A Philosopher's Blog

Responding to the Cheater

Posted in Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on December 21, 2009

If you determine that your partner has been cheating on you, there arises the question of how to respond to this revelation. The following are some suggestions.

Get Tested

It is an extremely good idea to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. While people often worry they will be ridiculed or humiliated, this is almost certainly not the case. Health care professionals are trained to be professional about such matters and often tend to be sympathetic towards people who have been betrayed by their partners.

Even if you and your partner practiced safe sex, it is still a good idea to get tested. Even with due precautions it is still possible to become infected. You owe it to yourself and any future partners to be sure that you are not infected.

Forgiveness?

Some people believe that a cheater will always be a cheater and hence can never be trusted. While some people might be incorrigible cheaters, it seems unlikely that every cheat is beyond redemption and incapable of changing their ways. After all, people do change in the face of experience and some people do change for the better. Think of wrongs that you have committed in the past and ask yourself if you have been able to become a better person and not repeat your mistakes. Think of wrongs that you have done that you hope will be forgiven or, even better, wrongs that have been forgiven. If you can think of such things, then you might be able to forgive the cheat.

If you think that forgiving the cheat is about doing something for them, keep in mind that such forgiveness is mainly for your benefit. Bearing a grudge and refusing to forgive a person can wear on you-causing stress and perhaps even making you a worse person. This is not to say that the cheater should be pardoned completely, just that letting the anger go can be good for the heart and the soul. Holding onto the anger can have terrible effect on your next relationship by impairing your ability to trust others.

Because of the possibility of forgiveness, reconciliation can sometimes occur. Sometimes the person who has been betrayed is able to forgive the cheater and the relationship can be restored to a semblance of its previous state. Some people do learn and are able to change from a cheater to a loyal partner. While this can happen, it is a good idea to be wary of people who merely pretend to be reformed cheaters. While people can and do change, people also tend to stick with established patterns of behavior.

Revenge?

When you are wronged it is natural to want to wrong the person who harmed you in return. On one hand, there are good reasons to punish the cheater. On the other hand, there are good reasons not to do so.

One reason to punish a cheater is the psychological need for revenge. You might, it could be reasoned, feel better after punishing the person and thus be better able to move on. Of course, not everyone has this need and it can be argued that this need shows a character defect. However, the need is understandable. One reason not to punish for revenge is that doing so can make you a worse person-a vengeful human being.

A second reason to punish the cheater is that they deserve punishment. Some might argue that punishing the cheater is like punishing a criminal-the punishment is needed to set things right. This has a certain appeal. After all, we do owe others for the good they do us, so it would seem (by analogy) that we owe them bad for the evil they do us. Of course, doing wrong for wrong seems to merely double the wrong being done, thus providing a reason not to do this.

A third reason to punish the cheater is to deter them from doing it again. As philosophers such as Hobbes and Glaucon (in Plato’s Republic) have argued, if people can commit their misdeeds without fear of punishment, then they will continue to commit those misdeeds. But, if they are punished, then they will be much less inclined to commit their injustices in the future. One reason not to do this is that it is not clear that cheaters will learn to be more loyal from being punished.

If you decide that the cheater needs to be punished, then there is the question of the nature of the punishment. Before considering what action to take, it is very important to be aware that law enforcement officials generally do not consider cheating to justify taking action against a person.

People often entertain the idea of doing physical harm to the cheater or his/her property. For example, every time cheating is discussed in my ethics classes someone (for some reason it is always a woman…) brings up keying the cheater’s car. Laying aside the immorality of such deeds, harming a person or his/her property is generally illegal and doing so can end with criminal prosecution. In the past, courts were often lenient in such cases-even acquitting men who killed their spouses for cheating. However, those days seem to have fortunately passed and vengeance for cheating is much less well regarded in the courts. While fantasizing about torching the cheater’s prized Trans Am can have some psychological benefit, actually doing so would probably result in a law suit or even jail time.

People sometimes entertain the idea of exposing the cheater to the world thus shaming them and warning others. Of course, doing so will also reveal to the world that you have been cheated on and might cause you some embarrassment.

Some people say that the cheater is punished by not having them as a partner anymore. While this does reveal a certain degree of arrogance, it is certainly a peaceful and legal approach. Of course, the cheater might or might not consider this a punishment-they might simply move on to a new relationship (or, more likely, relationships) without any suffering on their part.

Perhaps the best way to “punish” the cheater is to move on and create a loyal, healthy and loving relationship with another person. A true cheater will never be able to have such a relationship and although the cheater might believe s/he is happy, this is almost certainly self delusion. In a sense, by denying themselves loyal and healthy relationships, the cheaters are punishing themselves.

