In any case, over the years, I’ve implicitly developed a typology of cheating based on conversations I’ve had with my friends and colleagues who have cheated on their spouses.
My typology is based on the idea that there are three fairly separate emotional systems underlying our romantic relationships: There is sexual desire, love, and attachment. Different types of cheating can occur based on different combinations of these basic emotional components.
To begin with, let me describe the differences between sexual desire, love, and attachment and then I’ll use these components to create my typology of cheating.
An excerpt taken from TruthAboutDeception.com:
Sexual DesireIn a perfect world, perhaps sexual desire, love and attachment would all be directed towards one’s romantic partner and no one else. But, this is not the case. These three emotional components are often not directed toward the same person, especially over the course of time. And to make things more complicated, some of these components, like sexual desire and love, can be directed at more than one person at a time.
The first emotional system is sexual desire. Sexual desire involves the lustful, sexually passionate feelings people have for each other. Sexual desire is a very intense and powerful emotion; it can cloud one’s judgmental and prompt risk-taking. Sexual desire is often based on physical appearance, novelty and the chemistry between two people. And while sexual desire motives a lot of our behaviors early on in a relationship, intense levels of sexual desire are difficult to maintain with the same person over the course of time (see, section on the Coolidge Effect).
The second emotional system entails love. And love, in and of itself, is composed of a complex set of feelings. Love often entails feelings of closeness, genuine appreciation, and concern. But, the experience of love is not the same for everyone. For some people love is delusional and needy, or based on emotional game playing, or experienced as the desire to take care of another person (see, Styles of Love).
The last emotional system involves attachment. Attachment is the feeling of security and comfort we get from being close to someone else. Attachment provides a sense of stability, certainty, and safety – the feeling that someone will always be there for you in a time of need. And like with love, there are individual differences in the experience of attachment (see, Attachment Styles).
Based on these three emotional systems, different types of cheating are possible:
Types of Cheating
Opportunistic Sexual CheatingIt is important to understand how sexual desire, romantic love, and attachment can produce different outcomes when trying to recover from an affair.
This type of cheating occurs when a partner is in love and attached to a spouse, but succumbs to their sexual desire for someone else. Typically, this type of cheating is driven by situational circumstances – opportunity (e.g., travel), risk-taking (thrill of excitement), and alcohol or drug use. The typical one night stand. And the more in love a person is with their spouse, the more guilt he or she will experience as a result of their sexual encounter. But feelings of guilt tend to fade as the fear of getting caught subsides.
Obligatory Sexual Cheating
This type of cheating is based on fear. Fear that resisting someone's sexual advances will result in immediate disapproval or rejection. Essentially, people may have feelings of sexual desire, love and attachment for a spouse, but still end up cheating simply because they have a strong need for approval. And their need for approval, at that moment, can cause them to act in ways which are inconsistent with their other feelings. Simply put, some people cheat, not because they want to cheat, but because in the situation, it can be too difficult to say "no." However, people who cheat in order appease others often experience tremendous guilt and shame. Ironically, their desire for approval, in the immediate situation, causes people to act in ways which ultimately disappoint someone else - their spouse. This category of cheating was provided by a viewer.
This type of cheating occurs when one is attached to a spouse, but experiences sexual desire and love for someone else. The traditional emotional and sexual affair. In such situations, people often make promises to leave a spouse to be with their lover, but fail to do so. Their attachment to their spouse prevents them from leaving. Often these situations end in misery. Lovers feel betrayed and cheating spouses end up staying in a loveless marriage. A classic example of Romantic Cheating can be found here.
Conflicted Romantic Cheating
This type of cheating occurs when people experience genuine love and sexual desire for more than one person at a time. Despite our idealistic notions of having only one true love, it is possible to experience intense romantic love for multiple people simultaneously (see, Polyamory). While such situations are emotional possible, pragmatically, they are very complicated and tend to create a lot of anxiety and stress. In this case, cheating spouses, in their attempt not to cause anyone harm, tend to end up hurting everyone.
This type of cheating occurs when people are in a committed relationship, but have no feelings for that person. There is no sexual desire, or love or attachment – only a sense of commitment keeps a couple together. When people cheat in this type of situation, the overriding concern seems to be for keeping appearances… emotionally there is no angst or guilt, just concern for what other people might think.