The Cheater in You

A new couple came into my office.  Within minutes of asking what brought them to therapy, a heated verbal spar quickly ensued.      Tara* spouts, “Who is she David*?!!  I know that there is someone else!  Who the hell is she?  Tell me NOW!”     Steam literally came out of her ears in an agonizing minute of silence.    Calmly nodding his head, almost with relief, he says, “Yes, Tara, you are correct.  There is someone else.  It’s me.  I’m leaving you for myself.  I can’t be who I really am in this relationship. “   And then I woke up.   Ahhh the things that creep into a therapist’s dreams.  You have no idea.   Why is cheating on your partner so condemned and shamed yet we are less likely to throw a fit if we aren't being loyal to ourselves?   As a clinician working with many couples to repair after infidelity, I continue to learn about the complexities and layers that attribute to betrayal.  It has led me on a journey of exploring a deeper phenomenon of betraying yourself.   Cheating in relationships is a disdained yet all-too-frequent occurrence.  Merely reading this title, you probably thought of a time that you were cheated on, that you cheated, or someone close to you had one of the two experiences.   Let’s shift the context of infidelity that doesn’t include another person.  I invite you to consider the idea of cheating in the most important relationship of your life: the relationship with yourself.  We have all have a cheater in us and we have all strayed in some shape or form.  You might be saying, “Not me Jelisha.”   Maybe you cheated on yourself when you committed to get healthier since discovering you are pre-diabetic, yet you continue to eat fast food because it’s more convenient.   Or you cheated on yourself by sexting with the new secretary to fill the void of complacency at a job…..but you haven’t sent your resume in for even one potentially fulfilling job; maybe you haven’t even looked.    Every day, you say, “Tomorrow.  I’ll do it.”  You could cheat by snoozing 6 times, leaving no time for meditation before work, even though it makes a tremendous difference in managing your anxiety.   Get my drift?  A sign might be that upon waking up, you are already counting down the hours until you can get back in bed.  While this may be linked to depression, it’s highly likely that self-betrayal is playing a key role.  Why does it seem more difficult to express gratitude or to experience things that may have been fruitful yet effortless in the past?  Have you left a more preferred you behind somewhere?  Perhaps you are cheating on yourself by continuing to absorb the energy of your borderline-emotionally-abusive boss at a job that feels degrading at times?   Or you are disrespecting your true self by staying with your narcissistic gas lighting girlfriend because you are afraid you can’t do better?   Maybe you are not drawing boundaries with your father-in-law who puts down your parenting style?  Or it could be that you simply won’t say “No”.   Are you guilty of overdoing for others only because you feel that you “should”?  Oh those ugly “shoulds".  I, myself, have been guilty of over-committing and stretching myself thin after a long day at an unfulfilling job, a skipped lunch, and a bridal shower for a coworker that I didn’t even like. 

A new couple came into my office.  Within minutes of asking what brought them to therapy, a heated verbal spar quickly ensued. 

Tara* spouts, “Who is she David*?!!  I know that there is someone else!  Who the hell is she?  Tell me NOW!”

Steam literally came out of her ears in an agonizing minute of silence.

Calmly nodding his head, almost with relief, he says, “Yes, Tara, you are correct.  There is someone else.  It’s me.  I’m leaving you for myself.  I can’t be who I really am in this relationship. “

And then I woke up. 

Ahhh the things that creep into a therapist’s dreams.  You have no idea. 

Why is cheating on your partner so condemned and shamed yet we are less likely to throw a fit if we aren't being loyal to ourselves? 

As a clinician working with many couples to repair after infidelity, I continue to learn about the complexities and layers that attribute to betrayal.  It has led me on a journey of exploring a deeper phenomenon of betraying yourself. 

Cheating in relationships is a disdained yet all-too-frequent occurrence.  Merely reading this title, you probably thought of a time that you were cheated on, that you cheated, or someone close to you had one of the two experiences. 

Let’s shift the context of infidelity that doesn’t include another person.  I invite you to consider the idea of cheating in the most important relationship of your life: the relationship with yourself.

We have all have a cheater in us and we have all strayed in some shape or form.  You might be saying, “Not me Jelisha.” 

Maybe you cheated on yourself when you committed to get healthier since discovering you are pre-diabetic, yet you continue to eat fast food because it’s more convenient. 

Or you cheated on yourself by sexting with the new secretary to fill the void of complacency at a job…..but you haven’t sent your resume in for even one potentially fulfilling job; maybe you haven’t even looked.  

Every day, you say, “Tomorrow.  I’ll do it.”

You could cheat by snoozing 6 times, leaving no time for meditation before work, even though it makes a tremendous difference in managing your anxiety. 

Get my drift?

A sign might be that upon waking up, you are already counting down the hours until you can get back in bed.  While this may be linked to depression, it’s highly likely that self-betrayal is playing a key role.  Why does it seem more difficult to express gratitude or to experience things that may have been fruitful yet effortless in the past?  Have you left a more preferred you behind somewhere?

Perhaps you are cheating on yourself by continuing to absorb the energy of your borderline-emotionally-abusive boss at a job that feels degrading at times? 

Or you are disrespecting your true self by staying with your narcissistic gas lighting girlfriend because you are afraid you can’t do better? 

Maybe you are not drawing boundaries with your father-in-law who puts down your parenting style?  Or it could be that you simply won’t say “No”. 

Are you guilty of overdoing for others only because you feel that you “should”?  Oh those ugly “shoulds".

I, myself, have been guilty of over-committing and stretching myself thin after a long day at an unfulfilling job, a skipped lunch, and a bridal shower for a coworker that I didn’t even like. 

While these were my choices, I blamed everything outside of me on my circumstances and dissatisfaction.

Cheating on your true best self can result in feelings of disconnection, both from yourself and others.  In order to assess what context in your life you may have gone astray, you may have to ask yourself some raw questions to get to the bottom of it. 

Who can you be at work?  Who can you be at home?  Do you have to tap into the parts of yourself that you don’t like to survive a relationship? Do you feel drained after hanging out with a particular friend?  Do you avoid mirrors because you don’t like who you see?  If so, then it’s time to do some infidelity repair.

In the context of cheating on a partner, psychotherapist Esther Perel quoted, “When we seek the gaze of another, it isn’t always our partner that we are turning away from, but the person that we have ourselves become. We are not looking for another lover so much as another version of ourselves.”

The person that we have become and do not like has often transpired due to neglecting ourselves. Note that we must be cautious of why we are seeking to experience ourselves differently.  Is it clear what’s missing and why you don’t feel authentic? 

This can get tricky as society can pressure us to “be” and “do” things that “should” make us fulfilled.

Seeking out another self may be detrimental if you are oblivious to your inner truth.  We must be cautious and aware if we are seeking out a self or a life that society, your parents or your peers have said that you “should” strive for.  Are the stories that you are attempting to live out really yours?  Do they light you up?  Or are they someone else’s?

If your life were a library, is the book you’re reading a page-turner?  Or are you simply skimming the pages?  There is always more than one story.  Don’t limit yourself to the “norms”.  Be who you are meant to be and choose your story. 

Then live it.

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