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Three Types of Cheaters

Posted in Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on December 19, 2009

Put in very general terms, cheating involves straying outside a committed relationship in order to have sexual relations with another person or persons. People cheat for a variety of reasons, but there are two main motivations that are almost certainly present in every case. First, the cheater believes that s/he is not getting something she needs or wants from the existing relationship. For example, a person might not be receiving the amount or type of sex s/he wants. As another example, a person might not be receiving the emotional intimacy s/he needs. These unsatisfied needs are what motivate the person to stray outside the confines of the relationship. Second, the cheater believes that s/he is getting something of value out of the existing relationship or is avoiding something undesirable by remaining in the relationship. Obviously, if the cheater got nothing from being in the relationship, then s/he would most likely end the relationship rather than cheat. What the cheater gets from the relationship can vary greatly. One person might remain in a relationship out of love, but stray because her sexual desires are not being gratified. Another person might remain in a relationship for financial security, yet wander because his partner is emotionally distant. A third person might remain in a relationship out of fear of being harmed, yet cheat in order to attempt to have a relationship that is not based on threats and coercion.

While people cheat for a variety of reasons, it is generally desirable to avoid having someone cheat on you. Laying aside the moral harms, cheating is harmful in two very practical ways. First, there is the matter of physical health. There are many sexually transmitted diseases in the world and some of them, such as AIDS, are life threatening. If someone is cheating on you, the odds of you being exposed to one of these diseases increases significantly. Second, there is the matter of emotional health. Being committed and loyal to a person who does not reciprocate this loyalty can be quite devastating when this infidelity is revealed. The extent of this emotional harm increases the more you are committed to the person and commitment tends to increase with time. Given that both the chance of being harmed and the extent of the harm depends on the amount of time on is a victim of a cheater, it is reasonable to think that the sooner a cheater is exposed, the better.

To spot a cheater, you need to know what types of cheaters you might be dealing with. There are three types of cheaters: the traitor cheater, the stealth cheater, and the open cheater. Each of these types will be discussed in turn.

The traitor cheater is the classic cheater. The cheater is cheating with a person who is aware of the relationship that the cheater is violating. This is analogous to historical traitors who secretly betray their alleged loyalties to another party who is fully aware of their traitorous deeds. A traitor cheater can be hard to catch because s/he has a willing accomplice who will probably aid the cheater in concealing the cheating.

A stealth cheater is a person who cheats on one person with another person who is ignorant of the cheater’s other relationship. The cheater is thus cheating on both people because only s/he knows about the cheating and the others believe they are in a committed relationship.

Because the stealth cheater does not have a knowing and willing accomplice, they can sometimes be easier to catch. In fact, one of the people involved with the cheater might accidentally expose the cheat. For example, a person who is unaware that s/he is involved with a cheater might stop by the cheater’s place unexpectedly when the other person is there.

An open cheater is someone who, as the term states, is open in his or her cheating. While s/he remains in a relationship, no attempt is made to conceal the cheating. The notion of an open cheater might seem rather odd. After all, cheating seems to almost require secrecy by definition. However, such cheating does occur and occurs enough that there are slang terms for those who engage in it. People who are open cheaters have been called “swingers” and “players.”

The good thing about an open cheater is that there is no need to expose the person-they are open about the cheating. The bad thing about an open cheater is that s/he is still a cheater.

A single person might conceivably be a cheater of multiple types. For example, a person might be cheating with one person who is aware of his infidelity while he is also involved with a third person who is unaware of the first two. However, most cheaters tend to fall into just one type.

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Are You a Hose Monkey? Then Don’t Get Married.

Posted in Ethics, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on December 8, 2009
Tiger Woods
Image via Wikipedia

While running a ten mile race on Saturday, the conversation turned to Tiger Woods. Naturally, there were the usual witty remarks-about how he should be called  “Lion Woods” because tigers are solitary creatures and male lions have harems. However, we did manage to squeeze in some ethical commentary on cheating and marriage.

The main conclusion was that if a person is aware that he is a “hose monkey” (to use the technical term for a person who cannot help but screw around) then he should not get married. Rather, he should just monkey around until he grows old and dies (or just dies). After all, cheating will almost certainly harm his spouse, him, and even the other women. By not marrying, the hose monkey avoids inflicting these harms and thus acts in a morally correct manner-at least in this regard. Naturally, he can be criticized on other grounds, but at least he is not committing adultery, cheating or engaged in the deceit needed for those things. As such, the open and honest hose monkey is a primate that can be commended…almost.

