As a coach, I get a lot of questions about relationships, many of which are emotionless, detached, and soul crushing. Stories about the suffering, the isolation, the deceitfulness, the falseness, and the grief: always the suffering.The conversations often end with a question: “Why?” Why do they do this to me? Why don’t they care anymore? Why won’t they change? Don’t they see how much pain they cause? Where is the high fidelity I expected from them?
“All happy families are alike;
each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
A PROGRAM FOR STAYING FAITHFUL
Tolstoy also said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” (Smart guy…huh)
This is particularly true where fidelity is concerned. Remaining faithful is straightforward, but most people seem unwilling to be rational about infidelity. They start storming around, or they get so miserable that they can’t look at the situation realistically.
Self-absorption > Intimacy = Infidelity
We all crave pleasure and a longing for intimacy and to feel loved, sharing our lives with someone important. Unfortunately, these two drives can be mutually exclusive. To gain intimacy and love, you often have to sacrifice your own gratification. And when you are self-absorbed, you usually are willing to sacrifice love and intimacy.
It can be as simple as watching a show you don’t really like or attending a tedious work event for your partner. But it can also be profound and multidimensional, like being open about your doubts and insecurities, or making a conscious commitment to be exclusive with that person.
A person who is self-absorbed, valuing their own gratification over intimacy from a relationship, will stop sacrificing for the relationship and likely end up unfaithful. If a person values the intimacy they gain from a relationship more than personal gratification, then they will sacrifice some of their ego-gratification to remain faithful. If the self-absorption side overshadows the intimacy side, then you risk infidelity.
There are two ways this can happen. First, a person is superficial and self-centered, requiring constant satisfaction. Second is the relationship is failing to provide satisfactory intimacy and desire for one or both people.
An Oversized Need for Self-Indulgence
Maturity is the ability to defer immediate ego-indulgence, or self-satisfaction, in favor of more important long-term goals. You don’t have sex at work because that could get you fired. You don’t eat a pound of bacon for breakfast because you’d have a heart attack by 40.
These things feel good, but you defer your own gratification to meet larger concerns. This is called “maturity.” Cheating falls under the same umbrella. It feels good to rub your genitals all over that beautiful person, but a mature person can step back and defer their gratification in favor of a life-long commitment.
Self-gratifying cheaters are ‘wretched over-compensators’, and often people in positions of power. They are focused on their own gratification because they feel miserable about themselves and they need to make themselves feel good to make up for it. If your cheating partner is a ‘wretched over-compensator’, cheating isn’t the only destructive, self-gratifying behavior they pursue. They may be a hard drinker, a big partier, or a drug user.
This behavior is often found in folks who want to be in charge of everything. They don’t have anyone to say “no” to them and don’t face any substantial consequences for their actions. No consequences and this kind of person doesn’t even see the behavior as risky. Given complete power over a relationship, these are the people who can expect no consequences from their actions by their partners. Indeed, you can inadvertently empower your partner to cheat on you. And that gets us to the second cause.
THE LACK OF REAL INTIMACY
The likelihood of infidelity in a relationship is directly related to how unhappy the relationship is. The glitch comes when people don’t appreciate the misery in their own relationship. Maybe they come from a family where misery is common or maybe have a long history of unsatisfactory relationships. To them it’s not even miserable. Then they’re surprised when hubby is banging the secretary.
There are two relationship patterns that usually end up with somebody being unfaithful. Both involve poor boundaries. Both construct a fantasy that “everything is wonderful,” when really it’s a “rotting carcass” of a relationship.
The first type is when one person feels like they “do everything” for the other. They take care of them, giving them everything they could want. The giver feels like a saint and then what happens? The person is unfaithful. When you do everything for your partner, you show them there are no consequences for their activities. They lose their job because they were fucking their assistant and you elect to support them. Then the next six months are spent loafing around on your couch, surfing Match.com, while you diligently send out their resume’ for them. Did you really think they are going to change?
