“Why did he have to go there?” a client sat trembling in my office. “Wasn’t I enough for him?”
I’ve seen people go through incredible grief and pain from being cheated on. It’s as if the innocence of love is lost once your partner is unfaithful to you. The relationship just isn’t the same afterwards.
It’s clear in my experience how betrayal is one of the most hurtful issues in relationships. It cuts deep.
Betrayal can be experienced like a death of a loved one.
For the record I am no saint. I’ve cheated and been cheated on. I’ve broken hearts and had my heart broken.
As a perpetrator I’ve cheated when I felt unappreciated or undervalued by girlfriends. As a victim I’ve been depressed 2 times in my life. Both episodes involved former girlfriends cheating on me.
Cheating happens when one partner is basically lying to the other. In fact, cheating and dishonesty go hand in hand. The person who cheats on you is also likely to be lying to you about a host of issues.
What I’ve learned having met and married my soul mate is when you love someone who is your life partner you simply don’t cheat. You wouldn’t want to hurt that person, mainly because that person is like a mirror reflection of you in the world. Cheating on your soul mate is like cutting off your own leg, it doesn’t make sense to do it.
I share this with my female clients who seem to look at me askance for a moment. Then, once they notice that I am sincere, they seem to accept there is hope for them that not “all men” cheat, just some men cheat.
Here are 3 brain reasons why.
- 1Maybe his brain is wired to cheat? In my experience, a man’s “attachment” relationship with his mother factors into cheating. If his mother was promiscuous, or if he was somehow a caretaker to his mother as a child, there are areas in the brain called the orbital-frontal cortex (OFC) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) that represent shame, error correction and morality. Essentially his brain wiring can be maladaptive if he felt intense shame from his mother for growing into a “man”. She may have wanted him to stay her “little boy” whom she could control, dote on and love. He may have felt her hatred projected onto him for simply growing into a man. He may cheat on you because he feels you are like his mom. This is called “transference” in therapy. For him to be a man and rebel against you smothering him like his mom did he may feel compelled to cheat on you. This explains so-called “serial cheaters” who find it difficult to remain faithful in most, if not all, of their adult relationships. These are called “enactments” in therapy where he is re-enacting anger against his mom by cheating on you. As well, if promiscuity was just a part of his mother’s behavior he experienced as a child, a deep part of him may not see cheating as such a bad thing as an adult. His OFC and ACC may have abnormal firing patterns because of the lessons he learned as a child. His cheating may have nothing to do with you, maybe his brain is just wired that way because of his childhood.
- 2Testosterone makes men socially stupid – Men naturally have more testosterone than women. Here’s the problem. Louise Brizendine, MD in her best selling book The Female Brain gives jaw-dropping data about the effects of testosterone on infants. She cites studies on autism spectrum and Asperger’s syndrome predominantly affecting boys 8 times more than girls because of the increased doses of testosterone in utero. “Extra testosterone in people with these disorders may be killing some of the brain’s circuits for emotional and social sensitivity.” Essentially, testosterone makes men more aggressive and more sexually promiscuous than women. Combine this with a lack of social sensitivity and men are more likely to cheat on women because testosterone makes men more attracted to power, social rank and “objectifying” people than actually connecting with people. For men, cheating may just be “what a man does” to satisfy his sexual appetites, as opposed to actually feeling the hurt and pain that cheating causes.
- 3High risk-takers may cheat more – The problem with falling in love is it closely resembles a euphoric state of “being high”. Brain scans show how various areas like the nucleus accumbens, insula, ventral tegmental area (VTA) and striatum all fire when we are in love and when we are seeking reward. The problem with this is a brain chemical called dopamine that is the basis of addictions. In essence, men who are gamblers, extreme sport enthusiasts, have a “need for speed”, or who are driven to seek that big payoff, are also men who are more likely to hire prostitutes, flirt with other women, and eventually cross the line one day by cheating. Their brains are wired for a dopamine hit they receive by taking huge risks, like being unfaithful and potentially wounding the relationship. What I see in relationships is the euphoria of love can have a numbing effect on how some women view their partners. Dopamine can make some women “addicted to love” and continue in destructive relationships with attractive men who are high risk-takers. As she seeks dopamine through closer contact with him, he may be seeking dopamine by closer contact with another. The longer she stays with a man who is a high risk-taker the more she will likely lose her power in the relationship. The risk is he will likely lose interest in her as a result.