Infidelity; Can A Cheater Change Its Spots: What Happens After An Affair?

The recent announcement of not one but two affairs within Singapore’s elected officials may have shocked many. Political ramifications and (at times, not very tasteful) jokes aside, there is usually little justification for cheating, especially when the individuals involved are already married. Even so, affairs do happen — and they could happen more often than we think.

We explore the common reasons behind cheating, and how counselling can help in situations where one half has committed this seemingly unforgivable act.

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What is cheating?

In most books and movies, cheating is usually characterised by a sexual relationship. However, cheating doesn’t necessarily revolve around sex nor physical affairs alone. Acts like flirting or creating an online dating profile may also be considered cheating. 

Cheating refers to being unfaithful to your partner, whom you’re in a committed relationship with. This is perhaps where things can get complicated, because what “counts” as cheating to one person (for example: ‘light flirting and banter with a colleague’) may be acceptable to another.

What’s actually most important is that partners communicate with each other and establish clear lines of what is comfortable to the both of you. 

Why do people cheat?

While cheating should not be something we excuse, there are underlying reasons for why someone may end up cheating on their partners. 

In a study that surveyed 495 participants, researchers identified eight main reasons for why individuals may cheat: 1) anger at their partners or the relationship, 2) the desire for a boost in one’s self-esteem, 3) feeling a lack of love or emotional intimacy in one’s relationship, 4), having low levels of commitment, 5) the desire for more variety, 6) feeling neglected by one’s partner, 7) sexual desire, and 8) the situational circumstance that prompted the individual to cheat.

Ultimately, no matter what the reason is, we should still hold the cheating individual accountable for their actions. Whatever problems that the individual may have perceived in their relationship – or thought was lacking in their partner – they shouldn’t be a basis for a person to stray, if they’re in a committed relationship.

What impact does cheating have on a relationship?

Infidelity is one of the top reasons for divorce in Singapore. That’s entirely understandable, after all, as infidelity – or cheating – can feel like the ultimate breach of trust, after a couple has sworn to be together in sickness and in health.

Knowing that you have been cheated on can be a traumatic event, especially if you hadn’t suspected anything amiss. The impact of discovering an affair is so severe that an American psychologist, Dr Dennis Ortman, has even given the response a name, ‘Post-Infidelity Stress Disorder’. He writes that symptoms are similar to post-traumatic stress, from the mental shock of learning about the affair.

Additionally, an individual who has been cheated on may experience a negative impact on their self-esteem and confidence. It’s natural for one’s first question to be “Was I not enough?” or “Could I have done anything better?”.

Should the couple decide to stay together, it can be hard for the cheating individual to regain the trust of their partner. That is where counselling could benefit both parties – whether it’s to repair or rebuild the relationship, or to help either of these individuals cope with the mental effects of the incident.

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How can counselling help?

Counselling may provide an avenue to repair the relationship or help the individuals manage their emotions, after the affair is discovered. 

Of course, neither individual – and especially, not the person who had been cheated on – should be pressured into staying together, if they do not want to. However, for couples who hope to have another try at their relationship, counselling may be an effective way to navigate this uncertain and painful situation.

Create a safe space for communication

Neutral space where issues should be discussed openly. The counsellor can help to arbitrate if disputes get too heated and personal, which they are The relationship counsellor’s office should be a neutral space, where issues can be discussed openly. It’s inevitable that the conversation may get heated and personal, given the enormity of cheating as a transgression — and that’s where the marriage counsellor can step in, to arbitrate any conflict before it explodes into something larger.

When going for relationship or marriage counselling, your therapist should be able to help open up new avenues of communication between you and your partner; and help you to understand the situation from both points of view. This can alleviate the tension between you and your partner, so that you can start finding ways to go past the incident and move forward as individuals (or as a couple).

Identify effective ways of moving forward

Another key way that a relationship therapist can support your marriage is by helping you create new and more effective ways of dealing with conflict in a relationship. As we said earlier, there are many reasons why cheating may arise — and while it’s inexcusable to commit infidelity, some of these reasons could be resolved with better communication between you and your partner.

A therapist can work with you and your partner to identify and address the root causes of the infidelity, so that such events do not happen again in the future.

After an affair is discovered, it’s understandable that trust within the relationship is broken. However, this doesn’t have to be an irreparable thing. A relationship counsellor can help you to slowly (re)establish and restore your trust in each other, to strengthen the relationship once again.

Rebuild an understanding of oneself

Even if as a couple, you have decided against a relationship counsellor – or perhaps, have decided to break things off decisively. It can be good to see a therapist after the affair, for both the individual who had cheated or the one who had been cheated on.

Infidelity and its fall-out is an emotionally heavy affair, and speaking to a therapist can help you to sort your feelings out.

  • For the party who had cheated: A therapist can support you in navigating your sense of guilt or help you to identify any self-destructive behaviours or thought patterns that may have led to the affair.
  • For the party who had been cheated on: It’s typical to feel betrayed, angry, devastated, embarrassed. You may even still have romantic feelings for your partner, and that can be confusing to figure out alone. A therapist can help you to process these emotions in a healthy manner, so that you can figure out your next steps.

If you are looking for a trained professional to provide support in your relationship, you can reach out to us anytime. Either fill in our client-matching form at A Space Between or browse our therapist directory, to find a mental health expert that would be able to help you.


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A Space Between provides flexible co-working office spaces for rent to therapists and other professionals in Singapore.

A Space Between is a destination for mental health therapy activities. Counsellors utilise our many conducive therapy rooms for consultations. Located conveniently downtown and offering your independent therapists rent by the hour, we house many professional mental health practitioners, including LGBTQ+ friendly ones. To find out more about the therapists practising in A Space Between, write to us at [email protected].

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