Why people cheat: Part 1

Relationship expert Esther Perel on the top reasons people cheat


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Why do people cheat? Even those in healthy relationships? And what can affairs help us understand about intimacy?

We tend to think that the act of infidelity is the ultimate betrayal. We judge those who commit transgressions. We shroud them in shame. We dismiss them, label them, categorize them as “cheaters.” And largely we do so without a complete understanding of infidelity.

In this episode of the podcast, Tony speaks with world-renowned couples therapist and relationship expert Esther Perel to discuss what makes relationships work, what makes them fall apart – and what we aren’t understanding about infidelity. 

Who is Esther Perel?

Relationship expert Esther Perel is recognized as one of today’s most insightful and provocative voices on the subject. A celebrated couples therapist who has helmed a private practice in New York City since 1983, she has over three decades of experience navigating the intricacies of love and desire. Her international bestseller Mating in Captivity has been translated into 26 languages. And her latest book, The State of Affairs, reveals why even happy people cheat and why we shame those who stay with partners who have been unfaithful.

Esther is a dynamic and provocative speaker on the international stage, with two critically praised TED talks that have reached over 17 million viewers. She has consulted on the Golden Globe-winning Showtime series The Affair and is also Executive Producer and host of the Audible Original Series “Where Should We Begin?”, in which she broadcasts intimate one-off counseling sessions with real-life couples. 

Esther has also been featured in publications across five continents, including the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, The Guardian, The New Yorker, and Vogue. She is also a frequent guest on radio and television shows, including NPR’s Brian Lehrer Show, Oprah, The Today Show, Dr. Oz and The Colbert Report.

Why do people cheat in relationships?

Over the past 10 years, Esther has traveled the world, working closely with hundreds of couples who are struggling to cope with infidelity. She has seen the devastation such betrayal can cause. She draws upon these experiences, her research and her expertise in her books, speaking engagements and her private practice, striving to answer the question: Why do people cheat on their partners?

Esther has found that the answer is both complicated and straightforward. The modern relationship asks a lot of each partner: economic support, companionship, passion, intellectual stimulation, inspiration, caregiving and more. As Esther says, “We have never asked one person to fulfill so many needs.” It’s time to stop punishing your partner and start appreciating them.

Asking one person to be everything can also eliminate one of the essential ingredients of passion and desire: mystery. We get caught up in our responsibilities – and responsibility kills desire. We know our partners need us – but the need to take care of someone kills desire. What we need to know is that they want us. 

“Curiosity is the essential ingredient of desire,” Esther says. And the lack of it is one of the top reasons people cheat.

Rekindling the spark

Embracing your natural polarity, whether masculine or feminine, is one key to keeping the spark alive. Polarity is your natural energy, and opposites attract. When masculine energies are forced to adopt feminine masks, or feminine energies must adopt masculine masks, depolarization occurs in the relationship. This leads to one of the top reasons people cheat: to feel alive.

It may also be time to incorporate another of Esther’s suggestions: reconnecting with yourself. To truly be yourself in a relationship and be loved for all you are, you have to know and love the deepest parts of you. It’s important to take time to enjoy the activities you love, develop your interests and talents and feel complete. It’s only when you can accept all parts of yourself that your partner can as well.

Giving vs. getting

Esther Perel stresses that love is a verb and that to have an affair-proof marriage, you must create a robust relationship that incorporates all parts of yourself. You need to learn how to play, how to give and receive, share and refuse, and how to ask for what you want.

Esther stresses the importance of giving love and affection in your relationship versus trying to get love from your significant other. Being gentle with your partner, offering support during stressful times and listening without judging are all ways for you to offer your love without focusing on what you’ll get in return. 

Esther states that we tend to give to others what we want to receive ourselves, but this sometimes sets up dangerous expectations. Because relationship expectations are subjective, biased and differ from person to person, thinking your partner is always going to respond how you would respond – or how you’d like them to respond – is a recipe for conflict.

