This is the third part in my blog series on cheating, an issue which affects many couples who walk through the doors of our organisation every day.
Eek! The very short and annoying answer is, ultimately… not really.
The idea that you can do something that will ‘stop’ your partner from cheating on you is not only giving you false hope, but it places all the responsibility on you to ‘prevent’ someone cheating, rather than on the person who is ‘doing’ the cheating.
That being said, cheating is often a symptom of many other aspects within relationships, which I talk about in why people cheat. Cheating, like anything difficult or upsetting within a relationship can be representative of a breakdown of communication, a lack of boundaries or a lack of understanding of the boundaries. It’s important to have healthy habits in your relationship to make sure you’re working on your relationship and with your partner, rather than getting into habits that work against you in the long run.
So, here’s some essential relationship tools to help you work with, rather than against your relationship:
Communicate & Be willing To Listen
Clear, open & honest communication at all stages of a relationship is hugely important. Long term relationships change over time, through different life stages and experiences. Make time for regular check ins where you are both able to express your needs, and work at getting these met within the relationship.
This can help to deal with relationship issues before they grow into something more difficult, as well as ensuring you don’t take the relationship for granted. Finding the right words and communicating dissatisfaction with the relationship will give you and your partner the best chance of addressing this.
Try to also ensure that if your partner brings you something potentially difficult or upsetting, you’re open to this. To prevent the breakdown of communication, you need to be able to listen to your partner and have respectful and transparent conversations. Consider that it will be difficult for them too, bringing you something you may not want to hear. The space for this is essential to a healthy relationship and ultimately… much easier than dealing with the aftermath of cheating or anything else with the potential to significantly damage the relationship!
Check you are both clear about your expectations around cheating and the general boundaries of the relationship. Some teenagers suggest there are clear guidelines to relationship status such as ‘dating’ or just ‘talking’ (the bit before dating) and being ‘exclusive’ or not to their partner; although they would also suggest that these aren’t fool-proof and sometimes mean different things to different people.
If you’re not sure what the expectations and boundaries are, it’s perfectly reasonable to check in with the person you’re with. Also, don’t be shy of doing this even if you’ve been together for a while!
Again, clear communication is the key and re-affirming these boundaries can be really useful.
Prioritise Your Relationship
With busy lives involving the demands of work and home, your relationship can often end up at the bottom of your list of priorities. Try to give it some regular chunks of quality time; perhaps eating together without distractions, or planning to do something together at home, or going out, or even some time away. Do you need to reconnect, and have some fun? As well as meaningful time together, healthy relationships need time apart; doing something you enjoy independently can increase your sense of well-being which can also have a positive effect on your relationship.
Revisit Your Sex Life
A well-documented pattern of behaviour in long term relationships is that people search for a partner that makes them feel safe and comfortable, and with a sense of knowing everything about each other. However, the predictable and familiar domestic situation can sometimes take over and feel incompatible with an exciting and erotic sex life.
This doesn’t have to be the case: Relationships can balance the ‘domestic’ and the ‘erotic’ with some care and attention. Think about the kind of sex life you would like (rather than the sex life you think you should or shouldn’t be having) and talk about realistic ways you might both feel comfortable exploring and developing this within the relationship. There is an enormous world of books, websites, films etc. that may help to inspire you.
This can be an awkward topic for some relationships and a lot of people do find talking about sex difficult. Equally, a conversation may bring to light different desires or sex drives. If this is the case, talking to a sex therapist is always an option.
So, in a nutshell… you can’t prevent cheating. You also can’t completely prevent a relationship breakdown on your own, or sometimes ever. The relationship is the sum of those within it and you’re each responsible for contributing to the kind of relationship you want.
Consider the relationship you have, the relationship you want and put into action some of the above to ensure you feel safe, supported, healthy and happy.
If you've been cheated on, or you've cheated on your partner and would like some support either individually or as a couple, you can book in for an initial session with a qualified counsellor here.