A man sits before me – he has cheated on his wife more times than he can remember or cares to admit. I love her, he tells me.
I believe him. I believe he loves her as he understands and knows love.
It’s simplistic to think that people who cheat don’t love the ones they cheat on. It’s not about the one he’s cheating on. It’s about him.
Would you say that you love yourself?
He finds the question odd, maybe even sarcastic – but that’s not how I intend it to be. He is hating himself right now.
I am a selfish —–, he swears. Of course, I love myself. I think I love myself so much that I don’t think of my wife or my kids when I’m doing something for my own pleasure.
Apart from the cheating you mentioned, what do you do for yourself that can count as self-love?
Well, I take care of what I eat, I work out regularly. I keep my commitments with myself. I get whatever I want for myself – I treat myself to nice things.
That’s self-care, not self-love, I tell him.
What’s the difference?
Self-care would be the things you mentioned, it has more to do with taking care of things on the outside. You can do things out of self-love, but self-love is more about ‘being.’
I can see he hates the answer, he looks even more confused – pain makes people impatient and annoyed – he is definitely in pain.
It is about ‘being’ with yourself with love, gentleness, and reverence.
It requires an experience of self-trust – where you consistently choose to do what’s right for you according to your personal values rather than following a passing whim.
How do I know if the momentary pleasure whim isn’t the real me?
When you are used to ‘being with yourself’ you can tell the difference between the panicked urgent quality of a momentary whim and the clear, calm, serenity of your true self.
If the momentary pleasure was the real you – you wouldn’t be ashamed of it or hide it – you wouldn’t hate yourself for it.
Self-love – needs much more than the list you gave me.
Just like love, it needs connection, communication, commitment, loyalty, companionship – an experience of trust.
Self-care can be done out of self-love.
Self-love needs a lot more than self-care for it to work.
So how do you know from what I have told you thus far that I don’t do all of these things self-love requires? he asks me. All of these things are invisible – they would have to take place inside me.
He looks at me expectantly.
You tell me you love her and you want so badly to be with her but you cheat on her regularly.
You tell me the only reason you are coming to therapy is that she’s going to leave you if you don’t stop cheating.
Yes, and yes, to all of this, he nods expectantly.
Your cheating might be self-sabotage.
If I were to say – deep down somewhere inside you, you don’t think you deserve happiness and true love, peace, and deep connection – would I be correct?
He goes far away in his thoughts as if he’s scanning a dark basement with a small flashlight.
After some thought, he looks up with a furrowed brow and confesses, yes, that would be correct.
His eyes begin to well up with tears as the memories start rolling in.
I can tell it hasn’t been okay for him to cry.
He tries to hide his tears – I tell him, it’s okay to cry here – it’s a safe space.
He gives me multiple examples of how he pulled away and sabotaged his marriage by causing fights or flirting every time he got scared about the depth of feelings he was developing for his wife.
Now if you truly loved yourself, you would care for yourself too much to stay stuck in a pattern that keeps hurting you – that is against who you really are and what you really want?
What if that’s the real me, that I’m just a cheating F-up?
I can tell this is my cue to say he’s not an F-up – he wants me to save him – but I know I need to let him show up for himself.
If you keep making the choices you’ve been making then you’ll keep feeling what you have been feeling.
If you make other choices – more self-honoring, self-loving choices, you’ll feel loved and honored.
It won’t matter whether others are loving and honoring with you or not – you’d be providing that to yourself.
He looks at me with frustration and says, It’s not like I haven’t tried to get out of this web of lies and deception – but I just can’t ever fully get out of it. It keeps pulling me in. Maybe I’m too old to change. Maybe it’s too late for me.
I throw up my hands and say, well, if you think it’s too late for you, then it probably is.
He gets startled – looks almost upset and abandoned.
What do you mean? He asks, confused about where this is going.
Are you agreeing it’s too late for me to change? That I’ll always be like this?
People change all the time. I wouldn’t have a job if they didn’t – and they change at all ages and stages of life.
But they only change when ‘they’ are dying to change. When they are so sick of where they are – they are so done with their pattern that they never want to feel like that again.
Well, that’s me. I’m sick of it. I hate myself so much that I can’t even look in the mirror.
But I’ve felt this bad about myself for years and it hasn’t worked till now, he tells me in a defeated tone.
That’s the tricky part – the confusing part too, I explain.
People who cheat are seen as self-loving self-worshiping people – this is only because self-love is misunderstood.
The thought is – to stop cheating the one who cheated has to stop loving themselves and think of others instead.
This is not true. It actually backfires.
If you change for your family, out of guilt, responsibility, to please someone – then it’s just a matter of time that you will cheat again.
The only way to change from the core – once and for all – is when you ‘selfishly’ want to change for ‘yourself’.
When you say I want to be with MY wife, MY kids, in MY home, in MY life so badly – that I will do ‘anything’ to make it happen.
The tricky part is that people who cheat cannot truly stop cheating unless they start to develop a deeply loving and fulfilling relationship with themselves.
There is nothing self-loving about sneaking around, living a lie, hiding what you want, living a double life.
If you truly love yourself, you won’t be able to do all these things because they just won’t align with having a sound, whole, loving, and reverent relationship with yourself.
Only when you are able to fulfill yourself on your own – without the help of other people, things, or situations – can you stop feeling the abyss inside yourself that you keep filling with dependencies like affairs.
I am a relationship therapist and coach.
The above interaction is a recollection of a real interaction that took place during a recent therapy session.
If the story sounds familiar, be assured that it’s likely not who you think it is – I change any identifying information, sometimes even gender to protect the client’s identity,
My hope is that this clears up some myths around infidelity and its true recovery.
I’d love to hear your questions or comments about this. Tell me what you think? Is this your experience? If not, what have you experienced?
Sanya Bari @sanya.bari
Therapist, Coach, Relationship Expert, & Lifestyle Blogger
SHE Magazine USA