Of course, hose monkeys do get married. One reason is that it is socially expected, even now. Another reason is that even hose monkeys long for a stable companion (they just also long for a stable of companions). In the case of celebrity hose monkeys, one hypothesis (put forth by Keith during the race) was that a famous man needs to get married and create the right image to secure the family man style endorsement deals. That does make sense.

How does a person know if he is a hose monkey? Well, some cynical feminists might suggest the following test: “Are you a guy? Then the answer is ‘yes.'” But, not all guys are hose monkeys-and not just because they lack the funds needed to keep up a stable.

The final part of the conversation turned to the claim that Tiger Woods wife allegedly has a  deal in which she would be paid to stay with Tiger.While I did not comment on her in the specific, I did raise a moral concern about someone who would accept money to stay in a marriage. While cheating is bad, accepting cash to stick in a marriage seems like it might be equally bad. This sort of thing makes the claim “marriage is long term prostitution and prostitution is short term marriage” seem rather plausible.

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Perspective

Posted in Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on August 12, 2009

One of the many things I have learned from being in a relationship is that people tend to have very different perspectives on things. This is especially true when it comes to what upsets people.

I have found that some things that do not bother me at all really annoy some other people. For example, I am accustomed to living with pets. I don’t like finding a hair in my food and I am not pleased when my husky tracks mud on the floor, but I deal with it and get on with things. However, people who are not as accustomed to pets might react very badly to these things. To me they are minor, but perhaps to her they are very serious things indeed.

It is easy and tempting to assume that what is a minor annoyance (or not at all annoying) to you will be seen the same way by the person you are dating or involved with. Also, it is natural to assume that what really bothers you will also really bother her. After all, people tend to think that how they see the world is the right and only way. Of course, this is not true at all-people see the world quite differently and react differently. It is important to keep this in mind if you want to try to avoid problems. While no one can be a mind reader, it is a good idea to try to figure out your partner’s perspective and to help him/her see your perspective. Otherwise, trouble is all but certain.

It is also tempting to assume that some things are objectively minor or major. In some cases, this makes sense. For example, if someone freaks out because your dog looks at her, then she is overreacting. As another example, if someone gets upset because your cat peed on his laptop and took a kitty dump in his overnight bag, then he is reacting normally.

In other cases, the appropriate reaction is a rather subjective thing. Based on past experiences, people see things differently and assess them differently. For example, if a person was hit by their previous partner, s/he might react very strongly to play rough housing. Also, everyone has quirks of personality such that certain things just really bother them, although most other folks will see it as no big deal. While too many or too weird traits like these can be marks of insanity, I’ve noticed that all normal people have a few. For example, I get really annoyed if someone touches a glass I am drinking from-provided that their fingers touch the part that my lips have been touching. I don’t have an abnormal fear of disease, but that just bugs me disproportionally.

What can confuse matters a bit is that sometimes people jokingly pretend to be annoyed when they really are not. This is most often done in response to things that are usually not seen as annoying at all. It is the over-reaction that is supposed to be funny. Of course, since people differ in what they see as a serious matter, it is easy to think that your partner is jokingly over reacting to something you see as minor when, in fact, s/he is really upset by it.

What can also muddy things is that people will often over-react to something that is not really the problem. This is because they are angry or upset about something else that they are unwilling to confront head on. So, they express anger or displeasure over something else. This can be rather confusing and a problem. After all, if you think your partner is angry because you leave the toilet seat up, but she is really angry because you are not talking about your feelings, then you won’t be able to solve the problem. If you take pains to put the seat down, then she will find some other minor thing to be angry about. This is why it is important for people to be clear about what it is that really bothers them rather than using other things as anger surrogates.

A Successful Relationship

Posted in Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on March 3, 2009

Being divorced, I know a thing or two about unsuccessful relationships. Of course, my preference is to have a successful relationship. I infer this is true of most people (but not everyone, of course).

While almost everyone wants success and most people have vague ideas about what counts as success, I suspect that most people have not considered the matter in depth.

Naturally, we do have the illusions given to us in fiction as well as the social expectations handed to us by parents, friends, and others. However, these should not be accepted without some scrutiny. After all, why think that their definitions must apply to you?

Hollywood is, of course, not very helpful.  To be fair, the job of the movie folks is not to define successful relationships for the rest of us. Rather, their job is to entertain us in return for our money.  Oversimplifying things greatly, Hollywood tends to portray relations as worse than in real life or far better (“and they lived happily ever after”).

While approaching a relationship like an academic problem might not be the best idea, having an understanding of relationship success seems rather important.  After all, without a notion of success, achieving it would seem to be a matter of luck. To use the obvious analogy, it is like archery-success is more likely if you have a mark to aim for.

