After dinner with her boyfriend, of exactly six-months, Kristen* reluctantly left Lawrence to join her family for a weekend vacation.
Kristen, a junior at the University of Kansas, drove home from Lawrence that Thursday night with her boyfriend’s assurance that he would behave while she was gone.
That Sunday lasted forever Kristen said. After a long weekend, she was excited to return to her friends and boyfriend in Lawrence Monday morning.
However, the excitement quickly faded. What had been a great weekend suddenly came to an end after a series of phone calls and texts.
“He called me Sunday. He told me he danced with another girl Thursday night,” Kristen said. “I wasn’t mad. It was only dancing and he assured me it was nothing more than that.”
Immediately after ending the call with her boyfriend, Kristen’s best friend called to deliver conflicting news.
“It was more than dancing. He kissed another girl,” Kristen said. “He cheated on me.”
Kristen was shocked, confused with disbelief and above all heartbroken. Kissing another girl constituted cheating to Kristen, but not everyone defines cheating the same way.
Cheating is defined differently in every relationship and each partner needs to make a decision as to what they feel represents infidelity. While cheating is primarily known for its negative consequences, some experts don’t see cheating as a bad thing.
“Being cheated on is one of the most hurtful things that can happen in a relationship,” Alesia Woszidlo, professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas, said.
With different kinds of infidelity, come different kinds of hurt. Women often associate emotional attachment with infidelity, while men are more likely to identify cheating as a sexual (physical) relationship with another person.
“There is no way to make being cheated on hurt less.” Woszildo said.
Part of coping with the hurt that comes from being cheated is on based on how one finds out about being cheated on.
“Its much better to hear it from the cheater,” Gary Lewandowski, associate professor of psychology at Monmouth University and co-founder of scienceofrelationships.com, said. “If you are open and honest about it, they are much more likely to be understanding.”
It’s not necessarily a good idea to forgive, when people forgive, its still not forgotten says Lewandowski. Often times the relationship continues to a downhill trend and never fully recovers.
According Lewandowski, only 15 percent relationships continue to grow after cheating. While this is a small percent, there are rare instances when infidelity can positively affect the relationship.
“In some situations, the cheater can learn from their mistake and become a better partner,” Tim Loving, associate professor of human development and family sciences at The University of Texas and co-founder of scienceofrelationships.com, said.
While Loving doesn’t support infidelity, he says there are couples that come to appreciate their relationship more after an act of infidelity.
As long as the cheater’s sexual needs are being met, while also keeping their primary partner happy and emotionally stable, Eric Anderson, sociologist professor at the University of Winchester, England and author of The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love and the Reality of Cheating, doesn’t see the bad in it.
“I’m not convinced cheating is, in itself, is a bad thing,” Anderson said.
But it still leaves the burning question, why? According to Anderson, it’s simple why a majority of men cheat. It’s the rational choice.
Anderson’s rational choice theory best explains why men cheat, rather than explore alternatives such as open sexual relationships.
“For men who cheat, particularly the second or third time, they are making a rational decision to get their needs met this way,” Anderson said, “opposed to telling their partners they want a open sexual relationship or breaking up with their partner.”
This makes cheating the rational response to the irrational expectation of monogamy in a culture that has a sex positive view. The combination of having sex at a younger age and having sex with more partners has made monogamy more difficult for this generation says Anderson.
Relationships are constantly being developed around the idea that cheating is remarkably common, making people feel as if it’s acceptable.
“We are bombarded by media with a message telling us it happens a lot,” Loving said. “The reality is it doesn’t happen in most relationships.”
There is no one way to keep a relationship infidelity free, relationships are complicated and lots of different factors influence how one acts. Each situation is complex in its own way.
Just as quickly Kristen ended things with her boyfriend, she found herself back together with him.
Forgiven? Yes. Forgotten? No.
Their relationship was damaged beyond repair, arguments became a daily occurrence and trust was nowhere to be found.
Exactly six-months after Kristen’s boyfriend cheated on her the first time, he cheated again.
“A relationship is a leap of faith,” Loving said. “You can take the leap and see where it takes you or you can be afraid and never experience it.”
Kristen is now taking a leap of faith with a new man.
*Name and identifying details have been changed
LAKEN RAPIER, host: Explanations and excuses for infidelity are endless, but are cheaters making a conscious decision to cheat? Retired University of Kansas social welfare professor and clinical therapist, Dennis Dailey, says yes.
DENNIS DAILEY: Do people who cheat know what their doing? Damn right they do.
RAPIER: But according to Dailey, that doesn’t necessarily mean they know why they are cheating.
DAILEY: What is frequently the case, however, is that when I’m working with them, they often are clueless as to why they’re doing it. They know they’re doing it. They know they’re betraying their partner. They know they’re sneaking around. They know they’re breaking some kind of understood contract. But, they often aren’t all together clear about just exactly why it’s going on.
RAPIER: There is no doubt cheaters know what they are doing. But, is it really worth it?
DAILEY: If you just think about an hour of hot sex, no strings attached, that might be worth it. But if you think about what’s this going to cost me in my relationship? Or different question, what’s this going to cost me in the way I feel about myself? Is the behavior I’m about to be involved with congruent with the way I think about myself, the kind of person I want to be? If you experience any kind of incongruent stuff, you best turn away from it. You best find some other way to deal with your issues.
RAPIER: It’s up to the individual whether or not cheating is worth it. But one thing is for sure; the thought process of a cheater isn’t easily understood.
RAPIER: For Sex and the College Student, I’m Laken Avonne Rapier.