Infidelity: should we expect our partner to cheat? Insights from Esther Perel

Why do those that love their partner, and are supposedly happy, still cheat? Should we just accept the fact that our partner may truly love us, but still want to have an affair? Or should we demand better, and kick a cheater to the curb?

There are two main schools of thought on infidelity:

(1) We are not meant to be monogamous, and cheating should be expected, as one would naturally cheat on the Atkins diet. (This argument is usually specific to men not being naturally monogamous, which brings to surface the obvious argument: if men are not supposed to be monogamous, neither are women, unless the world is devoid of heterosexuals.)

(2) Monogamy is not only natural, but it is the moral standard, and those who are unfaithful are absolute moral deviants.

In the media, it is commonplace to make light of ‘transgressions’ in relationships, even glamorizing infidelity. Chris Rock famously stated, “a man is only as faithful as his optionsimplying those that are unfaithful are simply more desirable. Who wouldn’t want to be desirable? Shall the bigger cheater win the pageant…?

So, either we quote Chris Rock, or we make a bastardization of biological and evolutionary theories to squirm our way out of the blame.

Few would dispute that cheating destroys the very fabric of a relationship. Once persistent thoughts of infidelity sink in, the relationship begins to lean like the Tower of Pisa. Once unfaithful thoughts have been acted upon, well, life becomes a game of Jenga: the pivotal piece has been removed, and the entire relationship will be on the verge of collapse. And – if you can stomach another metaphor – once news of infidelity spills, it stains the rug, and it will forever be an eyesore in the middle of your living room.

Esther Perel says it best:

“It is the ultimate betrayal. Infidelity shatters the grand ambition of love.”

But what does Esther Perel – a Belgian psychotherapist, sexuality expert, author and speaker – have to say on the matter?

Enter: Esther Perel

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What is “monogamy”? What is “cheating”? 

Esther questions the very assumption of modern monogamy, explaining,

“Before, monogamy used to mean one person for life. Today, monogamy means one person at a time.”

“The definition of infidelity keeps expanding: sexting, watching porn, staying secretly active on dating aps… Is it a hook-up, a love story, paid sex, a chatroom, a massage with happy endings?”

Confounding moral conundrums

“We are walking contradictions; 95% of us will say it is terribly wrong for us to lie about having an affair, but the same say we would lie if we were having one.”

“When it comes to sex, the pressure for men is to boast and exaggerate, but the pressure for women is to hide, minimize and deny.”

“Why do we think men cheat out of boredom and fear of intimacy, but women cheat out of loneliness and hunger for intimacy?”

“There is this idea that if you have everything you need at home, you won’t go looking somewhere else. As if there is such a thing as a perfect marriage that will inoculate us against wanderlust.”

Cheating in happy relationships, and cheating in decaying relationships

“What if there are things even a good relationship can never provide? If even happy people cheat? At the heart of an affair, you will often find an expression and yearning for an emotional connection, for novelty, for freedom, for autonomy, for sexual intensity… a wish to recapture lost parts of ourselves, or to bring back vitality. When we seek the gaze of another, it isn’t always our partner we are turning away from, but the person we have become – not so much as looking for another person, but looking for another self.”
“Some affairs are death nails for relationships that were already dying on the vine.”


The personality that attracts disease: the awe-inspiring work of Dr. Gabor Maté

You will need your salt shaker nearby for this post, because you may need to sprinkle a grain of it into your palm. Nonetheless, the content below is potentially mind-blowing and paradigm-shifting, in both societal and scientific spheres. Thus, my disclaimer is this: I am not actually the master of the universe, although that’s how I commonly introduce myself. So, I cannot say whether what will follow is objectively true or false, or whether it lies somewhere within those pesky shades of grey.

I have grown unequivocally enamoured with Dr. Gabor Maté – or more accurately, with his work as a physician – and a natural byproduct of my infatuation is to spend a great deal of time with him. Uh, again, I mean with his work.