While it would be nice if there was one standard of success for relationships, the obvious truth is that success varies from person to person. There is also the added complication that a person could be mistaken in his view of a successful relationship. While these two claims might seem to be contradictory, they are not. After all, think about exercise. What counts as good exercise can vary from person to person. But, a person can also me mistaken-perhaps exercising in a way that hurts her.

Not surprisingly, people typically fall back on the easy and obvious vague answers about success such as “being happy” or “being with the right person.” Obviously, if you are happy and with the right person, then your relationship would seem to be a success. But, what is happiness and who is the right person?

Falling into the easy and obvious answers can be a problem in many ways. One is that a person who falls into them will be less inclined to reflect on the matter, thus making success less likely. Another problem is that the standard of success can often be set too high by the easy, obvious and popular answers. For example, someone might think that success means being happy all the time or that Mr.  or Ms. right has to be amazingly right. However, such unrealistic expectations are almost certain to lead to disappointment and failure.

That said, a person should not make the opposite mistake and set her standard of success too low. For example, a person who thinks that merely having a warm body beside them is success will probably find that disappointing as well.

So, all a person has to do is to find what counts as success for them (making sure that it is not too much nor too little) and then make it happen. Easy enough, right?

More Thoughts onThe Five Love Languages

Posted in Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on February 25, 2009

I recently finished reading The Five Love Languages and decided to share my thoughts on the work.

The intent of the author, Chapman, is to provide couples with they advice they need to make their relationships work. To over simplify things, his main thesis is that each person has a love tank (as opposed to a hate tank). When this love tank is filled by your spouse, you are happy and content. When it runs empty, you are unhappy and most likely considering divorce. The way to keep this tank topped off is to figure out your spouse’s love language and act accordingly.

According to Chapman, there are five love languages. Technically, these are not languages. However, if you consider any means of expression to be a language, then they would be languages. The five are quality time, affirmations, touch, service, and gifts.  According to Chapman, each person has a main love language (though some rare people might have two). Put another way, for each person there is a main way of acting that will most clearly express love.

For example, if Sally’s love language is service, then they way her husband can best fill her love tank is by servicing her. He could, as specific services, wash her car, do the laundry for her, and fix her computer for her. For Sally, these acts say “I love you.”  If Bill, Sally’s husband, has as his primary love language gifts, then the clearest way that Sally can say “I love you” is to give him gifts. These need not be store bought or fancy gifts; but they need to be expressions of her love.

The basic thesis is plausible: the best way to express your love is to find what sends that message clearest to the person you love and take the relevant actions needed to send that message. To use an analogy to teaching, the way to succeed is to present the information in the way that the students are most likely to pay attention and learn.

It also seems obvious that people like, in varying degrees,  being affirmed, receiving service, receiving gifts, being touched, and spending quality time. Of course, these might be seen as rather vague (a common criticism of self help and relationship books) and hence sorting out the specific needs of your partner might require more than just reading through this book.

Chapman freely admits that his work is not an academic work and it does not approach the standards that such a work would have to meet. This is not a criticism of his book. After all, his goal is not to present an academic study or text but to sell a book to help people. Being a philosopher, I still could not help but read his work with a critical eye.

One method he employs is the anecdote. When he discusses each love language, he includes a story about a couple mired in a dire domestic disaster (or, in his terms, empty love tanks). Naturally, each seemingly doomed marriage is saved by the method he suggests. Obviously, one anecdote does not prove that his method works (in fact, basing a general conclusion on one example would be the fallacy of hasty generalization). However, his goal is not to prove his method works (presumably) but to illustrate his approach and draw the reader into the book (because people love “gossip” about failing relations).

Interestingly, his book contains no tale of failure. Why this is so should be obvious: the work is intended to be positive (even feel good) in tone and it is, to be a bit unfair, a “happy fluffy book”. Failures would not be positive nor would they be “happy fluffy” stuff. Also, the target audience is most likely people with problems  and hence tales of success would be more appealing and effective than tales of failure. After all, when you are trying to help someone, you do not want to tell them how others failed in their circumstances. You want to boost their morale by telling them tales of success.

I did think, however, that the work would be more realistic and more poignant if it had included a tale of failure. Also, such an example might be very instructive as well. But, to be a bit cynical, the realism of failure seems to have no place in such works. Of course, people can supply their own tales of failure.

While the book is not explicitly a Christian book, it does contain (especially in the later chapters) religious elements. Given that most Americans are vaguely Christian, this is a smart approach to take. If you are a Christian, then you will probably find these aspects appealing. If not, the Christian aspects are not critical to the five love languages approach as such.

What makes the book important to me is not the content. Rather, the specific book I have is important to me because the person who gave it to me put post-it notes throughout the pages. Each note holds a personal comment or question from her and those notes, more than anything else, make the book truly special.

