Cheating May Reignite A Spark In Your Relationship, But At What Cost?

According to a 2022 study published by YouGov, 36% of Americans have cheated on their partner, either physically, emotionally, or, in some cases, both. The same study found that when it came to cheating, it was more likely among couples who lived together, at 26%, compared to the 13% of married couples. Takeaway? Over one-third of people cheat.


The reasons and the results are complicated. In some cases, it can breathe fire into a relationship, while in other cases, it can damage a relationship beyond repair. In the former case, infidelity is a novelty, "and any kind of novelty, any kind of fear, drives up the dopamine system in the brain ... and that triggers the sex drive," biological anthropologist and Chief Scientific Advisor for Match Dr. Helen Fisher tells InStyle. As Dr. Fisher further explains, when one partner flirts with someone, their dopamine and testosterone increase making them appear more attractive. So, the combination of possibly losing your partner to someone else and the way they look when they get too friendly with that someone else leads to an instinct to seduce the partner back. One doesn't even have to cheat for this to happen; just the thought that their partner might be cheating can do it.


"Many affairs are break-ups, but some affairs are make-ups," sex and relationship therapist Esther Pearl tells The Guardian. "Sometimes the relationship that comes out is stronger, and more honest and deeper than the one that existed before because people finally step up." While this may be the case, what's the cost? 

Pro: It creates a healthy amount jealousy

As biological anthropologist and Chief Scientific Advisor for Match Dr. Helen Fisher tells InStyle, jealousy can create a biological competition that goes way back to when coupling up among humans began. If someone is faced with losing their partner to another, either because they cheated or there's an assumption of cheating — as we saw between Harper and Ethan in the second season of "The White Lotus" — jealousy can have people acting out and doing things that they normally wouldn't do. All this behavior, which stems from jealousy, is to make sure there's no risk of losing their partner to someone else, which can actually be good for a relationship. When people see that their partner is desired by others, it sort of ups their game and tactics in maintaining their partnership.


"Mild jealousy can be healthy," psychiatrist Dr. Leela Magavi, M.D. tells Pure Wow. "It reiterates the fact that an individual cares about his or her partner, values them and does not want to lose them." Sometimes people need reminding that they have someone special.

Con: It's an act of betrayal

One of the major pillars of a healthy relationship is trust. You and your partner want to be able to trust each other to make the right choice, no matter the situation. Because of this, we want to believe if our partner is faced with the opportunity to cheat, they'll turn it down. But if they don't and we find out, either because their guilt forced them to tell us or through some other means, the very act of cheating being the betrayal that it is can change a relationship forever.


"Because each individual and each relationship is unique, there are so many factors," licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Alisa Ruby Bash, Psy.D., LMFT, tells Bustle. "The process to recovery is going to require tremendous insight, willingness to open one's mind, most likely therapy, and infinite amounts of honest communication." It doesn't necessarily mean that every relationship that experiences infidelity will end, but once trust is broken, it's going to take a lot of work for both people to try to glue it back together.

Pro: It can make people realize what they have

Like anything that we've had in our lives for an extended period of time, we eventually start taking it for granted and the same goes with our partners. No matter how much you love your partner and cherish them, because you're with them all the time it can sometimes make us forget just how lucky we really are.


"Cheating can bring a [person] closer to [their] partner," consultant psychologist Jaseena Backer tells Bonobology. "Both partners may have reached a point where they've begun to take each other for granted. If they decide to continue the relationship, they probably did, which should not happen. When that realization hits, they start to rework their boundaries, which brings them closer to each other." Similar to the feelings that come with jealousy, when faced with losing our partner, we stop taking them for granted. Instead, we put more back into the relationship to make it work.

Con: It can destroy a relationship

The worst part about cheating is that it can absolutely destroy a relationship and emotionally wounds your partner in ways you can't imagine unless you're faced with it. Even if you and your partner decide to weather through the ordeal, the relationship will be forever changed. There will be paranoia about other possible episodes of cheating, there will be a lack of trust, there will be endless questioning of honesty, and lots of resentment too.


"In general, more than half the relationships (55 percent) ended immediately after one partner admits to cheating, with 30 percent deciding to stay together but breaking up eventually, and only 15 percent of couples able to successfully recover from infidelity," psychologist Briony Leo tells Brides, according to the findings by the Relish Relationship Report. If you decide that your relationship can't withstand cheating, then the relationship is destroyed in another way: it comes to an end.

What to do instead

Navigating cheating as a means to reignite passion in your relationship is a tricky road to take. Sure, it can pay off for some couples, but it also puts a relationship to a test that it might not survive. At the end of the day, there's too much to lose. Instead of cheating, changing your usual schedule with your partner by adding things like date nights or dressing up for each other in ways you usually wouldn't can have a positive effect. As biological anthropologist and Chief Scientific Advisor for Match Dr. Helen Fisher tells InStyle, these types of things light up the part of the brain where romantic love and attachment reside, giving your relationship a little kick because you're bringing some novelty to it.


If trying these kinds of methods to reignite the spark doesn't help, and you still think cheating will save the day, talk to your partner about what's going on in your head. Be honest about what you're thinking and why. Together you might find ways to work through it or you both might realize you need couples' therapy.