Relationships: Why We Cheat.

Via Brentan Schellenbach
on Jan 22, 2014
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Warning: naughty language ahead.

Let’s get into a place where we can talk about cheating in relationships.

Let’s not talk about all the cheating that other people are doing, or all the times that we’ve been cheated on.

Let’s talk about something we are less alright with: talking about our own cheating.

Because if we really sit down and are honest with ourselves, we know that everyone cheats.

We are cheaters.

We can lie to ourselves and say, no that wasn’t really cheating because of this reason over here…

(Cue sarcastic brain-voice) Yeah, okay, us—before we start squaring our thoughts and behavior away into labels that aren’t as scary, let’s be honest with ourselves about what cheating is. 

Cheating is anytime we would not want our partner seeing what we’re doing.

If we would change our behavior when they enter the room, then we’re managing the image they have of us, and we are managing it to keep them from knowing things.

This means that the cheating line is not drawn with sex, because we can cheat without having sex, and we can have sex without cheating. The line is not indicated by any external marker–not with blow jobs or drunk-make outs or outright flirtations. The cheating line is drawn at intention.

The cheating line is drawn when we’re hiding, and it’s not that we are hiding from our partners, it’s that we are hiding from ourselves. When cheating is manifest into a lie, that lie is not to the person we are ‘cheating on,’ that lie is the lie that tells us that it’s okay to be in a relationship where we are cheating.

We don’t need to beat ourselves up about this. There’s nothing wrong with us.

We cheat on our partners for all kinds of reasons—it has nothing to do with them. We cheat because we’re pissed off, we cheat because we’re insecure, we cheat because we’re lonely. This is driven by the subconscious part of ourselves that is trying to figure out how to have good relationships.

We have probably cheated on every single partner that we have been with. Maybe we haven’t had sex with people outside our relationships (or maybe we have), but we’ve had those gut-clenchy moments of, I can’t tell my partner about this.

Those are the moments we need to pay attention to. If we’re already having sex with other people and not talking about it, there are mountains of other things we have not been talking about with our partners. For months. Or years. Or millennia.

We need to pay attention to the moments where we have this thought: I can’t be myself around the person I’m in a relationship with. 

Here is the logic of that: we are born as ourselves, we aren’t anybody else (we know this because we have skin that keeps us separate from others). This is the only constant–that from birth until death, we will always be ourselves, living inside of ourselves. Therefore, whether we realize it or not, we want our lives to feel easy for us to be ourselves.

We aren’t cheating because this is our idea of a good time. We are cheating because we are experiencing disconnection with ourselves and we don’t know a different way to feel good, so we only allow ourselves to feel good in short bursts.

We don’t like cheating.

We want to find the path of lowest resistance so that as we go through life, it feels effortless to be ourselves.

If our relationships are making it difficult for us to be ourselves, then what the fuck are we doing there? 

Why are we in a relationship where we have to stay bottled in?

And here’s how cheating reinforces itself: we know when we feel bottled in (even if we aren’t saying anything about it), and all we want is to let ourselves out. Cheating is a way of letting ourselves out.

(So once we start cheating with a partner, do we ever really stop?  I think the answer to this could be yes or no, but we should really sit down and have an honest conversation with ourselves about the matter.)

It’s easy to look at cheating as a big bird-flip to whomever we are cheating on.

But—if we’re cheating, then we’re in a relationship where we’re fucking cheating, and cheating feels like shit.

Cheating feels like shit even if we come home from banging our mistress (or mister) to crawl into bed with our wife (or hubby), and high-five ourselves in the mirror during clean-up. The high-five is just a cover-up, a justification to go to sleep tonight like this and wake up tomorrow and let this be reality for one more day.

So we know that this is a no-win situation for anyone. We don’t want to be cheating. We really don’t.

Because we know–somewhere inside of us—that when we start even just thinking about cheating, that’s when the cheating starts, and we haven’t quite mastered the ability to control our thoughts yet, so it’s not as if we are asking for this.

We would definitely rather have a relationship with someone where those thoughts never pop up. That would be splendid.

But sometimes the thoughts do pop up and we don’t know how to control that–because we’re not enlightened all the time—because we don’t know the secrets of the universe—because we aren’t perfect–because, because.

We’re just becoming ourselves. That’s all we’re doing.

We want to figure out how to make our lives feel good when we’re not cheating.

Even when we’re cheating, our whole goal of everything is to figure out how to not cheat and still feel good.