Whatever a person’s “love language”, I think that communication is critical-it is most often in the shadows of ignorance that love dies and resentment grows.

Second Marriage

Posted in Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on February 18, 2009

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I’ve been reading Chapman’s The Five Love Languages. As a professional philosopher, I’m generally very skeptical of all self-help and love advice books. After all, they tend to be vague generalities, wishful thinking and obvious truisms wrapped in a gimmick or two. However, such books can help in that they can serve to get a person thinking about the relevant subject.

Reading the book got me thinking, as I posted yesterday, about my chances of success in a second marriage. Of course, what counts as success is a difficult thing to define. The easiest and most obvious view of success would be that it would not terminate in divorce. Of course, that is like saying that a successful vacation is one that doesn’t end in your horrible death (like being trampled into paste by dirty goats): more is obviously wanted. For now, I’ll lay aside the analysis of success and just consider how to avoid failing. In this case, failing would be having such a defective marriage that divorce is preferable.

The two main reasons that marriages fail are the husband and the wife. As such avoiding failure in a second marriage involves determining three things. First, you need to figure out what it is about you that contributed to the failure. Second, you need to figure out what it is about the other person that contributed to the failure. Third, you need to sort out what it was about your interactions that contributed to the failure. This is so obvious, I should write a self help book based on it. I just need the gimmick.

Obviously, there are many factors that can lead to failure. Personality traits, relative sanity (or insanity), interests, political views, religious views, hobbies, addictions, needs, wants, desires and so on.

Some of these factors might be harmless or even good by themselves, but when combined with factors that the other person possesses, they can lead to failure. For example, one person might be highly motivated in terms of career while the other person is very relaxed about it. This can lead to conflict if the motivated person expects the other person to keep up in his/her earning potential and career success.

It can be very hard to identify these factors. People tend to overlook their own flaws while easily seeing and magnifying the flaws of their former partner. As such, an unusual degree of honesty and objectivity is required in sorting these things out. To simplify things quite a bit, here is what to ask:

What aspects of failure did I contribute to and what did I contribute?

Can I change these things about myself?

What aspects of failure did the other person contribute to and what did s/he contribute?

What should I look for in a potential second spouse?

How did our actions and traits interact in ways that contributed to the failure?

What can I do to avoid this the next time?

These are tough questions to answer honestly.  What can be even tougher is to act on the answers. What is a bit scary is that even if you do both, you can still fail in new and awful ways. But, you can also succeed in new and wonderful ways.

40/60/75

Posted in Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on February 17, 2009

I received a copy of The Five Love Languages for Valentine’s Day and have been reading it. One interesting fact that the book presented (without any source being cited, my academic side noted) is that the divorce rate for first time marriages is 40%, that of second marriages 60%, and that for third marriages a scary 75%.

Since my first marriage ended in divorce, this got me wondering a bit about my chances of success at a second marriage. Since I teach critical thinking, I know that I cannot infer that my chance of success in a second marriage is a mere 40%. After all, even if the number given in the book is correct, that is a general statistic and it is perilous to reason from statistics to what is or will be the case with a specific individual. After all, there are factors that make a marriage more or less likely to succeed and my chances will depend on such factors.

Of course, one general “factor” that is present in a second marriage is that the first marriage did not succeed (laying aside cases involve a person being a widow/widower) for at least one person. As such, the person in question might very well have qualities and traits that lead to the failure of the first marriage. As such, they are likely to fail once again. In the case of the third marriage, the set includes people who have (probably) failed twice before. Hence, they are even more prone to failure.

So, one reasonable explanation for the increased failure rate in marriages is not that there is failure built in to second or third marriages. Rather, the people who are involved in them will  include people who have already showed a tendency to fail in marriage. And, the set of people in each successive marriage (2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc.) will contain more and more repeat failures.

In my own case, I think I can avoid or prevent what caused my first marriage to fail. Obviously, most people think that-otherwise there wouldn’t be any second or third marriages. 🙂

McDonald’s is For Breakups

Posted in Humor, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on February 5, 2009

Today in my aesthetics class, we were discussing Hume’s paradox of taste. During the discussion, I mentioned how Hume claimed that various factors could affect a person’s aesthetic sensitivity. For example, a person who is biased or prejudiced will not judge a work fairly. I also gave an analogy: how factors like illness can affect the taste of food and this is what Hume had in mind.  As happens often, I couldn’t resist a random anecdote and mentioned how a friend once told me that if you plan to break up with someone, never do it at a good restaurant. This is because you won’t be tasting your meal and neither will s/he. Naturally, I said “so, McDonald’s is for breakups.” I’m not sure why, but that phrase struck me as funny-perhaps a good title for an advice book. Consider it copyrighted.

