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Is Cheating Abusive: What Cheating Looks Like When It’s Used for Control

By Sunny Lim

When partners agree to pursue a monogamous relationship with each other, there’s an unspoken agreement to stay faithful. If one partner strays and initiates any type of nonconsensual intimacy–emotional, physical, sexual–with someone outside the original relationship, then they have cheated. Some examples of cheating include the exchange of sexually suggestive messages or pictures with someone other than one’s partner and scheduling dates with people besides one’s significant other.

According to Psychology Today, there are three main causes behind infidelity: individual reasons, level of satisfaction, and situational issues. The article explains devout believers of faith are less likely to cheat because of rigid moral values, but people who have blurred boundaries are more likely to cheat becausethey have loose definitions of what behaviors are considered unfaithful.

Some people cheat due to feeling unsatisfied in their current relationship where they might feel as if their physical needs are unmet. There might be high levels of dissatisfaction because of conflicts. This group of people needs to look within their current relationship, find the causes behind unhappiness, and improve these factors.

According to the article, the third and final group is situational cheating. Some people cheat depending on their circumstances. If people are inebriated, it might affect their decision-making behaviors and they may engage in problematic behavior such as cheating. Some people might turn to infidelity to escape abusive relationships.

Whether it’s physical, emotional, or cyber cheating, it’s painful for all parties involved. However, in some cases, cheating might be an abusive tactic where one partner uses it to control and hurt the other partner.

According to Love Is Respect, cheating might be abusive depending on the other factors of one’s relationship and the context.

If your partner strayed and you’re not sure if it’s an abusive tactic, then here are questions to consider:

  • Aside from cheating, is your partner physically violent toward you?
  • Does your partner call you derogatory names?
  • Does your partner prevent you from having a job and having access to money?
  • Does your partner show manipulative behaviors toward you such as gaslighting?
  • Does your partner pressure you into doing things?
  • Does your partner regularly cheat on you and blame you as the reason causing their behavior?
  • Does your partner use the act of cheating as an intentional way to continue hurting you?
  • Does your partner cheat on you and then insult you about your appearance, weight, or other physical factors?
  • Does your partner use infidelity as a reason to show you that they’re more physically desirable than you are?

If you find yourself saying yes to most of these questions, then you might be in an abusive relationship. In abusive relationships, cheating tends to be a cyclic behavior. If your partner’s cheating occurs more than once over long periods of time, then it might be a sign of an abusive relationship. Abusers will justify their cheating patterns through constant lying or gaslighting to make victims doubt whether the infidelity actually occurred.

In addition to the list of questions, there are other ways to examine whether your relationship is abusive. Some additional methods include:

  •  Observe and ask yourself about the relationship dynamics. Who has more power and control? Is it you or your partner? How does the controlling person gain power within the relationship? What do those behaviors look like? An abuser can gain control through more obvious methods or subtle manipulation.
  • Does your partner isolate you from your family and friends? Can you still maintain outside friendships, or does your partner establish rules for socializing? How do your friends and family members feel about your partner? Do you have time to yourself, or does the relationship consume your every waking moment by stealing your personal time away?

These questions and observations should paint a clearer picture of your relationship and help determine whether your relationship is abusive or not. In some cases, cheating in abusive relationships might cause panic attacks, PTSD-like symptoms, and self-loathing for victims.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

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