Because we know that cheating has to end. It’s highly unsustainable, and there’s only a short period of time that the cheating can take place before rapid shifts happen (either we talk about it and it becomes dramatic, or we cut someone out of our lives, but something dramatic happens—it’s too much pressure in such a small space). So even if cheating feels good, we know that it won’t feel good, soon. Very soon the shift is coming.

It’s like remembering we saw a slippery when wet sign a few seconds ago and then seeing someone in high heels running through the hallway trying to answer the phone—we know the jaw-to-floor collision is going to happen, and we feel powerless to make it stop.

There’s nothing wrong with it. Any of it. It’s just that when we’re cheating, it doesn’t feel good.

There is one agreement we must make with ourselves to cut the internal tie between us and cheating. We must agree with ourselves when we say: cheating doesn’t feel good, I no longer want to be cheating.

That is the agreement. We must make that agreement with ourselves, otherwise the cheating continues to happen.

That is the only resolution. It’s not changing our partner (although we may find that we want to cheat on some partners more than others. That’s okay.), or changing our friends, or not going to bars.

It’s that one simple internal agreement.

When we make that agreement, cheating begins to stop in our relationships. It stops making sense. Maybe we cycle through a few weird relationships while we’re going through this conversation with ourselves, but eventually, the cheating stops.

The cheating stops because we start talking to our partners about what we’re feeling and what we’re going through.

We start paying more attention to how our relationship feels to us so that if we are going to cheat on someone, we catch a thought of cheating early, before chaos ensues to several lives, and we bring this to conversation with our partner, which maybe brings us closer.

We start creating bonds that are physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually engaging, so that our relationships feel full and stable.

We love cheating because it helps us grow.

And what a beautiful thing: that we are given things to outgrow; obstacles to overcome. And we get to be ourselves the whole way through.

Man, life is good.


Relephant reads:

When Cheating Works.

To Cheat or not to Cheat?

Why Do Good People Cheat? Sometimes It’s about Addiction. 

Bonus: The all-time Best Buddhist Tip for making Relationships Last. (Spoiler alert—it’s not cheating.)

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Taina Hall/Pixoto



About Brentan Schellenbach

Brentan Schellenbach is a yoga teacher, writer and spiritual truth seeker. She teaches and writes for Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego, which serves over 1,000 yogis a week in person and online. She is dedicated to the study of herself and the world around her and offers knowledgeable insight from these observations. Connect with her on Facebook and Instagram and keep up with the different studio writers online. Take a class when you’re in town!


34 Responses to “Relationships: Why We Cheat.”

  1. becca says:

    Yes. Yes too all of this! Yay for growth in the most unexpected of places.

  2. Ryan says:

    Just… Outstanding!

  3. karenkatz says:

    "by your stumbling, the world is perfected"

    true, but a lot of people get hurt in the the meantime….but getting hurt and hurting others just seems to be part of the suffering that is innate to human existence-so I guess we need to grow from our mistakes, because we sure are going to make them!

  4. Jennifer says:

    Why we cheat? Sorry. This article is very immature and not yogic….it’s not okay to cheat. Period. It happens -yes, some people grow from it -yes, but you can’t support that behavior which I felt your article did. Is cheating peaceful, loving, or supportive? It’s based on lies, selfishness, immediate satisfaction (too common in our present day).

    I think you are on the right track with communicating feelings …but cheaters lie and that’s the honest truth.

  5. Ringo Gato says:

    We all have three lives: personal, private and secret. Sometimes the secret self is salacious. Bouncing around in monkey-mind, nothing comes to pass, like a thought let go during meditation. To define cheating as intention as opposed to action is silly. If a behavior is practice by 100% of us, as the author asserts, then it becomes an irrelevant and normal behavior. True cheating is common and hurtful for most but apparently not enough predict its demise. It is improbable that any society has ever existed without it. Blame it on a blast of dopamine and maybe some sought after oxytocin. The gigantic net that defines cheating in this piece answers little other, perhaps, than the author's personal guilt.

  6. Peg Ain says:

    I don't think cheating should be celebrated because it "makes us grow.". No more than alcoholism should be celebrated, or putting your spouse in dept. If you are the cheater, then I can see how you would hold this view. If you are the one cheated on, it is one of the most painful things you will ever go through. My husband cheated on me with a married co worker for more than two years. She was a "yogi." I marveled at her posts on FB about healing and love , etc. etc and all her rationalizations for why her behavior was part of her "spiritual path." While both of them lied to spouses, children, bosses and coworkers. Cheating can be romanticized, as you have done. Or it can be seen through a totally different lens…as a easy way out of facing yourself, at the expense of others. Aspire to take responsibility for your feelings. That's what growth is.

