All men know that cheating is socially unacceptable. They learn about monogamy through family values, religious training, education, marriage vows; movies, television and music. Men who decide to behave counter to cultural norms develop their own personal codes for cheating. They use rationales like: It’s ok to cheat just not in your own zip code or they believe that it’s their birthright to cheat. For these men cheating is their measure of success in the act of living life to the fullest. There are many psychological methods that men use to give themselves permission to cheat: she doesn’t put out, she cheated on me, it’s fun, it’s ok as long as you don’t get caught, she doesn’t turn me on, she’s a nag, the opportunity was there, I don’t love her anymore, it’s an ego boost or the thrill of the chase. Men often feel trapped and drained and yearn for the courtship they lost when they got married. Most often they blame the lack of sex or nagging as their reason for cheating. Inevitably it comes down to a choice that men make in spite of the risk to their reputation, their faith and their marriage.
Pop culture and the culture at large both touts the virtues of true love and monogamy while propelling sex into a myriad of ads and television commercials. This hypocrisy is never more revealing than in tantalizing Victoria Secret commercials that serve up soft porn for the whole family. What are we saying about moral virtue and what will keep a man’s mind monogamous with all these sexual images coming at them with such ferocity and availability? What forms the bulwark that enables men and women to be faithful in a marital state? Certainly the loss of community support, the ebbing of religious, social and family values have made an impact on the overall sense of values toward monogamy. The formation of solid moral values and the development of moral character in men is one answer to the compelling social issue of infidelity. The highest level of moral development in a man or woman is when they must face themselves as the final arbiter for their moral behavior.
Science suggests that there are three hormones that regulate monogamy. It is the combination of oxytocin, arginine vasopressin and testosterone that make up the chemical concoction for the inner workings of men. Oxytocin stimulates the brains of primates to maintain pair bonds in males and females through its release during sex, touch or any positive social signal. Arginine Vasopressin creates mate and offspring guarding in male socially monogamous mammals, which is critical to pair bonding. Testosterone is the stimulant for libido that includes larger muscles and drive that attract females who are of child bearing age and thus are unconsciously seeking the best gene pool for offspring.
The incidence of oxytocin and vasopressin receptors in the brain reveal a tendency for monogamy amongst humans. These hormones have lead to the belief that we are a monogamous species. The culprit in this mix is testosterone. As it turns out testosterone is in conflict with the paring effects of oxytocin. Testosterone inhibits the uptake of oxytocin in the brain and then injects men with five times more testosterone than women and stimulates the desire for more sexual partners. Testosterone interestingly enough, responds to social cues. Win a game and your testosterone gets a bump. Make a killing in the stock market and it jumps off the map. This is why very successful men are at more risk than mere mortals. This news does not mean men can’t keep their proverbial penis in their pants but it does require a strong marriage and some killer values to prevent those temptations from getting the best of us.
For most species, dominate males tend to be more reproductive. Based on our primal past where the strongest sperm won it appears that there is still a piece of that original urge that lives on in men. Cut to our modern world with love and romance being our primary culture goal while leaving men with this legacy of survival. With attractive females everywhere and the mix of media and the loosening of religious and cultural limits on promiscuous behavior, it makes for a very heady set of challenges for our modern couples. How then are men and women able to stay true to their promise of fidelity while keeping their primal tendencies at bay?
Anthropologists point out that men have two minds, one is on home and hearth and the other is a roving eye. This dichotomy makes it clear that a strong relationship with couples who make time for each other, for fun, regular sex and put their relationship on a high priority create some protection from that wandering eye breaking free. Couples who have developed skills for solving problems efficiently and have created a dialogue that includes positive affirmations and appreciation can often avoid the pitfalls of resentment, entitlement and frustration which can lead to cheating. Notwithstanding that there are men but less so women who feel that it is their birthright and are committed to cheating, there are plenty of men and women who are interested in keeping it true blue. The question is how do they do it?
Fundamentally men and women need to understand and accept that infidelity psychologically disconnects them from their mate. It’s a secret they must keep and therefore it puts a wedge between them. It’s a clandestine lifestyle and creates distance. Men need to consider who they become when they cheat. They become liars, cheaters and they have broken the promise of their relationship to be faithful. To be fully responsible is to understand the risk to their marriage, how it would affect their children, extended family and friends with a mountain of pain that often destroys entire lives. The truth that men who cheat must confront is that they get to choose what kind of man they want to be. The challenge for men is to be in harmony with their family, personal values and to do the work that relationships require to make them viable and satisfying instead of escaping into another world.
For men and women to be faithful they need to affirm towards one another that they:
Make a commitment to creating a positive, supportive, honest, high priority marriage or relationship.
Introduce fun, recreation, mutual interests and other couples who are also faithful.
Don’t let resentments build; make a space to resolve them.
As loneliness and the lack of appreciation and affirmation are one of the main causes of cheating behavior, the obvious answer would be to show appreciation, affirm and validate one another’s efforts, ideas, thoughts and feelings.
Work towards a resolution centered relationship. Getting mired in who said what to whom, one upsmanship, tit for tat, winning, being right, yelling, nagging, screaming, shutting down or acting out of revenge provides the entitlement to seek sexual solace elsewhere.
Learn how to manage anger, come from a positive or level place; get to know who you are and what you want and need so you don’t re-create dysfunctional family patterns.
Practice tolerance, compassion, empathy and kindness.
Develop a value system that includes monogamy.
Monogamy requires that men accept that they may have to give up some freedom for a greater good.
Honesty and transparency are the only sure fire methods for creating and maintaining a monogamous intimate and loving relationship. If the rule is that you must tell your mate everything you are thinking about doing would you still do it?
With all the daunting challenges of monogamy it would seem that a casual sexual encounter would be such a natural and easy outcome for this dilemma. Truth is it’s not. The devastation, emotional distance, secrecy and guilt are enough to kill a horse let alone your relationship. There is no ultimate panacea for relationship monogamy but the ability to talk openly about the subject helps to keep it out of the shadows. It’s the clandestine quality about sexual infidelity that so often makes it so alluring, especially if it is mixed with longing and entitlement. In truth you can allow yourself to use the fantasy of a new sexual partner to stimulate yourself and connect with your mate. Bringing it all in instead of keeping it all out is the key to connecting with your partner. Knowing that you have to give up something to have a happy life, free of guilt and shame is part of what it means to be an adult. Sure, that female version of a chocolate layer cake looks so sweet, but remember, it also clogs the arteries. In the classic story of The Odyssey of Ulysses the Sirens call him from the shore. Temptation gets the best of him and he ends up crashing his ship on the rocks. Like Ulysses modern men find themselves being called from the shore on their Odyssey through life only to find the same conclusion. The secret is to learn from the past and not be doomed to repeat it.