Why does he betray himself even when he loves? The psychology of betrayal

Betrayal: the other side of love

The betrayal is an experience to which many couples do not survive. It is one of the first causes of divorce (40% of couples who separate or divorce do so for this, according to the Italian Association of Marriage Lawyers), but even when you decide to stay together, the betrayal remains a watershed: nothing can be as before . Not necessarily in a tragic way: there are couples who go through the storm and come out stronger and more united than before. But what is certain is that when one is betrayed, after an initial and physiological phase of anger, one cannot help but wonder why it happened , to search for the reasons that led the partner to betray us and betray the our trust.

Yes, because unless you are in a polyamorous relationship or an open couple (situations in which in reality the very concept of betrayal ceases to make sense), in a monogamous relationship one tends to take exclusivity for granted. relationship, and to make it a matter of mutual trust . I love you, and if I love you I don’t betray you. But things are not quite like this: according to psychiatrist and sexologist Willy Pasini, betrayal is somehow intrinsic to love . In his unfaithful loves, the expert wrote: “Whoever loves risks. He risks being betrayed, but also, one day, of betraying. And, therefore, we accept the danger: one cannot love without risking being betrayed ”. Okay, let’s accept this danger. But first let’s get rid of some doubts, and deepen the question a little from the point of view of the psychology of betrayal .

Is it possible to love someone and betray?

Why does a man cheat ? Why does a woman do it? Until a few years ago there seemed to be clear and unique answers to these questions. Men cheated mainly for sex (the “classic” fling) while women cheated for love . But the studies and research of recent years tell us that this is no longer the case. There is no longer a clear division between traitors and traitors, and it does not end here: if once it was believed that there were mainly four drives to betray , and that there were therefore as many types of betrayal (feeling dissatisfied with one’s relationship, feeling neglected, being angry and therefore wanting to take revenge and, last but not least, wanting another person sexually) a 2019 research ( Motivations for Extradyadic Infidelity Revisited , published in the Journal of Sex Research) found that there can be many more reasons . It is possible to betray because one no longer feels in love, because one realizes that one has never been in love, but also to seek confirmation of one’s own value and prowess (and on this point it would seem that men who are more unsure of their amatory abilities tend to to betray more, to reduce their performance anxiety) or because the opportunity has presented itself (and the opportunity, you know, makes the man – but also the woman – thief).

But is it possible to love someone and betray? Psychotherapist Esther Perel believes so, and in her bestseller The State of the Affairs – Rethinking Infidelity , she traces four other reasons that lead even those in a happy relationship to betray :

  • self-exploration(i.e. the need to discover, re-discover or test yourself),
  • the pleasure of transgression itself (doing something that shouldn’t be done increases the pleasure exponentially),
  • the desire to live unlived lives (“taste” what could have been if you had taken different paths from your own),
  • experiencing new or repressed emotions.


The real reason for the betrayal is insecurity


Because he betrays himself even when he loves

Anthropologist and “expert on love” Helen Fisher, in her 2006 Ted Talk Why We Love, Why We Cheat , which has now become famous, would seem to bring empirical evidence of why she betrays herself even when she loves .

According to the researcher, what we call love is made up of three different “brain systems” .

  • The sex drive, what the English poet WH Auden called “intolerable neural itch,” and that like all itching just begs to be satisfied.
  • Then there is the romantic love, that of the butterflies in the stomach, the one that makes us believe that our partner is the most beautiful / good / intelligent on the square (and that makes others say that love is blind); the one that fills us with dopamine and makes us feel very happy when we are with our loved one and very sad when we are away.
  • And then there is attachment: oxytocin takes over from dopamine, butterflies fly out of the stomach and we begin to realize that no, our partner is no more beautiful than Matthew McConaughey, he is full of defects but we love him. same and we feel so calm * and safe * that we can think of spending our whole life together and – perhaps – perpetuating the species.

These three declinations of love, let’s call them that, often follow one after the other : from a “we hang out but everyone is free to go out with other people” we move on to crazy and exclusive love and then we decide to put up with each other for always (or at least to try). But they can also exist in parallel , and in this case it is possible to betray and continue to love: it is possible to genuinely affirm that you love your wife, but be in love with your neighbor. And maybe, in the meantime, even have sex with the colleague. Three different brain activations, three different ways of loving, which could potentially coexist.

Cheating for love and cheating for sex

If for the most intransigent there will continue to be no difference between the different types of betrayal seen so far, those who are less peremptory (perhaps because they have found themselves in the very uncomfortable role of traitor or because they have instead decided to forgive a betrayal) will notice that betraying because one has fallen in love with another person or betraying because “it happened” or because moved only by a primordial desire are not the same thing. And it is no coincidence that many experts today tend to measure the seriousness of betrayal (understood as the possibility or not of recovery and of continuing to love after a betrayal) distinguishing between betrayal for sex and betrayal for love . There are substantial differences between the two types of betrayal: those who betray for pure sexual desire tend to do it in a more casual and less predetermined way and are not looking for emotional and romantic involvement. On the contrary, those who betray for love (of others) are mainly driven by the need to fill an emotional void: a void that often already exists before meeting the other or the other.

As counselor Connie Omari, expert in couples therapy, explains, when betrayal becomes love, everything becomes complicated , both for the betrayer and for the betrayed: the bases of the relationship are inevitably questioned and the will of both is not necessarily enough to ensure that the couple continue to exist. While if the betrayal is only in the belly (well, a little lower than the belly!) The chances that the couple will come out unscathed or even reinforced (to betray to understand they love, a bit like it happened to Lucio Battisti in 29 September ) are much greater. And also the chances that the traitor learns to “control himself”: according to Connie Omari, a little self-discipline is enough to avoid the occasional betrayal. In short, the heart is not controlled, but everything else is.

So … can you love and betray? According to the psychology of betrayal and anthropology, as seen, yes. It is possible to be genuinely in love with your partner but infatuated with another person or want to have sex with others . Will this scientific evidence help the betrayed take the hit? Psychologists agree that the best way to overcome a betrayal is to take the time to reflect and really get over it, possibly with professional help. Because if it is possible to love and betray, it is also possible to continue to love after being betrayed . Do we want to believe it?


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