The shocking thing about talking to a room full of women who have been cheated on is how wonderful they all are. It doesn’t seem to matter whether they are beautiful, clever, funny, rich, successful, skinny, or innately suspicious of men, women get cheated on. They have done since the beginning of time, and they always will. It’s not just us – men get cheated on, too. That’s right, you may think men are scoundrels, but according to the experts, women are just as bad.
No matter who is doing the cheating, affairs are destructive – to relationships and to individuals. They cut through to the core of a couple, rip out their stability and leave them hollow. There’s not just the broken trust to deal with, but the insult, the hurt, the bereavement for the relationship you had (or thought you had). The shame, the resentment, the anger... the list goes on.
Some relationships shatter on impact. Others soldier on, trying to put it behind them, only to wake up one morning years down the line and realise that there is nothing left between them. Then there are those who find their way back to each other – whose affairs bring them closer together. Can this be possible? According to the experts, yes it can.
Whatever effect an affair has, there is no escaping the fact that it forces you to hold a magnifying glass up to your relationship and a mirror up to yourself and to ask some deep, meaningful questions. We spent an evening at Fazaris, the Address Downtown, and had discussion, drinks and delicious nibbles with some Aquarius readers to talk about some of those questions.
We were joined by some experts: psychotherapist Aamnah Husein and relationships coaches Maria Chatila and Evelyn Heffermehl. And here is what we found...
Is it more common here?
“People in Dubai are more prone to cheating. You’re away from friends, family and close social groups. Everyone acts like they are on holiday all the time.”
Aamnah says, “Cheating happens everywhere. But here, many people are far from close social networks, which can make them feel anonymous and like they can get away with it. They may feel more removed from the implications and repercussions of cheating. Also, people travel a lot for work, which poses new challenges to relationships – especially if underlying problems exist and are not being addressed.”
Do men cheat more than women?
“It seems like men cheat on women a lot more than women cheat on men. Why is that? Why do they do it?”
Maria says, “Actually, both sexes cheat. Although men seem to cheat more, this could be just that they get caught more than women, so we hear about it more. As a relationship coach, what I’ve seen is a lot of women embracing emotional affairs because they feel lonely. Perhaps with a guy at work who you get on with, or an old friend or boyfriend who you have rekindled a friendship with on Facebook. Often, women don’t admit that it’s an emotional affair – they may not even realise themselves. But it is a form of cheating and it is just as destructive to a relationship as a sexual affair.”
I was cheated on, now I am a cheater. Can I change?
“I found out that my fiancé was cheating on me a few months before we were due to get married. Since then, I’ve been punishing men. I think all men – apart from my father and brother – are cheaters. So when I fell in love again, I cheated on my new partner so he couldn’t do it to me first. I sabotage every relationship I get in to.”
Maria says, “You’re still dating the ghost of your past relationship. The relationship is dead and over, but the issues are still alive. Until you can forgive – and I’m not saying you should forget – it will continue to follow you. The fact that you have faith in your father and brother shows you still hold some hope for men, so this is about you learning to heal yourself to a point where you can move on. How do you heal from it? Give yourself a break. As women, we try to blame ourselves for things that hurt.”
Is it possible to recover from an affair?
“I always said that if it happened to me, I would be out the door. Then it happened to me and I stayed. I question myself why, and question whether it means I am weak. But the truth is I stay because I love him.” “I left my husband when I found out he had cheated. I still love him and he wants us to get back together, but I just can’t get past it.”
Evelyn says, “Remember that everything we go through in a relationship is an opportunity to become closer as a couple.”
Aamnah says, “Healing is about breaking down the walls we have put up to protect ourselves. Can the relationship recover from that? Can you get the trust back? I think you can – and I think you can have a stronger bond. But it takes both sides to be compassionate and forgiving, and if you are able to empathise with each other during the forgiving process, you are bound to become closer as a result.”
Maria says, “Ask yourself, ‘What does our relationship need? What was the relationship like before the affair? What drove us to the affair? What is the relationship now? What does it need now?’”
Aamnah says, “Also, what do you need now for yourself? What do you need to see, to do, and to feel in order to recover?”
