At root, cheating is usually not about our current relationship or a shiny new lover. It’s about our self-image.
Cheating is a painful topic for all of us. Our varying viewpoints land us somewhere between zero tolerance and don’t-ask-don’t-tell, and the definition of cheating runs the gamut from “emotional affairs” to kissing to oral to intercourse. But no matter what degree of infidelity, there’s a universal root cause that starts—no surprise—in our own minds.
The truth is that most of us walk around this world feeling like we are not enough in some area or another. This poses its own set of problems for the single person—lack of self-esteem, playing small, and burrowing into our comfort zones. But for a partner in a committed relationship, it can also devastate the healthy ecosystem of our connection to one another.
We each experience certain automatic triggers that set off our insecurities. And when something inevitably launches this feeling of inner lack, we tend to lean on our partner, that special person whom we share our most vulnerable self with, to validate us. We want them to convince us: Yes, you are enough just as you are.
The foundational flaw with this approach is that it will ultimately fail every time, no matter how much they love us or how fabulous they are with words. Because it’s impossible to convince ourselves of something we don’t experience to be true in our own bodies. More importantly, it’s not a partner’s job to make us feel better about our insecurities. Their only job is to love us.
So when the quick fix from our partner fails, we start imagining how we can do so much better, how they’re not really good enough for us. Or we might start thinking, they’re going to leave us anyway so we might as well start looking for someone else. We begin lusting after someone we used to work with, stalking them on Facebook. Or we dress up and go out barhopping with friends, fishing for admiration. Or we start paying more attention to that really cute co-worker. And little by little, we establish a habit of looking elsewhere for the attention we need to keep our insecurities at bay. Whether a fantasy, virtual flirtation, or a full-fledged affair, it all begins in our minds.
To uproot this threat to any healthy relationship, we can turn toward our insecurities and work with them head on. The more we familiarize ourselves with the fear of being unworthy and what triggers it, the more skilled we become at distinguishing between real dissatisfaction in a relationship versus personal insecurities that may be running the show.
Carve out 10 minutes each week to brainstorm the following inquiry: Where have I been feeling “not enough” lately?
Do you feel boring in the bedroom, unproductive at work or lazy on the weekends, for example? What experiences trigger this icky feeling that you are lacking something? Be specific. For example, “When my partner doesn’t return my text right away, I feel unwanted.”
If self-awareness is the first step to healing our cheating thoughts, the antidote is valuing your greatest assets. What makes you more brilliant and beautiful than anyone else on the planet? This is not as tall of an order as it sounds. We tend to base our sense of worth on our looks, our numbers, our performance, our social status, but the most extraordinary treasure we have is actually the unique light of our individuality.
To get a taste of your insecurity antidote, ask yourself, “What is the most frequent compliment I receive?” Hint: It’s not your smile or your shoes. It’s much deeper than that, and you take it with you wherever you go. It’s what makes you especially you. It might be your sparkling enthusiasm, your freedom-loving personality or your calming, comforting presence. Whatever it is begin to polish up this priceless gem inside of you and watch all of your relationships flourish in the glimmer of your gift.
Nicole Casanova, the founder of Polished Personal Development, helps her coaching clients in committed partnerships to understand the true cause of their dissatisfaction and to build more meaningful and joyful relationships and lives.