Enter: Dr. Gabor Maté

Former high school teacher, Hungarian-native and Canadian-educated MD, addiction specialist, author, speaker, and proponent of the biopsychosocial model of disease. 

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The Biopsychosocial Model of Disease

Put simply, the bio•psycho•social model is a framework that attributes disease to the collective influences of biology (genetics, biochemistry, toxin exposure), psychology (personality, behaviour, mood), and social factors (economic status, ethnicity, relationships).

This model opposes the current Western medical model – the biomedical model – which looks at humans as the simple sum of their genes. You can probably tell which I prefer.

“Settling for the view that illnesses, mental or physical, are primarily genetic allows us to avoid disturbing questions about the nature of the society in which we live. If “science” enables us to ignore poverty or man-made toxins or a frenetic and stressful social culture as contributors to disease, we can look only to simple answers: pharmacological and biological.” – Dr. Maté

The Four Factors that Predict Chronic Illness 

  1. The automatic concern for the emotional needs of others, while ignoring one’s own
  2. The compulsive and rigid identification with duty, role, and responsibility, rather than with the authentic self
  3. The suppression of the so-called negative emotions, and the repression of them
  4. The belief that one is responsible for how how other people feel; that one must never disappoint anybody

Diving Deeper 

Dr. Maté proposes that those four factors will ultimately lead to chronic disease, and that there is no exception. He explains that diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, ALS, cancer, and autoimmune diseases, are explained by looking at an individual holistically, with emphasis on their life experience.

He especially underlines the role of proper attachment in childhood, and delineates how weak or threatened attachment puts the child at a significant risk for expressing those troublesome factors. Essentially, if the child so much as senses that the parents – particularly the mother –  are too preoccupied or stressed to tend to their emotional needs, they will simply suppress them as an adaptation, securing their attachment relationship and survival. The cost, however, is that this ultimately betrays their authentic selves, and this deeply engrained adaptation becomes a sociopathology later in life. They become fundamentally incapable of processing and expressing their emotions, and will automatically suppress their needs in subsequent relationships.

“The child feels the suffering and pain of the mother” – A.H. Almaas, Dr. Gabor’s mentor 

Delving further, he proposes that the need for authenticity and the need for attachment are equally powerful human drives; however, in early life, attachment takes precedence, as that is when humans are the most dependent on others for their survival. But the tradeoff of this pivotal subconscious choice – the very choice that enables survival early on – is chronic disease.

“…The child, when it comes to attachment versus authenticity, has absolutely no choice in the matter, because without attachment they cannot survive.” – Dr. Maté

How this leads to illness

Following the tenets of the biopsychosocial model and of psychoneuroimmunology, Gabor Mate’s claims are not fantastical in the slightest.

“…How does this lead to illness? For the very simple reason that you cannot separate the mind from the body.” – Dr. Maté

“It’s known now that the centres of the brain that manage or experience emotions -particularly the attachment centres – are physiologically connected with the hormonal apparatus, the nervous system, and the immune system, so that an emotional experience becomes an immunological, neurological and hormonal experience as well. It’s like that all the time, whether you’re aware of the emotion or not. The nervous system provides an electrical grid by which the brain is talking to the organs in the body, and the organs in the body are speaking to the brain. It turns out that the heart itself is a brain; there is nervous system that surrounds the heart, and that nervous system has predictive capacities, especially for negative events.” – Dr. Maté

Dr. Maté elaborates, stating that the current medical model exercises a reductionist approach, treating illness as localized to the organ or system it affects. He notes that there is a growing body of research in psycho•neuro•immunology, that all points to the unity – not mere connectedness – of the emotions, immune system, hormonal apparatus, and nervous system.

“It’s not that there’s a nervous, immune, hormonal, cardiovascular, [and] emotional system. To say that they’re connected is false; you connect two things that are discrete, but these are not discrete system; just differentiated functioning of the same super system.” – Dr. Maté