It’s a tale as old as time, or at least as old as Khloe Kardashian and Tristan Thompson’s relationship. As a social worker specializing in domestic violence, it’s common to hear the question “Why does she stay?”
This question is just as applicable in relationships that are not necessarily abusive, but ones that have been marred by infidelity. Why do women go back to men who cheat on them?
We act like this is one of those universal mysteries that we could spend years meditating on without ever finding out, like it’s the same as “What’s the meaning of life?” or “What’s he thinking about?”
In reality, it’s not actually that complicated. While we may scratch our heads at women who return to their unfaithful partners, it’s probably for one or more of these reasons.
Have you ever felt jealous of your partner’s exes or slightly insecure because of them, or even territorial of him? There’s actually a reason for that.
In the hunting-and-gathering days of yore, when healthy and stable relationships (and a long life for that matter) were hard to come by and procreation was pretty much your life’s work, finding a partner was of the utmost importance. Once you’d locked down a man, it was your duty to hold onto him and get busy.
Women are more likely to stay with a cheater if that man is a breadwinner.
Though our environment has obviously changed, the same anthropological precedent still essentially applies. Think about it. You, a single woman, go into a bar full of men. Of that population, probably 50% are actually single and eligible, and from there, the pool narrows considerably once you weed out the incompatibles. When men cheat, women are more likely to stay with them if that man is a breadwinner, or giving us resources and providing for us. Some of us stay because we’re scared to go beyond the proverbial watering hole and see what else is out there, and that’s on biology.
They Can’t Be Alone
Codependency may be inconvenient for those of us who’ve experienced it or those of us who have friends continually going back to their cheating partners, but unfortunately, this characteristic often speaks to severe trauma and ingrained experiences we had as children, like neglect or stalled emotional development.
For codependent people, the status of their relationship is directly tied to the status of their self-worth, and they equate being in love and being hurt or in pain as the same thing. Codependent people constantly feel on edge if they think their partner may leave them, and they have perpetual cycles of low self-esteem and even depressive periods due to the tenuous nature of their relationships.
For codependent people, the status of their relationship is directly tied to their self-worth.
For a codependent woman, her boyfriend cheating on her is probably just another bump in the road of their imperfect relationship. She probably doesn’t like the betrayal, but she’ll stay with him or continue to take him back because the alternative – being alone – is far worse to her.
This is probably the saddest reason a woman goes back to a cheater. She may wish she could cut ties permanently, but she’ll continue to go back as long as she fears being alone, and especially if he’s aware of that codependency and plays upon it.
They Think They Can Change Them
I don’t want to say outright that it’s impossible for a man to change, but it’s only possible if he actually wants to and is taking the necessary steps.
Newsflash: If he’s running around on you, blaming you instead of taking responsibility, making it about his needs or wants instead of yours, and cheating continuously, then you’re not dating a man, you’re dating a 16-year-old. And the chances of him changing all of that behavior in one fell swoop are slim to none.
No matter how much a man may claim he wants to change, actions speak louder than words, and if his actions and words are completely contradictory to one another, then you might be out of luck.
People only change when they want to and are actively trying to.
Many intelligent, driven, independent women have fallen prey to this idea that we can change a man. While we as people do inherently change over time, a guy who’s just plain toxic, or just comfortable with the place he’s in, probably has no problem with his behavior and isn’t looking to get better, but still might want to keep you around. A guy can probably only change if he’s being motivated by the exact same feelings you’re having, and if a guy is bad news, lazy, or just the wrong one for you, the odds he’ll feel that motivation don’t look good.
It Looks Better To Be with Them Than without Them
Maybe your boyfriend’s a cheater, but maybe he’s also successful, charming, attractive, and what we would generally designate as “the total package.”
This logic can be especially damaging to women with low self-esteem or self-worth, who feel that it probably looks better to her friends and family to stay with this jackass instead of “slumming it” alone.
It’s better to be alone than with the wrong person.
This logic is also, as you can probably guess, inherently flawed. Rather, it’s better to be alone than with the wrong person, and if the partner you continuously choose to invest time, energy, love, and attention into couldn’t care to do the same in return, then you’re really with the wrong person.
We stigmatize being alone, especially for women. Men who are single are generally seen as carefree, independent, and fulfilled. Women who are single are crazy cat ladies, or unfulfilled and not worth our time. So while this reason to stay is pretty flawed, it’s also understandable.
Having your partner take the intimacy shared between you and give it to someone else is one of the worst betrayals we can experience as women. And men, whether they’re truly remorseful or just full of it, cheat for a lot of different reasons.
But none of those reasons are the innocent party’s responsibility, nor is it their job to clean up the aftermath.
Going back to a cheater, for any of these reasons, is a surefire way to lose a lot of integrity and self-respect, even if we think we’re keeping our dignity intact by staying with them. While forgiveness is a noble and difficult thing, a guy who doesn’t deserve that forgiveness is not worth the time and effort at all, and will most likely exploit it in the long run.
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