Is it my fault? Do I make it happen without knowing?
“When my husband cheated on me, I did that thing that many women do – I put myself down, blamed myself and lost confidence. I saw myself as a monster.” “My first partner cheated on me and then, when I finally fell in love again, I found out that my new partner was actually married with a child and I was the mistress. Am I doing something wrong? Do I attract these types of men?”
Maria says, “Sometimes we think we are doing something right for ourselves, but actually we’re just attracting the same experiences again and again. If you only seem to be attracting the same type of men, is there something that you’re putting out there that attracts them? One of the ways we heal ourselves is with our behaviour. Do you have self-esteem issues? Sometimes we look for evidence of what we believe about ourselves. What do you believe about yourself?”
How do you get over it?
“It’s all well and good to say we should put it behind us and move on, but how do you do that and mean it?”
Evelyn says, “Being hurt is one thing. Being the victim is another. The danger is in becoming identified as the victim, to yourself and to your husband. The real point is to try to understand what happened. To forgive yourself and your partner who cheated. You need to let the cheater speak out and allow them to put it to rest, otherwise neither of you can get past it. This is true whether you stay together or split.”
How can I forgive him?
“My husband has had two affairs that I know of. I’ve decided to stay – for many
reasons. I think he has changed. He is a good man. I deal with the positive and negative consequences of my decision. The positives are that we still have our family and most of the time it is good. The negatives are that it is always going to be there and we can never have the relationship that we would have had. I can forget about it and move on, but I can’t forgive him for bringing this into our lives, our marriage and our home.”
Maria says, “If you’ve made the decision to stay and you want to rebuild that connection, a great exercise is to reminisce together. It’s a good way to heal and it’s a very successful way to start forgiving him – not the person he is now, but the person he was before he cheated. Understand that he had a need he was trying to fill. Speak to him to try to understand what was going on at that point to make him stray outside of your relationship. Stop looking at it as, ‘Why did you do this to me?’ And start looking at it as, ‘What was happening between us to make you feel you needed to do this?’”
EXPERT'S HOME TRUTHS
1. Trust your instincts. If you feel like your husband might be having an affair, there is a high chance he is.
2. An affair is usually a symptom of something else that is wrong in the relationship. If your partner has had an affair, instead of feeling like a victim, try to work out what it was your partner needed from the relationship that he wasn’t getting. This need may have been what caused him to go elsewhere.
3. Many couples only seek professional help once an affair has happened. They feel like it is a dramatic enough reason to justify seeking professional help. A better approach would be to recognise that the relationship is in trouble, or that the lines of communication between you are becoming blocked, and to seek professional help – such as counselling or relationship coaching – before an affair actually happens.
“I don’t want to leave my husband even though he has cheated on me. I love him and I know he loves me, but I can’t seem to get over it either. I make harsh comments every chance I get, like I am punishing him by being loyal and forgiving. It hurts him and I want to stop it, because it is making us both unhappy. But I can’t.”
Maria says, “The past still lives in your relationship and its presence is weighing it down. The harsh comments that you make are not unusual in relationships, but they are very toxic and with time can destroy the marriage. I suggest you and your husband sit down and acknowledge the hurt together. How was he hurt? How were you hurt? How was the relationship hurt? It is important to remember that the relationship is a higher system that
you two are a part of and that you both need to increase your positivity so your relationship can thrive.”
“I was cheated on, now I am the cheater. When I’m in relationships, I cheat. When I’m single, I pursue married men. I hate it that I am doing to others what broke my heart, but I can’t seem to stop it. I want to move on and have a trusting relationship.”
Aamnah says, “Being cheated on can be very painful and leave scars. Perhaps you need to revisit that time when you were cheated on – do you understand what happened and why? Have you forgiven? This doesn’t mean condoning the behaviour, but letting go of it. What are the beliefs (about yourself, men, relationships,) that you have walked away with? With your actions, you are reaffirming these beliefs and protecting yourself by being the cheater in order to stop it happening to you again. But that one experience does not have to define you – you still believe in love and trust. So make yourself whole and love to trust yourself again. When you feel strong inside, you might not feel so scared to be vulnerable.”