  7. Rebekah says:

    brilliant. brilliant. brilliant. I am so thankful for this wisdom today and every day. I have been exploring the depths of honesty within myself and within relationship as of recent…I have also been exploring this 'cheating' thing… so resonant. thank you thank you thank you. All I want is to truly know safety within myself. to truly know that whoever, whatever, however I am can be unveiled. shamelessness. !!

  8. Zack says:

    Prayer, prayer and more prayer. When you are tempted to cheat, you pray. Simple as that.

  9. Bee says:

    This was the best article, rather, piece of advice I have received since I was faced with the question at hand. Thank you, thank you,thank you for shedding this perfect light on this terrible subject.

  10. nikki says:

    As someone who has never cheated, even according to the terms you mentioned, I have been intrigued at exploring the idea of what makes people reach that point. Why they cheat. It is a freeing concept when we realize that it”s not personal. That our partners who cheat have some soul searching to do. That it really is not us, it’s them. Thank you for your thought-provoking article that helps me find more peace with this issue.

  11. Tiffany says:

    Read the book Sex at Dawn. That is all.

  12. Nathan says:

    I rarely ever post or reply to articles like this but have to say, I agree with you Jennifer…I'm not saying I'm perfect in any way…but the assumption that "everyone" cheats is simply untrue.

  13. Patti says:

    Dear Elephant Journal, thanks a lot for posting my comment. Why allow commenting at all if you’re only going to approve some of them?

    Regardless, and once again, this article is basically saying that cheating is okay, which it is absolutely NOT. Do not get into a committed relationship if you are going to cheat, or even if you think you might cheat. Cheating is selfish and so far from being connected to Source and our true Self. Cheating is all ego. And while it may help in the area of growth, there are so many other ways out there that are better ways to grow than by cheating.

  14. thebestofgiveandtake says:

    I believe cheating is defined by intimacy. Once you have shared thoughts, dreams, hopes and feelings with someone other than your spouse, you are in an intimate relationship with that person. It may not be physical, but it is as satisfying and longed for as physical sensations. Especially if you cannot talk as freely and comfortably with your partner/spouse.
    This kind of intimacy is far more serious (IMHO) than a quick sexual fling.
    The bond is stronger between those who have developed a deep connection and shared confidences together, than those who are simply yielding to a carnal urge.

  15. A. Usher says:

    I don't think the point of the article was to condone cheating but rather understand why it happens. I think she made an effort to tell people that, "Yes, you did it. It happens. But don't sit in shame about it. Ask yourself the necessary questions." I think that when we do this, like she stated, the cheating stops. It stops because we have figured out how to see our needs, acknowledge our needs, and ask for our needs. If we are in a relationship that is unwilling to meet said need, then perhaps we should move on in order to quit cheating. I think the wisest thing for us to remember when reading articles like this is that we are all just imperfect beings trying to get our needs met. Eventually, with mindfulness and honesty (and not shame, as I suspect you would rather the "cheater" feel) we will all be the better for it.

  16. nunh says:

    Everyone does not cheat. What a sad belief – I do think is true. Many strong people have no need to cheat – they live their lives to fullest and communicate the issues. Cheating, imho, is a weakness and a flaw coupled with other flaws and justifications Being a cheater means you are weak and cannot decide right from wrong.

  17. DGuS says:

    Or maybe the whole idea of monogamy, of 'mutual ownership' in relationships is just.. unnatural. Here is a groundbreaking perspective on sexuality. Controversial? Certainly. But very pertinent. Maybe you can write about this!

  18. Sally says:

    Thank God I'm in an open relationship. It may not be perfect but at least NO-ONE HAS TO LIE. So beautiful to know everyone is lucky enough to be fully themselves but has the opportunity for mutually respectful relationships and personal growth.

  19. Gen says:

    Some of these commenters are still clearly in the anger part of the journey toward forgiveness.

  20. Dave says:

    Thank you for this article. It is very timely in my life after a painful ending to a relationship. I feel a little better about our mutual "learning".

  21. Chris says:

    This girl is so wrong in every point. We cheat because we eventually find something better to move onto. It’s the same as being in a job and then finding a new job with better money and switching jobs. I myself have never cheated. I’ve been in one relationship my whole life and gave the women everything I had to offer while I got nothing back. I barely get the opportunity to meet girls and have been single most my life. This behaviour is consistent to someone early in their career who is just happy to have a job and stays in their job for a long period of time. People who can get jobs easily will jump ship more than often because there is more competition for that persons skills. This is true for dating – a person who is physically attractive is like a skilled worker. They will see plenty of opportunities to change partners. In saying this, assuming I got to choose any women in this whole world to be my girlfriend and this person never changed, I’d have no need to cheat. Same as if tomorrow I got a job that paid a billion dollars a day I’d never leave.