One can just imagine how things would go:

Dude: “Hey, baby. Let’s go out to eat. We need to talk about something.”
Lady: “Oooh…let’s go to Chez Expensive!”
Dude: “No, baby. No. I’ve got a surprise for you.”
Lady: “Oooh! Is it Le Super Chez Expensive Maximus?”
Dude: “Not quite, baby.”
Lady: “Hey, this is McDonald’s! You’re breaking up with me, aren’t you?”
McDonald’s Minion: “Welcome to McDonald’s. May I take you order?”
Dude: “Yeah, gimme two number 34s.”
McDonald’s Minion: “The breakup combo meal?”
Dude: “Yup. Hold the pickles.”
Lady: “You bastard!”
Dude: “Shut up and eat your breakup burger, baby.”
Lady: “Die! Die! Die!”
Dude: “Bitch, you made me spill my fries!”

Ramblings on Trust: Cheaters

Posted in Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on November 24, 2008

A little while ago I wrote a blog rambling about trust and promised to write in more detail about trust later on. I had hoped to be able to write something new today, but late papers from students have put and end to that hope. Fortunately, I have a piece I wrote a while ago that is about trust and breaking trust.

One area in which trust is critical is in a romantic relationship. Not surprisingly, such trust is often violated by cheating.

Put in very general terms, cheating involves straying outside a committed relationship in order to have sexual relations with another person or persons. Some people also consider emotional infidelity to be a form of cheating and that could also be considered cheating-although defining it could be somewhat problematic.

People cheat for a variety of reasons, but there are two main motivations that are almost certainly present in every case. First, the cheater believes that s/he is not getting something she needs or wants from the existing relationship. For example, a person might not be receiving the amount or type of sex s/he wants. As another example, a person might not be receiving the emotional intimacy s/he needs. These unsatisfied needs are what motivate the person to stray outside the confines of the relationship. Second, the cheater believes that s/he is getting something of value out of the existing relationship or is avoiding something undesirable by remaining in the relationship. Obviously, if the cheater got nothing from being in the relationship, then s/he would most likely end the relationship rather than cheat. What the cheater gets from the relationship can vary greatly. One person might remain in a relationship out of love, but stray because her sexual desires are not being gratified. Another person might remain in a relationship for financial security, yet wander because his partner is emotionally distant. A third person might remain in a relationship out of fear of being harmed, yet cheat in order to attempt to have a relationship that is not based on threats and coercion.

While people cheat for a variety of reasons, it is generally desirable to avoid having someone cheat on you. Laying aside the moral harms, cheating is harmful in two very practical ways. First, there is the matter of physical health. There are many sexually transmitted diseases in the world and some of them, such as AIDS, are life threatening. If someone is cheating on you, the odds of you being exposed to one of these diseases increases significantly. Second, there is the matter of emotional health. Being committed and loyal to a person who does not reciprocate this loyalty can be quite devastating when this infidelity is revealed. The extent of this emotional harm increases the more you are committed to the person and commitment tends to increase with time. Given that both the chance of being harmed and the extent of the harm depends on the amount of time on is a victim of a cheater, it is reasonable to think that the sooner a cheater is exposed, the better.

To spot a cheater, you need to know what types of cheaters you might be dealing with. There are three types of cheaters: the traitor cheater, the stealth cheater, and the open cheater. Each of these types will be discussed in turn.

The traitor cheater is the classic cheater. The cheater is cheating with a person who is aware of the relationship that the cheater is violating. This is analogous to historical traitors who secretly betray their alleged loyalties to another party who is fully aware of their traitorous deeds. A traitor cheater can be hard to catch because s/he has a willing accomplice who will probably aid the cheater in concealing the cheating.

A stealth cheater is a person who cheats on one person with another person who is ignorant of the cheater’s other relationship. The cheater is thus cheating on both people because only s/he knows about the cheating and the others believe they are in a committed relationship.

Because the stealth cheater does not have a knowing and willing accomplice, they can sometimes be easier to catch. In fact, one of the people involved with the cheater might accidentally expose the cheat. For example, a person who is unaware that s/he is involved with a cheater might stop by the cheater’s place unexpectedly when the other person is there.

An open cheater is someone who, as the term states, is open in his or her cheating. While s/he remains in a relationship, no attempt is made to conceal the cheating. The notion of an open cheater might seem rather odd. After all, cheating seems to almost require secrecy by definition. However, such cheating does occur and occurs enough that there are slang terms for those who engage in it. People who are open cheaters have been called “swingers” and “players.”

