LOVE RANTS: If Cheating Helps Your Relationship, Are You Still Doing the Wrong Thing?

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Hi, I’m Laura and I love to rant about love. Love is a curious thing and it can be embarrassing to talk about because we’re at our most vulnerable when we’re considering love. But I want to talk about all of it. Follow me as I write this column, Love Rants, a monthly exclusive on POPSUGAR AU. Let’s rant!

Gosh, cheating is such a complicated topic. As a sexually empowered individual who is currently in a monogamous relationship, I am constantly unpacking the concept of cheating.

When I was single, I loved to have all different kinds of sex, with different people. To me, sex is just a deeper way to connect with someone. I’ve had sex with many of my close friends, and I would say that those friendships are the strongest of all.

But being in a relationship for almost three years now, the concept of having sex outside of my relationship is a complicated one. Part of me thinks “YAS!” to the idea of being excited by a naked stranger, of releasing that independent sexual energy I have inside of me, of being satisfied in new and different ways. But the other part of me worries how sex outside the relationship would impact what we already have.

I think that this fear, the fear of ruining your relationship and perhaps the shame that comes with desiring sex outside of monogamy, is what leads a lot of people to cheat.

Because let’s be honest, our sexual desires aren’t an easy thing to push down. Much like literally everything else, the more you deny yourself of something, the stronger it will come out in different ways.

Our culture really rewards self-denial, which totally sucks. It’s okay to ask for and talk about what you want, but many people don’t feel as though they have a safe space to do that. And so they cheat.

According to sexologist, licensed relationship therapist and TEDx speaker, Tammy Nelson, there are a few common reasons why people in relationships cheat.

“Sometimes people cheat to stay in their marriage. They fall in love with someone else and they’re happy, but they don’t want to end their commitment to a long-term partner. 

Falling in love just happens. Being married to one partner doesn’t mean you’re immune to falling in love with another. But not every love partner is the person you are meant to be with long-term.”

This idea of having the capacity to fall in love with multiple people at the same time is an interesting one because it goes against the fairytales and that idea of a “one true love”; that one person who will complete you and be by your side forever.

Today, we know better. We know of people who live polyamorous lives, in which they openly have the capacity to be in multiple loving relationships at any one time, and that they get something different from each. But still, we don’t feel totally comfortable with opening ourselves up to this idea; especially when we’re already in a monogamous relationship.

Another common reason that people cheat is “simply to be touched”, Tammy says.

“Finding someone who shows you attention and affection, particularly when you aren’t getting those things at home, can be hard to resist. Outsourcing affection can take the pressure off an overwhelmed spouse and give the partner who wants more a way to get their needs met.”

And then, there are some affairs that are purely for sex and romance. 

“Having an erotic and romantic affair can make the complications worth it for some people. For others, an affair is simply a can opener; a way to get out of a current relationship that can’t be saved.”  

Whatever the reason, it’s no secret that cheating in long-term relationships or marriages is quite common. Seventy-six percent of Ashley Madison (dating site for people in relationships) members say that having affairs, and thus, getting their overlooked needs met, makes them more patient and tolerant at home.

They claim that their affairs, “help them to quell any stress brought on by their spouse”, as well as the family as a whole. The data shows, that affairs have become a much-needed release valve for couples who have faced a surge in stress the last few years, showing that infidelity can take pressure off primary relationships and make people happier in their marriage — and what’s so shameful about being happy?  

“Exploring relationships outside my marriage has given me a newfound excitement in my life,” says Sarah*, a 30-year-old Ashley Madison member.

Speaking of her current extra-marital affair, she says: “I didn’t realise how much I needed something like this, just for myself.”

“For me, I want to feel desired and sexy. The feeling that someone wants me or is thinking about me turns me on and makes the sex more fun. More enjoyable. I’ve met married men whose wives don’t want to do anything but the ‘normal’ sex. It gets boring for them.”

Sarah, who says she has a “high-sex drive”, finds that discovering another man’s turn-ons, enhances her primary relationship, making all of the sex more fun and exciting.

But the question still remains: if cheating improves your life and your current relationship, then is it okay?

“An affair may be, in some cases, a way to stay in a marriage (or partnership), that is perfectly suited to both partners in every way, except for the sexual connection,” says Tammy. “Instead of ending the relationship and moving on, having sex outside the partnership may satisfy the partner who is unhappy and keep a family together.”

“Plus, it’s true; sex outside of a marriage can wake up a sleepy libido. Both partners may find that the positive shift that happens in their sex life, when one partner cheats, is pretty dramatic — in a good way.

“However, it is definitely better to open the relationship with integrity and permission. In some cases, when partners prefer a “don’t ask/don’t tell” arrangement, there’s still a need for transparency. That way, they can benefit from the erotic energy they create and not need to discuss it, without feeling betrayed.”  

So, what we’ve come to, is that: sex or a new relationship outside of a current relationship, can absolutely help couples to reinvigorate their own spark, or enhance their lives in a way that positively benefits each other.

But, while having sex with someone else can be great… the cheating part itself? Not so much. Even if at first, you wind up in a sexual scenario without your partner’s knowledge or permission, it’s important that you’re honest with each other; if you want your relationship to continue.

“The best thing to do if you want to cheat is to be honest. Before you go outside your relationship, discuss your feelings openly with your partner,” Tammy says.

“Try to open the door to a deeper discussion about the possibility of an open monogamy agreement. Reassure your spouse or partner that your marriage or primary relationship will always come first and they will be your priority, no matter what.”

After all, this might be the conversation that opens their mind to the possibility that sex outside your relationship, doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker.

“Your partner may be craving the same kind of freedom. You never know until you ask. ” 

It’s also important to touch on the fact that not everyone cheats because something is wrong with their relationship. There’s this common idea that cheating must mean there’s something missing from a relationship. But often, that’s not the case.

“Sometimes people just want variety, adventure or excitement in their sex life, while still having a perfectly healthy, happy, and fulfilling relationship with their partner.” 

“Relationships need many things but have limited resources. I think of these resources as time, attention, affection, and sex. When one partner has only enough attention or time to give it may feel threatening to imagine them giving their time to someone else when that resource is limited enough as it is.

“Or if they seek to get their needs met outside of the relationship, it might be fine except for the attention they pay to their cell phone when they are home.  Find a time to talk to one another about your priorities. What is the most important thing to both of you, and what do you worry about? Do you want to make sure that no matter what, your relationship and the love you have for one another is always your true north?

“If this is a difficult conversation, find a therapist who works with affairs and open relationships and understands the nature of your unique issues and can help you make these tricky decisions.”

If you’re a sexual being like me and often think about having sex with many different people, just be assured that that is totally okay. Luckily for us, we live in a society that (mostly) allows us to form our own structures of how we’d like to live.

In order to find a lifestyle and a relationship for you that works, you have to get comfortable with talking about it. Only a few days ago, I mentioned having sex outside of relationships to my boyfriend. We’ve always talked about the idea of openness, and although I know he’s open-minded and curious like me, it’s always a tough conversation to have.

Breaking outside the barriers of what we’ve been taught is always super challenging, and takes time to get comfy with. You might fight about it, or feel lost and confused and sometimes a bit guilty about your desires, but I think we’re all in this together.

Just before you reach for someone else’s belt buckle, think about how much more valuable it would be for your relationship, and future generations of lovers, for you to be honest with your boo — and yourself, too.

* Sarah is a pseudonym used by POPSUGAR Australia, in order to protect this individual’s identity. Their age, gender and commentary are all true.

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