  22. Leslie says:

    This article is far from immature. It is on point. Very insightful. Thank you for making me ponder this.

  23. Shalini says:


  24. SBee says:

    Thank you. I couldn't even finish reading because I know that I have never done something out of sight of a partner that I would change if they walked in. In fact, had any of them known how honest I was when they were not around and kind in the words I said about them, they would have valued me even more. And I know that because the people who did witness how I acted when not around a partner were the first to ask me out or even to marry them when I next would become single. This woman is surrounded by awful people, it seems, which is truly tragic.

  25. Melissa says:

    As a woman recently out of a long-term relationship with a man who cheated on me for the entirety of it, this sounds a lot like his own justification. I didn’t ever cheat on him and I have never cheated on any partner. It is not about enlightenment; we need’t be yogis to be decent humans. It is not about being ourselves; we all have desires that we know we must curtail and are not any less ourselves for doing so. Cheating can always be boiled down to selfishness. A relationship, any relationship, requires a degree of selflessness – a willingness to care for another unit “the us” and not just the “me.” Cheating occurs when the person decides that the “me” is worth more than the “us” but is unwilling to let the other person go. He wants both the needs of the single and his half of unit met without concern for the other. That is selfishness and it is the antithesis of relationship which is community, a community of two which functions only because both partners are equally committed to the self, the other and the unit equally. A person who cheats is a person who justifies because in the end their primary concern is for the self and justification is about meeting the needs of the self. Cheating does not stop through communication nor through the giving of more love anymore than it begins “through a desire to have a better relationship.” Cheating stops when a person quits justifying their behavior, accepts that this is neither normal nor normative and embraces the sort of love that is vulnerable – vulnerable because it trusts the other for the love which has henceforth only been contained within the self. It is the acceptance of the possibility of pain.

  26. Tina says:

    Cheating is about making choices. You either choose to cheat or you do not. My partner chose to cheat on me (physically and emotionally). When faced with the same decision, I chose not to. I also chose to work on forgiving his choice (some see this as weak). This article, frankly, is nothing but thinly veiled justification for poor decision making and justification for allowing ourselves to make decisions that will harm others h set the guise of "self growth."

  27. jeejee says:


  28. LadyLa says:

    I totally agree. I've never cheated, never even felt the urge. However, I have been cheated on. It IS a weakness and a flaw.

  29. julie von blomberg says:

    Well said.

  30. Vivian says:

    Zach, not everyone believes in prayer or in a god or gods who answers or even cares about them for that matter. I know I don't. Some people don't believe in any god at all. Fact. Also two hands working do more than two hands praying ever will.

  31. Angel says:

    I enjoyed reading this article and I am always open to different points of view to learn and grow. I totally resonate with the fact that cheating is truly about the person doing it. Everyone always has the option to choose to not cheat and be present, honest and congruent in their actions and intentions, I understand everyone is at different points on their learning path and is not always capable or aware of this.
    I don’t agree with the statement.. ‘there’s nothing wrong with it. Any of it. It’s just that when we’re cheating, it doesn’t feel good.’ Every action produces a reaction and when two people are in a loving committed relationship there is nothing right or healthy when one party chooses to be deceptive.
    Cheating is destructive, chaotic and disruptive and ultimately both parties suffer during the process.

  32. Noelia says:

    I didn’t read the comments or even have the connection to read the full article. The cheating I endured I’m sure wasn’t even touched on because it is the deepest hidden cheating. It’s never mentioned. Unless one spouse is celebrated for “coming out” – and they get rewarded for their sudden honesty with themselves. What about the spouses left behind – especially if the one spouse never “comes out” ? A huge void is never talked about – that spouse that is kept in the closet, taking the fall for a failed marriage because the other stays in the closet. Now both are held in the closet because the liar, the cheater, is so good at living a straight public life. The one that takes the fall is the straight spouse left lost and betrayed and no one will believe. This is a truth that is never even acknowledged by our oh-so progressive society. I am not alone and I know what that lie does.

  33. Luna says:

    I have never cheated and I am sure I never will start, now that I am 36. My partner can see everything I do, read everything I write and I never think about other men when I am in a happy relationship. If it´s not a happy relationship anymore and you can´t work it out, just stop and go your seperate ways. It is called respect.

  34. Marguerite says:

    No, not everybody cheats – I have never cheated and I know many people, both women and men who never did either