Learning about this type of relationship style will help you answer one of the most difficult questions of your life: “Why did my boyfriend cheat on me?” Your relationship didn’t cause your boyfriend to cheat — he chose to have an affair. But, your relationship style may have created an environment that set the stage for your boyfriend’s cheating.
“After we moved in together I didn’t feel my boyfriend’s love or emotional attachment,” said a She Blossoms reader on Rebuilding Trust in a Relationship After a Secret Love Affair. “I assumed it was because we had been together so long, in a long distance affair for three years. I waited for our relationship to mature and I followed my boyfriend blindly, loving him deeply as any girlfriend would or could. We had differences but I thought we resolved them. He never wanted to open up or talk to me about what he wanted, but I still don’t know why my boyfriend cheated on me. I did everything I could for him.”
She added that she forgave her boyfriend for cheating on her, but they broke up anyway.
Whether or not your relationship survive your boyfriend’s affair, it’s crucial — for your own sake — to forgive him for cheating on you. The first step toward forgiveness is learning why your boyfriend cheated in the first place.
Why Your Boyfriend Cheated: A Relationship Style That Allows Affairs to Flourish
In Torn Asunder: Recovering From an Extramarital Affair marriage counselor and pastor Dave Carder describes why men cheat, how certain relationship styles allow affair to flourish, and what both boyfriends and girlfriends need to do to recover from the affair.
I was particularly interested in the chapter called Causes: Environments That Allow Affairs to Flourish. In this article I describe the main relationship style that sets the stage or make it more likely for boyfriends to cheat. If you see yourself and your boyfriend here, you may be one step closer to figuring out why your boyfriend cheated on you.
“In this section we’ll look at two role aberrations, where boyfriends and girlfriend related to each other in inappropriate ways — ways that can predispose either party for an affair,” writes Carder in Torn Asunder. Note that he said either party can have an affair! If you’re a boyfriend who is wondering why or if his girlfriend is cheating, this relationship style will help you, too.
Mixing Spouse/Parent Roles: The Spouse as Parent
To make Carder’s description of this relationship style easier to understand, I’ll refer to the girlfriend as the “caretaking partner” and the boyfriend as the “partner being taken care of.” However, it is just as easy for boyfriends to turn into caretaking spouses and girlfriend being taken care of. In fact, in my marriage my husband is more likely to be the caretaker! It’s just that it’s simpler to have one specific, consistent role in this explanation.
The girlfriend as the “caretaking partner”
A man from a dysfunctional family background with abuse, enmeshment (overly close relationships), or abandonment patterns will often choose to date a woman who turns into a missing surrogate parent instead of a healthy partner. This type of relationship style isn’t a conscious choice, nor does the boyfriend purposely choose to marry a woman to take care of him financially, socially, or practically.
“Those who practice this relationship pattern rarely do it on purpose,” writes Carder in Torn Asunder. “Unaware of unfinished business with their own parents and their unmet need from childhood, they choose to enter a relationship with huge emotional deficits that no girlfriend could ever meet. Often that cavernous need is exactly what attracts the girlfriend in the first place, because he or she has a complementary need to take care of someone else. She is called a caretaker.”
Helping and loving your boyfriend is normal and healthy. But, when normal caring and loving is taken to the extreme of a parent/child relationship, this relationship style becomes unhealthy. It sets the stage for an affair — and it could be the reason why your boyfriend cheated on you.
Signs of the “spouse as parent” relationship style
“The relationship seems perfect at first,” writes Carder in Torn Asunder. “It’s as if the partners have been looking for each other all their lives (and in a sense they have). Eventually, however, such intense need and smothering becomes exhausting. Resentment and smoldering anger will settle in because both boyfriend and girlfriend are disappointed when their unrealistic expectations are not met. That anger will corrupt the entire relationship. Adult relationships ideally involve mutual giving and receiving, but this marriage style is totally lopsided.”
A parent/child relationship style doesn’t cause boyfriends to cheat or lead to affairs in a relationship. It just sets the stage or allows an affair to flourish because it’s not a healthy relationship.
Examples of this relationship style include:
- The girlfriend who buys her boyfriend’s clothes and even lays out his attire for the day. It’s not dysfunctional for a girlfriend to buy socks, underwear and other clothing for her boyfriend — but if she is responsible for his entire wardrobe (and even belittles her boyfriend’s clothing choices), it’s an unhealthy parent/child relationship style.
