Feb 20, 2007

Typology of Cheating

People are fairly comfortable talking to me about cheating, probably because I’m much more curious than judgmental when it comes to such things.

In any case, over the years, I’ve implicitly developed a typology of cheating based on conversations I’ve had with my friends and colleagues who have cheated on their spouses.

My typology is based on the idea that there are three fairly separate emotional systems underlying our romantic relationships: There is sexual desire, love, and attachment. Different types of cheating can occur based on different combinations of these basic emotional components.

To begin with, let me describe the differences between sexual desire, love, and attachment and then I’ll use these components to create my typology of cheating.

An excerpt taken from TruthAboutDeception.com:

Sexual Desire

The first emotional system is sexual desire. Sexual desire involves the lustful, sexually passionate feelings people have for each other. Sexual desire is a very intense and powerful emotion; it can cloud one’s judgmental and prompt risk-taking. Sexual desire is often based on physical appearance, novelty and the chemistry between two people. And while sexual desire motives a lot of our behaviors early on in a relationship, intense levels of sexual desire are difficult to maintain with the same person over the course of time (see, section on the Coolidge Effect).


The second emotional system entails love. And love, in and of itself, is composed of a complex set of feelings. Love often entails feelings of closeness, genuine appreciation, and concern. But, the experience of love is not the same for everyone. For some people love is delusional and needy, or based on emotional game playing, or experienced as the desire to take care of another person (see, Styles of Love).


The last emotional system involves attachment. Attachment is the feeling of security and comfort we get from being close to someone else. Attachment provides a sense of stability, certainty, and safety – the feeling that someone will always be there for you in a time of need. And like with love, there are individual differences in the experience of attachment (see, Attachment Styles).
In a perfect world, perhaps sexual desire, love and attachment would all be directed towards one’s romantic partner and no one else. But, this is not the case. These three emotional components are often not directed toward the same person, especially over the course of time. And to make things more complicated, some of these components, like sexual desire and love, can be directed at more than one person at a time.

Based on these three emotional systems, different types of cheating are possible:

Types of Cheating

Opportunistic Sexual Cheating

This type of cheating occurs when a partner is in love and attached to a spouse, but succumbs to their sexual desire for someone else. Typically, this type of cheating is driven by situational circumstances – opportunity (e.g., travel), risk-taking (thrill of excitement), and alcohol or drug use. The typical one night stand. And the more in love a person is with their spouse, the more guilt he or she will experience as a result of their sexual encounter. But feelings of guilt tend to fade as the fear of getting caught subsides.

Obligatory Sexual Cheating

This type of cheating is based on fear. Fear that resisting someone's sexual advances will result in immediate disapproval or rejection. Essentially, people may have feelings of sexual desire, love and attachment for a spouse, but still end up cheating simply because they have a strong need for approval. And their need for approval, at that moment, can cause them to act in ways which are inconsistent with their other feelings. Simply put, some people cheat, not because they want to cheat, but because in the situation, it can be too difficult to say "no." However, people who cheat in order appease others often experience tremendous guilt and shame. Ironically, their desire for approval, in the immediate situation, causes people to act in ways which ultimately disappoint someone else - their spouse. This category of cheating was provided by a viewer.

Romantic Cheating

This type of cheating occurs when one is attached to a spouse, but experiences sexual desire and love for someone else. The traditional emotional and sexual affair. In such situations, people often make promises to leave a spouse to be with their lover, but fail to do so. Their attachment to their spouse prevents them from leaving. Often these situations end in misery. Lovers feel betrayed and cheating spouses end up staying in a loveless marriage. A classic example of Romantic Cheating can be found here.

Conflicted Romantic Cheating

This type of cheating occurs when people experience genuine love and sexual desire for more than one person at a time. Despite our idealistic notions of having only one true love, it is possible to experience intense romantic love for multiple people simultaneously (see, Polyamory). While such situations are emotional possible, pragmatically, they are very complicated and tend to create a lot of anxiety and stress. In this case, cheating spouses, in their attempt not to cause anyone harm, tend to end up hurting everyone.

Commemorative Cheating

This type of cheating occurs when people are in a committed relationship, but have no feelings for that person. There is no sexual desire, or love or attachment – only a sense of commitment keeps a couple together. When people cheat in this type of situation, the overriding concern seems to be for keeping appearances… emotionally there is no angst or guilt, just concern for what other people might think.
It is important to understand how sexual desire, romantic love, and attachment can produce different outcomes when trying to recover from an affair.


Eyes said...

While I can appreciate the different descriptions of how people experience what they believe is "love", I would not consider these love. Each of them has an underlying problem that complicates feelings so true love is never actually experienced.

For example, true love is never needy or delusional. Needy people are insecure, jealous -- and have never found themselves. They don't find love -- rather they are trying to fill their void -- which never happens. In the end, true love is completely elusive.

Anonymous said...

I also think there are situations where a person cheats when they are still very happy in a relationship and just does it because they are not fully ready to let go of being single and closing off all other options, but fear losing someone special.

Anonymous said...

