Being cheated on scratches the brain – an irrevocable mark that reveals itself when you are trying to trust or even love. One friend told me she must be bad in bed because infidelity has affected her on more than one occasion. We know affairs can impact the monogamous partner’s self-esteem, but low self-esteem can also cause cheating.
A US study investigated why people cheat. Out of nearly 500 people (87.9% heterosexual), researchers found eight key reasons: anger, self-esteem, lack of love, low commitment, need for variety, neglect, sexual desire and situation/circumstance.
Another article covering a study on cheating found women who cheat are more likely to experience greater self-esteem. A lead professor in the study, Professor Stavrova, shared with The Times that affairs ‘make people feel desired’. She believes people with an anxious attachment style who tend to have lower self-esteem are ‘prone to seek reassurance and approval from others.’ Their sexual behaviour may function to boost confidence.
A victim’s low self-esteem
With research suggesting 85% of Americans suffer from low self-esteem, this post is not trying to stir suspicion in insecure partners. Insecurity can manifest in multiple ways; sometimes it’s the person with low self-esteem who panics that their partner may sleep with someone else.
Cheating scandals are currently circulating celebrity news. Shakira and Gerard Piqué, Sebastian Bear-McClard and Emily Ratajkowski and Nia Long and Ime Udoka, to name a few. In most scenarios, fans try to piece together why a man would cheat on a beautiful, successful, talented woman.
We often fail to recognise that cheating is not solely the result of sexual starvation, nor is it a symptom of poor success and beauty.
Over the years, I have seen infidelity damage confidence. In general, women can blame themselves and face criticism from other women. Sex therapist Georgia Nickles told the publication Healthy Way that this stems from roles in history. In the past, men focused on financially providing while women upheld the home and kept the family together. Despite these outdated roles no longer reflecting society, the attitudes are still deeply rooted.
Research in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found a link between self-esteem and how people manage being cheated on. People with high self-esteem can be better equipped to handle the outcome of a partner’s affair. Individuals with low self-esteem, however, are more likely to struggle with infidelity-related stress which then further impacts self-confidence.
Insecurity in a relationship
The cold sting of rejection hit me on a dating app. Pre-pandemic, I was set to meet a guy whose dating profile felt surprisingly normal. When I confirmed the date, he offered instead to put me on a bench while he went out with someone better. For such a small moment of interaction, I couldn’t help but question why I wasn’t the priority.
The self-blame trap is easy to fall into. While it takes two to tango, we’re not responsible for the wrongful actions of our partners. But equally, affairs don’t necessarily constitute a good person and a bad one.
There are various reasons for why someone cheats. Research does tell us however that low self-esteem can cause cheating in many scenarios. Whether a person feels the attention of one person is not enough or they feel so insecure in their relationship that they cheat to avoid possible rejection.
It’s difficult to list possible cheating and low self-esteem signs because the most confident appearing people can also suffer. Rather than exploring why they struggle to accept themselves, they rely on the approval of others. Validation is not all bad – it’s normal to seek confirmation, particularly from those we admire and trust. It becomes toxic however when we frequently depend on other people to make us feel good.
How can we help a partner with low self-esteem?
Again, low self-esteem does not ultimately mean an affair. It’s merely a popular factor for why it can take place.
Communication and awareness of needs can stop people from seeking validation outside of their relationship. This means understanding what your partner expects from you. How do they want you to express love? What type of behaviour do they consider cheating?
A partner with a history of being cheated on and lied to may have certain triggers that remind them of their past experiences. Communicating what these are can stop you from unknowingly repeating negative patterns.
Asking your partner about what makes them feel good is also another way to help their esteem. People can be in such a low place that they neglect self-care and fail to prioritise their desires. Encouraging your partner to take risks, enjoy activities they love and focus on themselves can help.
Beyond this, you cannot be responsible for your partner’s esteem and it is not your role to improve it.
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