The good thing about an open cheater is that there is no need to expose the person-they are open about the cheating. The bad thing about an open cheater is that s/he is still a cheater.

A single person might conceivably be a cheater of multiple types. For example, a person might be cheating with one person who is aware of his infidelity while he is also involved with a third person who is unaware of the first two. However, most cheaters tend to fall into just one type.

Not surprisingly, there have been numerous attempts to determine the percentage of people who cheat. The main reason to know this is to gauge the likelihood that you will be a victim of cheating. Based on a sampling of various surveys, about 20% of women and 40% of men claim they have cheated. However, these percentages are untrustworthy for three reasons.

First, if there is one subject that people lie about, that subject is sex. Second, cheaters are most likely also liars-hence they certainly cannot be regarded as an honest source of information about cheating. Third, social expectations probably influence the answers people give. For men, there is a certain machismo associated with cheating-so some men might claim they have cheated even if they did not do so. Although there have been great strides in equal rights, women are still socialized to regard cheating as extremely bad, so women are probably less likely to admit to such indiscretions. Given these facts, it seems unlikely that the actual percentage of cheats will ever be known. However, based on anecdotal evidence it seems likely that cheating occurs at fairly significant levels and is hence something to be concerned about.

While you should be concerned about the possibility of cheating it is very important to know that even if it is true that 40% of all men cheat and 20% of all women cheat, it does not follow that your partner has a 40% or 20% chance of cheating on you. Individuals are more or less likely to cheat based on their personal characteristics. So, for example, if your boyfriend is loyal and devoted, he does not have a 40% chance of straying.

Whatever the percentages, people do cheat and it is a good idea to be able to spot the signs of cheating in order to minimize your health and emotional risks. Fortunately, there are signs that a person is cheating. The signs presented below are not exhaustive-there are other signs of cheating.

Before presenting these signs, I am obligated to give the following warning: It is very important to keep in mind that these signs are not conclusive and that a person could exhibit some or even all of these signs and not be cheating. Accusing an innocent person of cheating is an almost surefire way to put an end to a relationship so it is wise to approach this sort of situation with due caution. Along with the signs I provide possible alternative explanations and some suggestions on how to deal with such situations. In any case, the responsibility lies with you-I assume no moral or legal responsibility for any actions you might take or not take based on my advice.

Unusual Communication

The sign: Your partner receives an unusual number of phone calls, text messages, emails, etc., seems unusually interested in them and is rather vague about them. For example, s/he will break off what s/he is doing with you to respond to a text message and when asked about it will say something vague about “a friend.”

People who cheat need to plan their cheating and people involved in cheating seem to often need a great deal of contact with the cheater. One likely reason is that they know the cheater is a cheater-hence are probably checking up on him/her. Someone who is a traitor cheater will be harder to catch by this sign-they will tend to tell the other person when to contact them. Stealth cheaters are most vulnerable to exposure by this method-the person s/he is cheating with is ignorant that s/he is involved with a cheater and hence has no reason to be discreet in communication.

Alternative Explanation: Many people have perfectly legitimate reasons to receive a great deal of communication-they might have many friends (or needy friends), it could be work related, and so on. People also have good reason to be interested in such communication-they might like their friends or be dedicated to their job. People often have good reasons to be vague about their communication-they might not think it is important or necessary to keep you informed about all their interaction with others. Also, many people seem to regard the phone or text message device as taking priority to a person who is actually present. I have even had students break off a discussion about a failing grade to respond instantly to the beep of their mobile phone. So, it is best not to always read too much into such behavior.

Resolution: Avoid the urge to snoop or press too hard into your partner’s communication. People tend to like some degree of privacy and resent such intrusions. Also, such behavior shows a lack of trust and a might convey the impression that you are trying to unfairly control his/her communication. Such behavior might very well create a problem where there is not one. If the communication situation bothers you enough, a reasonable approach is to express your concerns to your partner and see if they would be willing to explain the situation or change their behavior. If the person becomes hostile about the discussion or seems secretive or evasive, then something might well be up.

Restrictions on Communication/Meeting

Sign: Your partner places seeming unusually restrictions on when and how you can contact them and when and where you can see them. Since most cheaters do not want to be caught they will obviously attempt to control your contact with them. That way they are not exposed-either by you catching them cheating or by you exposing them to someone else they are also cheating on.

Alternative Explanation: People can have good reasons for telling you when you can contact and see them. In some cases the person might seem to be placing restrictions, but is merely telling you when they will be available. In other cases people like having their space and prefer to set aside time for themselves away from you. In other cases, people like to keep their romantic relationships out of their workplace and hence will ask you not to call or visit them at work. All these can be good reasons and not signs of cheating.