In this cheating scenario, you’re often surprised to learn that you’ve been tolerating and enabling the very behavior that led them to cheat. It’s not your “fault,” but a healthy relationship requires that people occasionally say “no” to the other. A healthy relationship necessitates that each individual stands up for themselves and their needs. Then two people discuss what will work and what won’t for them as a couple
The other situation where infidelity occurs is when one partner is controlling and suspicious. Imagine you are involved with someone who routinely reviewed your phone calls without permission, demanded to know where you were at all times, got angry every time you went out, why would you remain faithful to them? You are being treated as though you’ve already cheated, even in the face of your blamelessness.
So, why not cheat? And what happens? Something like this: “My jealous partner yells at me anyway, and now that I’m with my friends and I haven’t been happy, so why don’t I go home with this cute bartender hitting on me? The bartender is actually nice to me. And I’m going to get yelled at when I go home anyway…”
Possessive/jealous behavior indicates self-doubt and lack of self-respect. How can your partner respect you if you are can’t tolerate any disquiet in the relationship? Truly attractive confidence grows being comfortable deferring gratification.
This leads me to the really big part.
1. Don’t date somebody who cannot defer self-satisfaction. Don’t fall in love with the first person that gazes upon you without frowning.
Dating a “self-gratifier” can be breathtaking, as long as you continue to gratify them. But look past the “feel-goods” and look at how they live their life. Are they able to make sacrifices for their loved ones? Are they reckless? Does their life appear to be jam-packed with uncalled-for commotion? Are they accountable for their actions?
People who center their lives on their own satisfaction often seem self-assured to people who are apprehensive or anxious. My first girlfriend was a professional actress, and what I loved about her was if she wanted something she took it. I was so timid and repressed at the time I thought this was an amazing display of confidence, but it was actually an amazing display of self-indulgence. As soon as she wanted another man in her bed, she had one.
True attractive confidence only exists when someone is comfortable with what they don’t have. True self-assurance arises from being able to defer or give up one’s own satisfaction and desires. People who date self-gratifiers think to themselves, “They’re so happy when they’re with me, why would they ever want to be with somebody else?”
It’s the self-satisfaction they get dating you, not the intimacy. They love being with you, as long as it’s on their terms. Quit providing satisfaction for them; and they find somebody who will.
2: Enforce healthy boundaries for yourself
That means you standing up for you, insisting on what is and is not satisfactory in the relationship for both of you. Stick by those pronouncements and follow through with them. Do, generally, everything I have already explained. Appreciate that you are not responsible for your partner’s happiness nor are they for yours. You don’t have a right to demand certain actions from them nor do they have any right to demand certain actions from you. Request is good; demand, bad.
They are responsible for their own battles just as you are for fighting yours. You must realize often the most loving and compassionate thing you can do for a loved one is allow them to fight their battles themselves. A relationship is not for you to have your life’s problems repaired by your partner, nor is it for you to battle your partner’s life problems for them. A relationship is two individuals unreservedly supporting each other as they deal with their own problems together.
3: Always be willing to leave
This comes up in my comments to the emails I get, and it often catches people off guard. But a relationship is only as strong as each person’s preparedness to leave. Not a desire to leave, but the preparedness to leave. Every healthy relationship requires the occasional but loving “no.” Otherwise, nothing will ever change.
A coach I know told me the most important lesson he learned coaching couples was that “the quickest way to kill a relationship is to take each other for granted.” A relationship is not an obligation. It is a choice made every day, a choice that says, “The intimacy we share is better for me than my own self-indulgence.” It acknowledges the short-term costs are worth the long-term benefits, choices that value what brought you two together. If you manage your relationship in this mindful, you can be aware within yourself of the risks, and on guard for the warning signs of infidelity. Better to have healthy boundaries and a clear mind, than to blindly suffer the experience of your partner’s self-indulgent choices.
SEE A LIFE COACH IN BATON ROUGE
Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.