- The girlfriend who gives her boyfriend an “allowance” instead of each spouse sharing equally in the financial management of their income, expenditures, big money decisions, etc.
- The girlfriend who is always correcting her boyfriend’s pronunciation, behavior, manners, posture, chores, way of driving, parenting, etc.
- The girlfriend who won’t allow her boyfriend to grow up — always checking up on his whereabouts, requiring a report of his spending or time, running his social event calendar, etc.
This type of relationship style may seems ridiculous, but that degree of care taking actually goes on between adults. At first, it often even seems reassuring to both partners. For the boyfriend who was never cared for as a child, it can generate wonderful feelings of significance and love. For the girlfriend who loves to nurture and be needed, it increases feelings of self-worth.
Do you recognize yourself in this relationship style? Read 11 Ways to Stop Being the “Clingy Girlfriend” in a Relationship.
How the boyfriend feels
This style of relationship “allows” affairs to flourish — or sets the stage for a boyfriend cheating on his girlfriend — by creating feelings of resentment, anger, exhaustion, and even depression. So, instead of asking “Why did my boyfriend cheat on me?” perhaps a more interesting question is “How is our relationship style related to my boyfriend’s affair?”
How the girlfriend feels
The caretaking girlfriend also feels resentment in this relationship style, because she receives little nurturing from the one-way relationship. If the boyfriend attempts to change this relationship pattern by returning some caregiving, the girlfriend often panics feeling uncomfortable receiving kindness. She senses that her power and control may be eroding, so she smothers her boyfriend’s “rebellion.”
“Neither husband nor wife are happy with this marriage style, but both are usually afraid to change it,” writes Carder in Torn Asunder: Recovering From an Extramarital Affair. “It’s exhausting work to continue to cover up relationship unhappiness with pretense. The resulting exhaustion causes depression…and now we have real helplessness. The wife becomes motivated to increase her dysfunctional behavior. Instead of changing gears in the face of her husband’s depression, she just turns up the throttle and notch or two. Misery is thus multiplied.”
Why relationship counseling fails
In Carder’s experience as a relationship counselor and pastor, the boyfriend’s resulting depression can also encourage the couple to seek help from a therapist, counselor or pastor. But the counseling fails because it’s difficult to adjust to the advice given by the counselor. The couple they may just intellectualize or discount the advice and insight, which prevents counseling from saving their relationship. The same relationship pattern remains…and the girlfriend finds herself asking “Why did my boyfriend cheat on me?” The boyfriend may also find himself wondering how he fell into a toxic love affair while he was in a relationship.
“Couples in this mode will go from therapist to therapist seeking help, only to move on if attempts are made to change the way they relate to each other,” writes Carder in Torn Asunder. “In other words they want the counselor to help them save their relationship, but they don’t want too much change in their relationship. That denial can set up an affair or illicit relationship.”
Learn more about why men cheat
In Anatomy of an Affair: How Affairs, Attractions, and Addictions Develop, and How to Guard Your Marriage Against Them Dave Carder — counselor, pastor and author of Torn Asunder — helps couples affair-proof their relationships. Even if you or your boyfriend already cheated, it is not too late to build a stronger, healthier relationship!
This book will teach you how “innocent” friendships and attractions can lead to affairs, how you may be vulnerable to affairs, the common ingredients of adultery, how to restore intimacy to your relationship and how to make wise, protective decisions.
It’s never the girlfriend’s “fault” that her boyfriend cheated (or the boyfriend’s fault that the girlfriend cheated). A girlfriend does not cause her boyfriend to have an affair — he chose to cheat on their relationship. But, it’s possible that the relationship style created an environment that set the stage for the boyfriend’s cheating. If you recognize that you and your boyfriend are engaged in this style of relationship, you may have a more clear answer to the difficult “Why did my boyfriend cheat on me?” question. If so, you may be that much closer to repairing and saving your relationship.
Your comments – big and little – are welcome below! Feel free to share your story. Writing can be one of the best ways to figure out what you think and how you feel, and help you cope with the pain and grief of your boyfriend’s affair.
If your boyfriend says he ended the affair but doesn’t seem interested in saving your relationship, How to Respond When Your Boyfriend Makes No Effort.