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Cheating Fears: Why You're Worried and What to Do

Cheating Fears: Why You're Worried and What to Do
Why do I always think my partner is cheating

Feeling loved, secure, and safe is the foundation of a healthy relationship. When you feel loved, you feel cherished, respected, and appreciated. When you feel secure, you can share your deepest, innermost thoughts without judgment or ridicule from your partner; and feeling safe means you have the support of your partner to live your life freely.

But when you suspect your partner is cheating, a whirlwind of exhausting emotions including suspicion, jealousy, hypervigilance, and fear can develop and have a profound effect on daily life. Research has shown, that in almost every case, cheating creates feelings of insecurity in the non-offending partner and leads to a breakdown of the relationship's foundation.

Mark Scheffers, LMSW, PLLC, a therapist in Kalamazoo, MI says there is no "light switch" answer for how to stop obsessing over the suspected cheating behavior of a partner or how to recover a marriage or relationship when one or both individuals cheat.

"Two people have to join together to move through this," says Scheffers. "Both must work toward establishing safety - part of the couple can't move through the cycle alone with therapy. Both must be present."

Addressing the fear and anxiety that a partner is cheating is psychologically complex. "When the frightened partner can see in the other partner's face, eyes, and body language the distress of cheating, then the frightened partner doesn't feel alone in it," says Scheffers. At this point, the couple is acknowledging the infidelity but their decisions on how to move through the emotional trauma can be many, including:

  • Seek a professional trained in emotionally focused therapy (EFT)

  • "Fight fire with fire" and enter the cycle of infidelity for both partners

  • Live with the partner's infidelity

  • Dissolve the relationship

Although fear and anxiety can lessen over time when a couple decides to start at ground zero, slowly rebuild trust, and preserve the relationship with an EFT therapist, Scheffers says the fear that the offending partner may cheat again never completely goes away. "When the couple has done enough work, there is still fear to some degree but low enough to be present to each other," says Scheffers.

Understanding attachment styles

How individuals form relationships is complicated and can be tied the earliest bond between a parent and child. Think about your own role models — the people who raised you. Did you experience and observe love, security and safety while growing up? Research indicates that once patterns of attachment are formed, they continue through life.

Understanding attachment styles may provide clues to how you and your partner relate to each other. While this is not a replacement for professional help, there might be an "ah-ha" moment to prompt a kind and loving two-way discussion about the current state of your relationship.

A securely attached individual is one who experienced nurturing and present caregivers while growing up, is self-reliant, and is able to help others and also receive help. These individuals tend to seek and maintain a faithful sexual relationship.

However, attachment theorists indicate childhood circumstances such as neglect, abuse, lack of empathy, threats of abandonment or loss of love, can result in a type of insecure attachment in adult relationships.

Anxious attachment — clingy, demanding, separation anxiety

Insistent self-reliance — opposite of anxious attachment, do not appear to need affection or assistance but underneath the tough exterior is a need for love and affection

Insistent caregiving — always giving the care in a relationship, giving more than the other person

Detachment — fear of forming close relationships, can appear friendly and self-assured on the outside but is emotionally detached

Studies indicate securely attached individuals will seek long-term, faithful sexual relationships. Attachment styles formed from adverse experiences may trigger anxiety, distrust, emotional detachment, low self-esteem, anger, and other emotions that prevent a couple from experiencing a safe and stable relationship based on trust.

Infidelity is a gut-wrenching experience with many underlying issues. Find your strength (you have it!), to move toward healing whether that means repairing the relationship with professional help, stepping out of the relationship completely, or focusing on yourself to become the equal half of a safe, secure, and loving foundation of a stable relationship.

Ready for more support? Join our empathetic community, chat with a free, trained listener or start affordable online therapy today.


Attachment and Sexual Permissiveness: Exploring Differential Associations Across Sexes, Cultures, and Facets of Short-Term Mating

Schmitt, DP ; Jonason, PK

Journal Of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 2015 Jan, Vol.46(1), pp.119-133

Rory C. Reid & Scott R. Woolley (2006) Using Emotionally Focused Therapy for

Couples to Resolve Attachment Ruptures Created by Hypersexual Behavior, Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 13:2-3, 219-239, DOI: 10.1080/10720160600870786

Sue Johnson (2017) The new era of couple therapy — innovation indeed, Person-Centered & Experiential Psychotherapies, 16:1, 39-49, DOI: 10.1080/14779757.2017.1298050

Pat Sable (1992) Attachment Theory: Application to Clinical Practice with Adults, Clinical Social Work Journal Vol. 20, No. 3

Suggested Reading:

Sue Johnson, Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships

Sue Johnson, Hold Me Tight, Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love

Posted: 01 August 2019
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Julie Ford

Julie is a Michigan-based writer with a passion for mental health advocacy.

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