How a person can be unfaithful whilst remaining in a relationship

If you have ever been cheated on by someone you love, or are in love with, you will know the life changing heartbreak that comes from that experience. When the pain subsides, you will ask so many questions of yourself, your partner and your friends. Amongst them will be why? how? And with each question, comes a fresh wave of grief and overwhelming sadness. This is particularly so when your partner has maintained a dual relationship without you knowing.

In the name of research for this article, I found a plethora of cheating related discussions, hypotheses and lists. So many lists of why. Instead of addressing the breakdowns that exist in a relationship if one person is cheating, today I am exploring how a person can be unfaithful whilst remaining in a relationship.

One idea is that people cheat when their view of the world narrows. A metaphor for this is if you think about a city skyline. Now zoom in and choose one building to focus on. If you can only see one building, you can’t see the skyline. That is, you can’t see the bigger picture of your life. You can only see one way forward, the building you are zoomed in on. This narrows other available choices as the person has ‘zoomed in’, and literally cannot see alternative pathways. You might think, but what if my partner was zoomed in on me? Isn’t that a good thing? The answer is no. Ideally you are a significant building within the skyline, but you are not the only building. The other buildings within the skyline are reflective of all the relationships in a persons life. A person who remains zoomed into only one, does not experience a balanced perspective of the world.

This narrowing view of the world is the permissive slippery slope to the second and third mental strategies used to maintain dual relationships; minimisation and denial.  Minimisation is a type of deception involving denial heavily laced with rationalisation. The strategy of rationalising is necessary when complete denial is impossible (i.e. when you have in fact cheated on your partner). The lasting benefit of employing minimisation is the downplaying the significance of an event or emotion. This is a common strategy in dealing with feelings of guilt.

When these three strategies are used in concurrence, the effect is profound. It allows a person to cheat with minimal mental and emotional disruption. Effectively, it supports compartmentalisation – which allows the person a coping strategy when dealing with conflicting internal standpoints simultaneously. Ergo, a person can hold two ‘relationships’ concurrently.

These ideas go some way to explaining how a person can cheat and remain in a relationship. But of course there are a multitude of other ways. If you are in a relationship and have been cheated on, please seek professional help. The grief and destruction can feel overwhelming, and having an impartial and trained professional may help you make sense of what has happened and support your recovery.

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