5 Practical Steps You Can Take to “Cheat-Proof” Your Relationship
June 29, 2020 by Justin Lehmiller
Infidelity is common. Studies have reliably found that between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 married adults report having had sex outside of their relationship at some point. For young adults in dating relationships, the numbers are even higher—between 1 in 2 and 1 in 3.
Cheating is something that people usually find to be pretty distressing and it often leads to conflict, stress, and even breakup. As a result, it’s something that most people actively want to avoid. So what can you do to reduce the risk of you or your partner committing infidelity at some point?
There are no guarantees here, but there are several practical steps you can take to “cheat-proof” your relationship to some degree. Based on my reading of the research on the most common reasons for infidelity and various conversations I’ve had with sex therapists, here are five helpful tips:
1.) Start by defining what “cheating” means in the context of your own relationship. Don’t just assume that your partner has the same exact understanding as you because research has shown that people define cheating and infidelity in drastically different ways. While most people agree that having intercourse or oral sex with someone other than your partner counts (assuming you’re in a monogamous relationship, of course), people are more split over whether things like kissing, long hugs, and sitting on someone else’s lap do. Likewise, when you consider emotional infidelity, that’s a whole other bag entirely. For example, there’s a lot of disagreement over whether forming deep emotional bonds or sharing secrets with someone else represent cheating. Also, what about virtual behaviors like porn use and sexting? About 1 in 8 young adults think that using porn is a form of cheating. Take the time to discuss your definitions of infidelity and negotiate your boundaries to reduce the likelihood that one of you unintentionally does something that the other perceives as cheating.
2.) Keep your sex life exciting by trying new things. One of the biggest reasons people cheat is because they aren’t having as much sex as they’d like or they’re not getting what they want out of sex. It’s very common for frequency of sex and sexual satisfaction to decline over time in a long-term relationship, in part, because people have a tendency to fall into sexual routines. Humans have an inherent need for sexual novelty, and falling into a bedroom rut prevents us from meeting that need. We have to keep mixing it up and trying new things to maintain excitement, and the research is clear: the couples most likely to keep passion alive are the ones who are breaking the mold and constantly exploring new and different activities together. For some inspiration, check out this post on what the most sexually satisfied couples are doing.
3.) Maintain a close, intimate connection with your partner. Falling out of love is a common reason for cheating, and this often happens when partners begin to drift apart over time and find themselves rarely having meaningful conversations and touching each other. It’s important to keep that intimate connection alive. There are lots of ways to do this, but a couple of powerful things you can try are to incorporate more intimate touch into your relationship and to engage in more post-sex affection. The couples who do these things report being more satisfied with both their sex lives and relationships.
4.) Take some practical steps to minimize exposure to tempting situations. People who cheat often do not plan to do so—they just wind up in situations where the opportunity unexpectedly presents itself. For example, someone might go on a work trip or vacation without their partner and, while having a few drinks one evening, find themselves going home with someone they met at a bar. There are various ways to reduce the risk of this kind of opportunistic cheating. For example, some may decide to only travel with their partner. However, others might make an effort during periods of separation to engage in long-distance sexual activities with their partner (e.g., sexting, phone sex, cybersex). Yet others might turn to sex toys or porn as a way of elevating sexual excitement when they’re alone. As always, different things work for different people—so figure out what works best for you and your partner.
5.) Lastly, be sure to address sexual and relationship problems as they arise, rather than letting them fester and grow. Another common reason for cheating is feelings of anger and/or neglect. These feelings often stem from unresolved conflict in the bedroom or in the relationship. Dealing with conflict can be difficult—but when we don’t tend to the problems in our relationships, they have a tendency to grow and to create new and even bigger issues. Communication is really the key here. If you commit to working through your problems together as they come up, you’ll reduce the risk that one of you will end up cheating out of anger.
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Dr. Justin LehmillerFounder & Owner of Sex and Psychology
Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.Read full bio >