My husband says that he cheated because he wanted to do something for himself. Since he was a young boy he has had the responsibility of the welfare of his mother and sister. His father was a womaniser and abandoned them. Then he married me when he was only 22. Although I have never been a responsibility to him as I have my own job and when we married I also already had a house which he came into, but he still considers me as "duty" along with his mother and sister. I suppose people do the strangest things for the most unusual reasons. What has held us together has been my patience and my love for him as I refused to let him go after 20 years together. I try to validate him by being understanding of his reasons, but sometimes I find it hard to do. I have learnt a very useful lesson through all this though, and that is not to care for others more than I care for myself and not to rely on them for my happiness.

Anonymous said...

You can't negate someone else's definition of love, while simultaneously declaring that "true love is completely elusive". That's a contradiction.
Who's to say what "true love" really is? Maybe there is an ideal version where it isn't "needy" or "delusional" or this or that. But, maybe in the real world, when dealing with real people, "true love" isn't that black and white. Maybe it takes on many different, less ideal forms. Who's to say what people are truly feeling. We all have our own definitions. Whose is right?

Anonymous said...

Yes, after the rug being pulled from under my feet I cincur that it is a mistake to care more for others than yourself. That we owe it to ourselves to be happy irrespective or prhaps in spite of others. I also learned that I am not especially obsolved of the typical behaviour of significant others (first my husband then my best friend). You know when you recognise that your husband is deceitful and manipulative of others but "pride" yourself on how he is not and could never be like this with you!

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything you just said. I appreciate your honesty.

Anonymous said...

Spot On!!! I am recovering from my wife having an affair with the same person who I had warned her about in the begining of our relationship. She had broken it off then, but 2 years ago she sent him an e birthday card on the net, the rest is history. Beware of the internet, do not tollerate ANY secrecy, or sudden need for privacy on the net by your spouse period.

Shure enough she.... basicaly "defined" the profile for the "Obligatory Cheater" while he fit the love profile for Ludos to a tee.

I fit the profile for secure in terms of myself, so I never saw this comming. Having a relationship with a person who is anxious in there love style really takes its toll, if I did not love her still I would never get into a relationship with a person like this again. They transform any relationship into a never ending emotional rollor coaster ride.

I finally had to draw a line in the sand so to say within my own mind and heart, so that if she ever causes me to feel this level of pain again, then its simply over period.

At some point you have to protect yourself from others, even if you are deeply involved, it simply boils down to self preservation. The information here is very helpful for those of us who ARE functional in terms of love also, knowlege IS power in the positive sense of the word....Thanks

Anonymous said...

I love my husband and have 2 girls under 6. I work and he is at home with the kids. He looks after our house, makes dinner etc but hasn't worked for some time. I work in a big job - 60+ hrs per week and travel a lot. I first cheated when at a conference and under the influence - it has been going on for 18 months whenever we see each other. I have also seen 4 other men. I don't want to leave my husband or break up the marriage - I feel some guilt, but mostly happy I am doing what I need. So which one is this?

Anonymous said...

My wife had an affair several years ago with a married man that lives on the other side of the country. With the distance separating them it was mostly just an emotional relationship. When I found out I was devastated but it opened my eyes to the unspoken problems we had been experiencing for years. The other man in her life actually helped to persuade her to work on our relationship and we have both made changes and learned to better communicate our needs to each other. Since that time our relationship has been much stronger than it ever was.

Now the difficult part. My wife is still in love with him. He is now her best friend and they communicate on a regular basis. They meet once or twice a year. All of this has been done openly and in fact it was one of the original conditions of our reconciliation. The first few times she left to be with him I was wrought with emotions from anger, fear and pain to jealousy. Several years later I still feel pangs of jealousy each time she leaves to be with him but I am now confident that she will be returning to me. I now understand that the strength of our relationship is not in spite of him but because of him.

Anonymous said...

My husband hasn't touched me in 13 of our 14 years. Except maybe 4times (all initiated by me, and was allllll about him) I've pleaded and begged him to tell me why he doesn't want me, only to hear "I dunno....... I love you more than anything. You're beautiful. Etc" all the right things to say, but never followed up by actions. I feel like we are best buddies....roomates (we don't even share a bed) someone showed interest in me. ...we got to talking and his wife and he haven't had sex in 4-5 years. ....one thing led to another, and I swore I'd never cheat ......but have been seeing this man for a month or so. I know it's wrong, but since I feel no physical attachment to my husband anymore, I don't feel as guilty as I know I should or would if there was any sort of bond between us.......I know there's absolutely no good outcome. I want to want my husband again and get out of this mess I've made, but I also want to be wanted. Where do I go from here? How do I possibly move on from this?

Anonymous said...

What about dishonesty and secrecy in relatiinships? Go or no go?

Anonymous said...

In tears. My husband is an Obligatory cheater. I am surprised this is a common reason, I still havent been able to understand.
I'll keep reading, great resource.

Paige Wilson said...

You really need to do something for your husband. Give him a pass to do the same thing.

Unknown said...

My husband of 25 years just fessed up (I found 3 current women he was having an internet affair with, which brought on the confession) to 4+ one night stands over the course of 23years. When I asked him why he didn't leave years ago. He said he doesn't know why, and feels terrible for what he did. This is the most scaring experience I've ever had to deal with...and I'm a cancer survivor. Sheesh.