’re sexually frustrated/unsatisfied in your current relationship
Because you were going to leave your partner anyway
Because you’re in love with the person you’re cheating with
Because you’re going through a tough time emotionally and are engaging in lots of risky                     behaviour you wouldn’t normally do
Because you feel bored in your relationship or in your life
Because you like the attention and the thrill of someone else wanting you
Because there are so many available people you can cheat with
Because your partner is making you feel bad about yourself or about your sexuality
Because you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol

A lot of these reasons cross over. I believe that with any ethical question, you have to look at the situation. I’m a relativist not an absolutist; I don’t think you can say ‘x is always wrong.’ Be it lying, cheating, stealing or even murder. What if you had to kill someone to save someone else’s life? What if you’re a soldier? What if you have an abortion? Many would consider that murder, and therefore immoral.

One of my favourite books is On Beauty by Zadie Smith. In the story, a man who has been married for thirty years cheats on his wife with a work colleague. Should she leave him? I know many would say yes, but I would say no. I would say consider all of the other variables. When reading the story, is it clear that the two of them have been unhappy in their marriage for a long time. Being with someone for thirty years is a hell of a lot of years, and to suddenly have an affair just ‘for fun’ sounds out of character and random considering their marriage. Of course his wife has every right to be angry, but then it would be good for the two of them to discuss why he had done this in the first place. What is going wrong in their marriage? Are they falling out of love with each other? Is it because the children are nearly grown up and they feel like the family is drifting apart?

A very different situation would be if a couple had been together for, let’s say two years, and then one of them started serially cheating on the other for no apparent reason. If I were in this situation I would leave; firstly because of the shortness of the relationship. If you can’t be with a person for two years without them cheating then how can you be with them for thirty years without thinking they’re going to be unfaithful? When one becomes unfaithful in a relationship it leads to distrust, with the other person wondering if they’re going to ever do it again. But length of time definitely plays a role in terms of weighing up the situation. Also, it is hard to automatically leave someone because they cheated on you, as if you love someone it can be difficult to imagine life without them. Forgiveness is greater than resentment.

Secondly, there is a difference between a slip-up and doing something over and over again. A ‘slip-up’ usually just happens once and can be worked through, such as when Steve cheats on Miranda in Sex and the City. Yes, what he did was wrong, but knowingly Steve was a good guy and it was not something his character would repeat. Taking a person’s character into consideration helps a lot. If someone is repeatedly cheating on you, odds are they don’t care about what they’re doing and see little wrong with it. On the other hand, if they are suffering from a mental illness or a place of pain and are using sex/drugs/alcohol as a coping mechanism, then that is a different story.

It may seem silly, but it is not unlikely for someone to be in a relationship and rather than leave, continue to carry out their destructive behaviour because they don’t want to lose the comfort of who they are with.

That is another reason why people cheat. When I was younger, I always thought ‘why would you cheat? Just leave who you’re with!’ But again, things are never that simple. Sometimes it’s scarier to leave what you are used to. Also, many people who cheat are still in love with their partners, and don’t actually want to leave them long-term. If a person is happy in their relationship they are less likely to cheat. Being unhappy or sexually unsatisfied can naturally lead to cheating, and sometimes the reasons aren't purely sexual; it's to get the support and love of someone else when you feel your partner isn't giving you that love.

Perhaps humans are naturally better suited for polygamy. There has been some evidence to suggest this; according to Sapiens women used to mate with lots of men (back in the hunter-gatherer days) so that their children would get genes from everywhere; one man may be short but fast and another may be tall but less intelligent. Although men are more likely to cheat, women do cheat as well, so this can’t be brushed over as a ‘sexist’ issue. I have heard that statement before; men cheat because they’re sexist and don’t respect women. That may be the case for some men, but those men typically don’t have steady girlfriends or wives, they jump from person to person. Saying this is to do with ‘sexism’ somehow is absurd; again making absolutist claims about things ignores the different situations.

So to wrap up, I believe in relativity, and that it is always down to the situation and how you handle it. Some women/men may leave their partner for cheating no matter what; others may hear out the situation, what happened, why they did it, how they were feeling in the relationship at the time, and then decide. Unhappy relationships can lead to cheating, but sometimes a perfectly happy one can too. People do it for different reasons, and it is complex and cannot be looked at simplistically.
Nothing is ever black or white.


  1. I agree with pretty much everything you said here. It really is all relative, especially with the people involved and the best thing one can do for themselves is to know what they are getting into before getting in too deep.

    I especially agree with your part about it not being sexism. Though it does tend to affect men more so than women, as men (in general) are more seduced by sex and physical stimuli than women. And it's also more common for men to have a higher sexual libido than women (though not that common overall) so there are more examples of guys like JFK who had a condition which required him to get more sex than the average man.

    The only thing I do not agree with is that "a perfectly happy" relationship "can lead to cheating". If being "perfectly happy" is all it takes for someone to cheat then you should definitely leave that person as they are self-destructive and potentially dangerous.

    As far as committed relationships, men tend to cheat because their partner is emasculating them and/or not giving them any sex; women tend to cheat because their partner feels emotionally distant from them and/or not spending any time/talking with them.

    For both men and women, however, the more temptation the more likely the chances of cheating. This is why, when both partners work outside the home with members of the opposite sex, the likelihood that one or both of them will cheat increases dramatically. This is especially true after the couple has had a fight, as they tend to be more vulnerable.

    1. It is true and yeah I meant like in the film Fatal Attraction the man doesn't seem unhappy in his relationship at all and his wife is lovely, but still cheats. I wouldn't say a perfectly happy relationship can lead to cheating, just that sometimes if someone has been with someone for a long time and may love them but might still have a slip-up (which is bad but can potentially be forgiven depending on the couple).

    2. I'm not familiar with the film Fatal Attraction. I'm not saying that a happy relationship can never lead to cheating, I'm just saying that I think realistically it never should as it shows a lack of respect and commitment.

      You're right about it being potentially forgiven depending on the couple though, of course. I just personally think that's so awful, haha. I have an easier time understanding the addict, JFK-type thing since at least there's a scientific reason for that and it's not entirely his fault. The "slip-up" is 100% purposefully disrespectful to me. On the flip side though, it's reciprocated. I hold myself to the same standards.


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