When you understand how to fulfill your partners’ basic human needs – as well as your own – you can avoid asking yourself “Why do people cheat?” in the first place. Listen as Esther and Tony invite the audience into an honest, enlightened exploration of modern marriage. What you learn may surprise you, as they challenge assumptions, uproot conventional wisdom and offer a nuanced look at affairs from multiple viewpoints.

Even if you have never experienced infidelity in a relationship, odds are you know someone who has. This episode will not only allow you to approach the subject of betrayal with much more empathy and understanding, it will give you a deeper look at our basic human needs and why we do the things we do when it comes to intimate relationships. What else does Esther have to say about love? Listen to part two, where she dives further into how to achieve true passion.

Esther Perel Podcast Show Notes

Part 1

[01:25] Tony introduces the episode
[03:05] Welcome Esther Perel
[03:55] What is different about relationships today?
[04:55] The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives
[05:35] The “couple” has undergone an extreme makeover
[06:15] What we’re asking of our partners
[07:45] We know very little about what goes on in a couple
[08:15] There is no school for relationships
[08:45] How social media impacts relationships
[09:15] The immense amount of choice we now have
[09:30] Choice also breeds uncertainty and self-doubt
[10:25] People are discussing the most important issues in their lives through text
[11:00] The biggest mistake couples make in this new environment
[11:25] The idea of the “soul mate”
[12:15] Love is a verb
[12:35] Esther’s biggest issues with couples today
[12:55] Do you know a couple that inspires you?
[14:30] What helps us shift from being a taker to a giver?
[14:45] People are too focused on what they will get from someone else
[15:45] Things change the moment you take responsibility for yourself
[16:45] There is power in responsibility
[17:05] The pressure to be “perfect”
[17:45] The different relationship types that come from conditioning
[18:45] How our families and upbringing impact our romantic lives
[19:35] Were you raised for autonomy or loyalty?
[20:45] Where did you learn to love and how?
[21:35] What was sexuality like in your family?
[22:45] When you came out of your childhood – what did you need?
[23:45] The “key verbs” for relationships
[24:15] The questions you need to ask for relationship insight
[25:15] How do you feel about sharing?
[25:45] Which verb do you need to practice now?
[26:45] Our attachments play a big role in our relationships
[27:45] People tend to find those with different types of attachments
[28:15] Attachment maps
[28:35] The types of attachments
[29:15] What is a secure attachment?
[29:45] An attachment to anxiety
[29:55] The “withholder”
[30:55] Often our behaviors were developed as survival mechanisms
[31:15] Desire and attachment
[31:55] The duality we experience in life
[32:30] The main responses we give
[32:55] Losing yourself in a relationship
[33:45] Fear of abandonment and the fear of being swallowed up
[34:25] The attachments Tony and Mary B. had growing up
[35:35] Who did this to you? Or who did you see do this?
[36:45] Bringing the leftovers to your partner
[37:35] How caretaking destroys passion
[38:35] To make love to someone, they must receive you
[39:35] Being drawn to your partner when they are in their element
[40:15] Being wanted vs. being needed
[40:55] To have sex is to surrender
[41:25] How men and women get turned on
[42:15] Love wants to contract distance
[42:35] Desire needs mystery
[43:35] Curiosity is the essential ingredient of desire
[44:15] Why women want to be swept away by a stranger
[45:05] How to break out of the caretaking role
[46:35] When was the last time you felt unbounded?
[47:45] The power of playfulness and breaking rules
[48:35] Create a new communication channel for only you and your partner
[49:35] Novelty breeds testosterone
[49:55] If you want passion, you need novelty
[50:05] Nothing brings us more joy that a surprise
[51:05] Learn how to make love with your clothes on
[51:55] Reconnecting with the lost part of yourself

Team Tony

Team Tony cultivates, curates and shares Tony Robbins’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.

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