In the wake of September’s cheating scandals, we talk to relationship experts about infidelity.
Why do people cheat, even when they’re in presumably happy relationships? Recently, Maroon 5’s lead singer Adam Levine (who’s married to Victoria’s Secret model Behati Prinsloo) got exposed for flirting with (and attempting to name his soon-to-be-born son after) influencer-model Sumner Stroh. Yuck! Next, Ned Fulmer from The Try Guys – a wholesome entertainment group founded by four BuzzFeed alum – was revealed to be having an extramarital affair with his fellow colleague and producer, Alexandria Herring. Double yuck! We’re enraged.
You can say that September’s been branded ‘Cheater Awareness Month’. Last year, stand-up comedian John Mulaney was called out for cheating on his wife with Olivia Munn. And this year, several other famous men – including American professional basketball coach Ime Udoka – were also exposed for being unfaithful to their partners. These cheating scandals caught us off-guard, considering most of these men appeared (on social media, at least) to be in fulfilling marriages. Particularly in the case of Ned Fulmer.
The insidious nature of the ‘wife guy’
Now, we were all understandably upset when Adam Levine cheated on his wife. However, when we discovered Ned had done the same, it was like a punch in the gut. Sure, what Adam did really sucked. Yet it wasn’t that surprising for a man with his history (he’s cheated on ex-girlfriends and reportedly proposed to Behati while he was dating another woman). But we all expected better from Ned.
Why? It’s simple. Ned Fulmer was the archetypal ‘wife guy’ – he publicly admired and exalted his partner every opportunity he got. His entire personality on The Try Guys was built on loving his wife. That’s why his infidelity rocked us to our core. Because if we can’t trust someone like Ned, who can we trust? In essence, when Ned cheated on Ariel Fulmer, he also cheated us out of the role model we expected him to be.
my childhood is ruined after learning ned fulmer cheated on ariel. of all people it’s the “I love my wife” guy and they just celebrated their ten year wedding anniversary together… ariel has been so supportive and loving since the beginning, ned wtf were you thinking?
— vi 🍮 (@vincyagain) September 27, 2022
“When a man builds his success on the back of his partnership and proclaims to hold up high-level family values, it’s not only the wife that feels betrayed but also all the people who kept this man in high regard and put him on a pedestal,” explains dating and relationship expert, Valentina Tudose.
Friends, I’m spiralling. It’s got me wondering if every guy who outwardly loves his wife is a sham. What if every public display of affection is just a cover-up for a relationship they’re having on the side? To find out if any of us are truly safe in our relationships, perhaps we should take a look at why people are tempted to cheat in the first place.
Why do people cheat in relationships?
“There are a lot of reasons why people cheat,” she says. “They could be looking for an ‘out’ because they’ve subconsciously exited the relationship. Or suffer from sexual addiction, poor self-esteem and childhood trauma. They might just enjoy the thrill of it. And sometimes people cheat because they feel they’ve lost themselves, and the affair becomes a vessel for exploration.”
While there are different individual reasons, Valentina explains that it can all be broadly categorised into two buckets. A cocktail of incompatibility, neglect, disconnection and ongoing rejection, as well as an identity crisis when partners have grown apart so much.
“Many couples maintain a facade of perfection that they show to the outside world, even though their relationship is suffering behind closed doors. This is because we’re conditioned to believe in the idea of ‘happily ever after’,” she says. “Infidelity is actually a great deal more common than the rom-coms try to tell us.”
No one is immune to the temptations of cheating
If you think only men are prone to cheating, think again. Men and women are both capable of infidelity, though for seemingly different reasons. “This is, of course, a generalisation, but men are programmed to seek variety and diversity,” Valentina says. “Women, on the other hand, tend to cheat when the relationship they’re in isn’t making them happy. They’re looking for a partner who can offer them more.”
“Fundamentally, it reflects a need that hasn’t been met,” Syaza adds. “Often, clients [who have cheated] share that they’ve communicated their needs, but feel their partner continues to ignore or deprioritise them.”
So, can you really steer clear of a relationship with someone who may cheat on you one day? Experts say there are traits to look out for. “Research shows those who are more conscientious and agreeable are less likely to cheat,” Syaza says. “The guilt and shame, coupled with the fear that the same thing would happen to them, act as a deterrent.”
A defining factor of a successful relationship is having the same values and vision. “With so many variables (and opportunities brought about by technology), the only thing that’s stopping us from taking action towards a new partner is our values,” Valentina says. If family and commitment are important to you, find someone who’s on the same page.
When lines are crossed
To gain a better understanding, I spoke to Vanessa Wong (not her real name), a 24-year-old business executive. She recently exited a long-term relationship after cheating on her boyfriend of four years. In her case, she never expected to be disloyal, as she’d always seen infidelity as the ultimate betrayal.
“He’d give his attention to other girls and wouldn’t listen when I communicated my discomfort. I thought he’d change. But he didn’t. As I grew unhappier, he’d tell people not to hang out with me, so I’d feel he was the only one who cared about me,” she says. “I only found out about a lot of this after we broke up.”
The cheating began when Vanessa reconnected with some old friends, one of whom was male. “He’d listen to my problems and take me out, [giving me] things I wanted in my own relationship that I couldn’t find in my partner. Eventually, I began to have feelings for him. I didn’t physically cheat, but I did emotionally cross a boundary.”
Vanessa later made a clean break with her boyfriend before pursuing a new relationship with her friend. She wishes she had cut off her ex-boyfriend earlier – before the cheating hurt more people than intended. “I felt cornered, but I wish I’d broken up with him [when] I felt things were off. It’s important for those in similar situations to think about: if their issues can be worked through or if they have boundaries they just can’t compromise on.”
A ‘make it or break it’ opportunity
So, if you find yourself in a situation where you’re tempted to cheat, how do you stop in time before you hurt anyone?
“Know that whatever you’re feeling in your relationship is justified, but the action of cheating is never a valid response to those emotions,” Syaza advises. “Consider couples counselling instead. This is a good start, and all sorts of experiences can be explored with the utmost compassion.”
Valentina encourages individuals to determine how much they value their relationship – especially in instances where kids are involved. “The impact of an affair isn’t only the emotional trauma. It can create a broader break in the balance of the family system that will have long-term consequences.”
If cheating has crossed your mind, this is an opportunity for you to examine what your relationship is missing and how you’d like it to change. “All affairs, or simply the temptation to have an affair, are ‘make it or break it’ opportunities for a relationship,” Valentina explains.
It’s been a devastating few weeks for those involved in the recent cheating scandals. And for those around the world who’ve been hurt by loved ones they thought they could trust. What I’ve learnt from all this is maybe we’re asking the wrong question. It’s not about why people cheat. Instead, it comes down to this: are you with the right person?