Couples therapist Esther Perel , author of “Mating in Captivity” and “The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity” and the host of the Audible original series “Where Should We Begin?,” explains how people might cheat on their partner even when they are happy with the relationship. Following is a transcript of the video.
Esther Perel: Today we are very comfortable with the idea that we have no-fault divorce. We still have not found a way of thinking about affairs as no-fault affairs.
I am Esther Perel. I am a couples therapist, and I’m the author of “Mating in Captivity” and “The State of Affairs,” as well the host and co-producer of the podcast “Where Should We Begin?”
“There must be something wrong” is what is at the core of how we try to understand why would people risk losing everything and cheat on their partner to whom they have made a vow.
Our typical idea is that if I have found the one, and if with that one I have everything that I need, obviously, if I am going to look elsewhere, it must mean that there is something missing. And either there is something missing in our relationship or there is something missing in the person who is straying. But it is a deficiency model. It is seeing infidelity as a symptom of a relationship gone awry. This is true in many cases. There are many motives for why people stray that have to do with the discontents of a relationship — loneliness, neglect, rejection, complacency, sexlessness. But then there is also the motivation that often has nothing to do with the partner. And that has to do with a form of self-seeking — that many times, people who stray are also hoping to reconnect with lost parts of themselves, with the lives unlived, with the sense that life is short and that there are certain experiences, but not in the vain sense of the word, that they are longing for, and that they are not just looking for another person but, in a way, they are looking for another self.
Instead of thinking that the person who cheats is unhappy with their partner or with their relationship, it is sometimes important to think that they may be unhappy with themselves, or at least uncomfortable, restless, longing for something else. Longing to reconnect with lost parts of themselves. Longing to transcend a sense of deadness that they are feeling inside. Longing to experience a sense of autonomy over their life — that they are finally doing something that they want. And, paradoxically, while they are lying to their partner, sometimes they find themselves in this strange situation where maybe for the first time they are not lying to themselves.