The Rationalization Behind Cheating
Chances are if your an adult, you’ve been in a relationship that ended because either yourself, or your significant other, cheated. There is a distinct rationalizing process that occurs on the part of the cheater, both during the affair and when dealing with the aftermath. This should be of interest to anyone who has cheated or been cheated on before.
Cheating is equally defined as forming a close, emotional attachment to another person that has to be actively suppressed(until it reaches a point of irresistibly), and engaging in sexual intercourse with anyone other then your significant other. It can, and has been argued that the former is a far more egregious form of cheating. Regardless, in both instances the fundamental rationalization on the part of the cheater surfaces.
The essential characteristic in an attempt to rationalize unfaithfulness is to create a framework in which the cheater was justified in his/her action by an imagined or non-addressed fault caused by the cheated. The frameworks can vary widely. The most common frameworks employed are a lack of sexual activity within the relationship and not enough attention paid to the cheater by the cheated.
By effectively reversing the role of victim, the cheater’s rationale framework for his/her actions can avoid the crushing guilt that comes with any humanizing criticism that being unfaithful would naturally entail. A cheater is unable to honestly take a look at what they have done. Everything within their deluded logic will be utilized, in order to not have to cope with what cheating is, at it’s core.
From a moral and ethical viewpoint, cheating is, at it’s essence, a direct attack on the emotional investment the other person has made in a relationship. An attack on the most damaging, scarring level that, to actually face it’s direct consequences would equally debilitate the cheater. Almost all of our actions and post explanations serve the purpose of self-protection. We are survivalists, and a cheater is no different. Just as we’ll do what ever is necessary to preserve our lives, a cheater will take whatever steps are required to keep intact their self image.
Any attempt to bring to light to a cheater in the midst of his/her self-defense is a futile endeavor. The cheater has another framework to place around the initial framework. It is the creation of attempts to correct on the part of the cheater. A cheater will often tell the cheated that they tried to tell them the problems that were taking place. However, these corrections are always vague, insinuated, or half-hearted.
If a direct address of the perceived problem had taken place a resolution would have been reached either through a dissolution of the relationship(and effectively removing the opportunity to cheat), or a renewed effort would be made to fix the problem within the relationship. It is because of this aspect that the framework a cheater works up comes from a perceived, imagined problem.
This illusionary problem serves as another mask for the cheater. This mask(or framework) covers up the negativity associated with selfish need fulfillment. Cheaters, typically act as they do, because they require a high degree of personal want that operates outside the confines of the relationship. These are often sexual compulsions, low self esteem, and perpetual loneliness.
Understanding the rationality of a cheater is difficult to put into use during the aftermath of an affair. Neither the cheater, fully engulfed by his/her own defensive frameworks, or the cheated, wracked with intense pain and hurt, are in a state of mind to approach the situation rationally.
At best, the rationality behind cheating, when logically understood, can be used as a tool once the dust has settled. The cheater, we would hope, might be able to take steps to not fall into the same precautionary framework. The cheated might be able to ease his/her pain. In the least, the next time we have to go through the torment of having our significant other being unfaithful, we can lessen the pain just a bit by realizing how confused and misguided the cheater truly is.
In Freudian psychology, the defense mechanisms employed by the cheater fall under Freud’s first category and are listed as follows:
- Denial: Refusal to accept external reality because it is too threatening; arguing against an anxiety-provoking stimulus by stating it doesn’t exist; resolution of emotional conflict and reduction of anxiety by refusing to perceive or consciously acknowledge the more unpleasant aspects of external reality.
- Distortion: A gross reshaping of external reality to meet internal needs.
- Delusional Projection: Grossly frank delusions about external reality, usually of a persecutory nature.
Certain defense mechanism’s in the second and third categories also apply:
- Projection: Projection is a primitive form of paranoia. Projection also reduces anxiety by allowing the expression of the undesirable impulses or desires without becoming consciously aware of them; attributing one’s own unacknowledged unacceptable/unwanted thoughts and emotions to another; includes severe prejudice, severe jealousy, hypervigilance to external danger, and “injustice collecting”. It is shifting one’s unacceptable thoughts, feelings and impulses within oneself onto someone else, such that those same thoughts, feelings, beliefs and motivations are perceived as being possessed by the other.
- Acting out: Direct expression of an unconscious wish or impulse without conscious awareness of the emotion that drives that expressive behavior.
- Dissociation: Temporary drastic modification of one’s personal identity or character to avoid emotional distress; separation or postponement of a feeling that normally would accompany a situation or thought.
Ironically, anyone attempting to take a rational perspective on cheaters might be accused a category three Freudian defense mechanism:
- Intellectualization: A form of isolation; concentrating on the intellectual components of a situation so as to distance oneself from the associated anxiety-provoking emotions; separation of emotion from ideas; thinking about wishes in formal, affectively bland terms and not acting on them; avoiding unacceptable emotions by focusing on the intellectual aspects.