Resolution: Do not assume the person is cheating and decide to immediately attempt to “catch” them by intruding into those restricted times and places. This will display a lack of trust and a lack of respect for the person that might be very harmful to the relationship. If you find their restrictions problematic or are otherwise concerned with such limits, then discuss these restrictions with the person. If the restrictions are reasonable, then the person should be able to justify them. If the person is evasive or becomes hostile, then there might well be something going on.

Secrecy

Sign: Your partner is secretive about certain things. They go places, but do not say where they went, what they did or who they were with. They have missing time in their schedule that they do not account for. They are overly concerned about you seeing their email, text messages or phone logs and take steps to prevent you from doing so or overact if you show interest in such things.

Alternative Explanation: Your partner might be a CIA agent. Seriously, there can be good reasons for such behavior. First, your partner might not even realize that they seem secretive-they might simply not feel the need to report everything they do to you. Second, people need privacy even in a relationship. Psychological space is critical to a person’s well being and even the most open person will act to preserve that space. Third, people tend to regard their phone logs, email and text messages as private-and rightfully so. Sharing such things is a matter of choice and there is no legitimate expectation to full access to your partner’s communication. Of course, there can also be problems other than cheating that are the cause of such secrecy-such things as alcoholism, gambling or drug addiction.

Resolution: Avoid the temptation to spy on your partner. Doing so shows a lack of trust and respect that can spell ruin for a relationship. Also, doing so might involve crossing the line into illegal activity-such as hacking their email accounts. A reasonable approach is to ask them about their apparent need for secrecy in such matters and attempt to see if they are willing to either be more open or reassure you about such matters. If they seem suspiciously reluctant, then they might be cheating. Then again, they might also be protective of their privacy.

Inconsistency

Sign: Your catch your partner in inconsistencies. They initially tell you that they do not need to travel for work, yet suddenly start taking weekend business trips. They tell you that they always get off work at 5:00, but then cancel a dinner date because they have to work late. They tell you they went to lunch with a friend, but the friend has no recollection of that event.

Alternative Explanation: Apparent inconsistencies can often be legitimately explained. For example, a person’s work schedule or requirements might really change so that they do need to take business trips or work late. As another example, people do forget things, so the friend might have forgotten about having lunch. As with secrecy, there is the possibility that some other problem is occurring. For example, a person with a drinking problem might say he was helping a friend paint when he was actually at bar.

Resolution: Do not simply assume that they are up to something and try to ferret out the information by interrogating them or their associates and friends. This will show a lack of trust and respect that can be rather detrimental to the relationship. If the inconsistencies seem problematic, discuss your concerns with your partner. If they can explain the seeming inconsistencies, then things can be resolved. If they remain unexplained or the person seems evasive or worried, then there might be a problem.

Distance/Coldness

The Sign: Your partner has become cold and distant. People commonly cheat to satisfy their sexual and emotional needs. Given that people do not have unlimited needs, it is common for cheaters to have less desire to have sexual and emotional relations with their partner. A reduction (or elimination) of the interest in intimacy can thus be a sign of cheating.

People who cheat also often want to feel justified in their misdeeds. One way this is done is by attempting to provoke the other person into behavior that the cheater can use to “justify” his/her cheating. This can be done by being emotionally distant and cold. The other person will tend to respond in kind-thus creating a situation in which the cheater thinks his/her cheating is justified.

Alternative Explanation: Coldness and distance are not always signs of cheating, but they are almost always a sign of some sort of relationship problem. A person might be cold or distant because of stress, illness, depression or other factors that will (hopefully) come to an end. A person might also be cold or distant due to more lasting reasons, such as an enduring depression, dissatisfaction with the relationship, or deep seated character or emotional problems. A person might also be cold or distant because they are reconsidering the relationship or even using this method to end the relationship. Some people are reluctant to directly end a relationship and instead attempt to make the situation intolerable to the other person so they will initiate the break up.

Resolution: If you value the relationship do not respond by retaliating against the person. Being cold and distant in return will only worsen matters and lead to further emotional harm for both of you. If s/he is cheating, s/he will feel even more justified in the cheating. If the cause is stress or other problems, retaliation just makes matters worse. Especially avoid any foolish gestures, such as moving to sleep in another room or making cutting remarks about the person’s behavior.

If your partner is cold and distant, the simplest and often the most effective means of dealing with it is by having a discussion about why they are being cold and distant. Try to determine if the cause is something that you can help them with and take the appropriate action. For example, if they are distant because of stress, help them relax and see if you can help reduce what is causing the stress. If they want out of the relationship, it is usually best to let them go. If they are cheating, it is almost certainly best to send them packing.