Sometimes it dawns on you slowly. A suspicion that begins as a faint as a wisp of smoke in your mind that eventually blazes into a real emotional bonfire. In other instances you stumble upon it like a crack in the sidewalk. And in other cases it’s smashed into your face like a two by four.
At some point in our lives many of us have realized that the person with whom we’ve entrusted our body, heart and spirit is cheating on us with another. It doesn’t matter if we discovered it by searching through his/her phone or by an anonymous call from a “well meaning” tipster. Nothing can prepare you for the emotional devastation that follows when we learn that our partner has betrayed our trust.
Once the cat’s out the bag you’ve got to decide if you’re going to kick em’ to the curb or if you’re going to stay (and for the record, getting even by torching all his belongings a la Bernie in “Waiting to Exhale?” or sleeping with their best friend is not an acceptable response).
If you choose to stay you’re going to ask yourself the inevitable question of “Can I ever trust her/him again?” Instead of asking yourself “Will they cheat again,” I think the more useful questions are “Do they understand why they CHOSE to cheat?” (yes, cheating is a choice) and “Are they committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure they don’t cheat again?” for you can only change a behavior if you understand what’s driving it.
Dumping a wayward partner can be a completely logical response in some instances. Let’s be real: not everyone desires to be faithful. Hell, not everyone is even capable. Infidelity in it’s various forms, whether emotional, physical, financial, is an issue that will unfortunately be faced by many at some point in a committed relationship. But depending upon the study you read, your new partner has anywhere between a 20 to 50 percent chance of cheating, too. Unless your partner is a chronic philanderer, finding a new one isn’t a guarantee that you’ll never be cheated on again. Taking the “Once a cheater, always a cheater” position will ensure that they’ll never have an opportunity to hurt you again. It also eliminates the very real potential for personal growth, mutual healing, and strengthening of a loving, committed relationship.
Contrary to some schools of thought, I believe some cheaters can change their cheatin’ ways. This isn’t something that happens overnight. It will require months and in some cases years of conscious dedication to working through the underlying emotional issues that led them to stray in the first place.
Years ago, I discovered my then-partner was cheating on me. Although we tried to work through his infidelity together in couples’ counseling, too much damage had been done. I simply couldn’t get past the fact that we had been in what he had told me was an exclusive relationship for almost a year when in fact he was still seriously involved with the girlfriend who preceded me. While our relationship couldn’t be salvaged, he continued to work on his issues with a trained therapist for several years after we split. Even though nobody knows what’s really going on in a marriage except the partners, but based upon what I’ve seen and what he’s shared, my ex is now happily and faithfully married. Part of what leads me to believe that he has changed is because while he was with me he took ownership of his cheating and sought help on his own.
It is a truism that we are powerless to change something unless we hold ourselves personally accountable. One of the key ways you can determine if they’re actually ready to change their behavior is to listen to the language they use when discussing it with you. If they can’t admit they’ve cheated, they’re not ready to change. If they blame you for their behavior, they’re not ready to change. If they blame her for coming on to them, they’re not ready to change. Do you see the pattern? If they are in any way shape or form not taking 100% responsibility for their choice to cheat they aren’t ready to deal with their issues. And if they aren’t, you shouldn’t be either.
The bottom line is that there are a lot of reasons why people cheat: Immaturity, insecurity, selfishness, poor coping skills, addiction, etc. I believe that everyone has the capacity to change (unless a person is suffering from a severe personality disorder such as pathological narcissism or sociopathy). But in order for that to happen a cheater has to 1. Truly want to be faithful, 2. Be willing to be honest about their cheating, 3. Take 100% ownership of said behavior, and 3. Be willing to do the work to address the core issues driving their behavior.
Anyone who is cheating on their partner is losing the opportunity to truly know love as it’s intended. Love is meant to heal. It is meant to make us feel safe…to help us grow and evolve towards ever expanding levels of connectedness and consciousness. If we are going to truly love another, we must love ourselves enough to confront the shadows within ourselves.
Sil Lai Abrams is EBONY.com’s Relationship Expert and the author of No More Drama: 9 Simple Steps to Transforming a Breakdown into a Breakthrough and a board member of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Follow her on Twitter: @sil_lai and connect with her on Facebook. Want Sil Lai's advice? Email [email protected] to have your love questions answered in a future column!