We are all currently aware of the recent Uzma Khan scandal and her reported affair with a married man, her harassment by the man’s wife etc. and to me it seemed like a well-timed distraction from the heaviness we have all been experiencing post the ill-fated air crash. Now, social media is busy sharing the videos, divided between bashing the wife for her exploitation of her power and criticising Uzma Khan for breaking a marriage.

As a therapist I would like to give my two cents on this matter, sharing my understanding on why men and women cheat. Contrary to the popular belief that men cheat more than women especially in our society with the assumption that religion strongly holds the moral fabric of our society, gender doesn’t define the need to cheat. I choose to call cheating a need, perhaps a blind one, to fulfil unmet needs, either physical or emotional, that makes a person look outside a marriage or a relationship.

Before you start raising your eyebrows, judging me with an assumption that I am endorsing cheating, take a pause and try to be curious about what makes someone do it; is it just, ‘oh that’s what someone with a “loose character” does’?

As human beings, our life begins with forming attachments, the most important with our parents. John Bowlby; founder of attachment theory defined attachment as a ‘lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.’

Our entire lives we seek attachment – or call it love – to feel safe and cared for. We all need that significant ‘other’ with whom there is a fantasy of shared experiences of respect, love and physical and emotional intimacy.

One primary reason for cheating is that if a relationship doesn’t fulfil the individual’s primary need for attachment, it will drive him/her to anyone that promises the possibility of that attachment and emotional connectedness. We are raised to be smart and grow our cognitive abilities and the emotional self is neglected and not encouraged to flourish. Thus, the vacuum keeps building up, finding fulfilment wherever it can.

Most couples can continue to lead unhappy married lives but if any one of them start recognising their need to be seen and more importantly experiences that visibility by another person, that is a powerful authentic force that will push him to the other person. I would call it the ‘unmet need affair’!

I will take a risk and say it’s not the need that should be judged, but the behaviour. There is no justification for cheating, but it’s the shame that one experiences for having that need, and maybe taking a stand for it with your own partner leads to cheating behaviours where the fantasy of fulfilment coming true is like a drug one gets addicted to.

Having said this, there is a 50 percent chance that the other person is actually a genuine soul and can provide the safe attachment that the individual is seeking. But there is also an equal chance that this need fulfilment is clouded by the electrifying rush that happens in any new relationship.

There is a strong chance that the person starts attributing qualities to the other, which might not stand true for the other person but again, the fantasy of what love and attachment feel like is being projected onto the other. Many times, individuals do what Freud called was ‘repetition compulsion’ where the person unconsciously puts themselves in the same situation again and again, inviting the same familiar feelings which in this case would be feelings of rejection and unmet love.

In my line of work, I constantly see how adult choices are derived from childhood stories. In my experience, those people are mostly likely to cheat who had insecure attachments with their parents. If they either had rejecting parents or those who would sometime love and sometimes reject, the child will become an adult who will either seek same rejection in relationships or would want safe, secure love and keep seeking it inside or outside a relationship as the vacuum is so big.

The most important thing to remember here is that cheating isn’t gender based so the judgments shouldn’t be gender based either. It is fundamentally wrong and should be condoned but maybe if there is less shame around it and a little more understanding of why people cheat relationships would become more profound and honest. It is also important for partners to start having honest and open conversations with each other. Also, for those who are in relationships, where cheating is definitely a moral sin and a deal breaker for any relationship, so is selfishness, abuse, manipulation and wounds that one partner might be causing the other and denying the other’s self completely.