In my previous posting to this site, I wrote about the reasons that women sometimes engage in sexual infidelity, promising that I’d take a look at men in this week’s blog. So, as promised, here is part one of my take on male cheaters…
Before looking at the reasons men cheat, as I did with women, it is useful to look at the ways in which men typically justify this behavior. The first major denial-related issue is that men who cheat often don’t view their behavior as sexual infidelity. Do you remember the famous statement: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”? Those words were uttered, in utmost sincerity, by William Jefferson Clinton, a sitting president who apparently thought that oral intercourse didn’t count as actual sex. And Slick Willy is hardly the only man to justify sexual activity outside of a primary, supposedly monogamous relationship in this injudicious way.
Sadly, this form of denial is even more enticing in today’s increasingly digital universe, where men can go online 24/7/365 to look at endless amounts and varieties of pornography, or they can play virtual reality sex games for hours on end, or they can sext with strangers met on social media and hookup apps, or they can engage in mutual masturbation via webcam with random people living half a world away, or whatever – all without ever hooking up in-person. And when they’ve finally gotten their fix, they can go back to their wife or long-term partner and somehow think they’ve been faithful, simply because their extracurricular sexual activity did not involve in-the-flesh contact.
This, of course, is total BS. Nevertheless, men have been using versions of this excuse since the earliest days of the Internet, preaching it to anyone who will listen, including therapists, with Clinton-caliber earnestness. If you, as a therapist, want to quickly break through such a client’s misguided beliefs, ask him the following question: If you’re so certain that your behavior doesn’t qualify as cheating, why are you keeping it a secret from your wife?
Sometimes men will also argue that it’s their biological imperative/right to spread their seed as widely as possible. They seem to think that if their particular gene pool dries up, the human race will cease to exist. With these men, rather than arguing about their position in the Darwinian sexual food chain, it is wiser to simply remind them that when they made their vow of monogamy to their spouse or partner, they gave their word that they would forgo the benefits of unmitigated propagation for the safety, security and enjoyment of a long-term intimate partnership. You might also remind them that if they have broken their vow of monogamy, they are in violation of their relationship contract, and, as a result, they risk losing the person most want to be with. You can also remind them that they have unilaterally (and secretly) dismissed their partner’s right to mutually participate in the creation and maintenance of the “relationship rulebook.”
If a cheating client seems particularly self-focused and determined, you might suggest that his behavior would be perfectly fine within the boundaries of his relationship if only his significant other knew about it and was OK with it, so maybe he should just come clean. Tell him that if he and his partner can mutually agree, without coercion of any sort, that various extramarital sexual activities are acceptable and don’t diminish relationship trust and intimacy, so be it. If that is the case, then he can have sex outside of his primary relationship whenever he wants, so long as he’s not violating these mutually agreed upon boundaries. However, you should not expect anyone to take you up on this suggestion. If your client thought he was in a relationship where his significant other would willingly agree to extramarital sexual activity, he’d have broached the topic already.
The final type of denial – and the hardest to break through – is usually some variation of the following lie: “What my wife doesn’t know can’t hurt her.” I am constantly amazed by the fact that so many men actually believe this statement. In reality, even if the betrayed partner has no idea that sexual infidelity is occurring, there is an emotional (and perhaps physical) distancing that is usually quite noticeable and undeniable. Sometimes the betrayed spouse will internalize blame for this, wondering what she (or he) has done to cause this. Children also notice this distancing, wondering why their father is no longer as available, emotionally and/or time-wise, as he used to be. Sadly, for both betrayed spouses and children, the effects of a cheating husband/father’s diminished capacity for intimate emotional support can be both long-lasting and highly destructive – diminished self-esteem, attachment deficits, inability to trust, fear of abandonment, depression, anxiety, etc.
And let’s face it, even if the cheater’s spouse or partner doesn’t know the full details of what is happening, there is likely to be some knowledge that sexual betrayal is taking place. In other words, betrayed partners nearly always know that something is amiss. Plus, even the best liars will slip up eventually. Men who cheat almost never get the clean getaway forever. Their sexual peccadilloes are nearly always uncovered in time. And when that finally occurs, both the cheater and his family must deal with the devastation that inevitably follows.
In my next posting to this site, I will discuss the reasons men cheat – i.e., the underlying causes of their behavior.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health. A licensed UCLA MSW graduate and personal trainee of Dr. Patrick Carnes, he founded The Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles in 1995. He is author of Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men and Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction, and co-author with Dr. Jennifer Schneider of both Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Parenting, Work, and Relationships and Always Turned On: Sex Addiction in the Digital Age. For more information you can visit his website, www.robertweissmsw.com.