Infidelity 101 with Cheating Expert Dr. Ish Major
Have you ever seen the show “Unfaithful” on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network? It’s kind of addictive. The docu-series follows couples in treatment for past adultery. Unlike the show “Cheaters” that features confrontations and madness, “Unfaithful” includes tactful but juicy relationship reenactments along with commentary from therapists about why the cheater cheated.
If you’re wishing that we had our own psychological mastermind who could answer your questions about infidelity, have no fear, Dr. Ish Major is here. If the doc’s name sounds familiar, he’s the Cheating Expert for “The Today Show.” His book is called “Little White Whys” and he’s even created an iPhone app called “The Cheater Meter” which will help you to predict whether the man in your life will cheat or not.
Check out my in depth interview with Dr. Ish about men, women and cheating. I’ve also included a library of books about the psychology of cheating. Class is in session. -aa
Lessons in Cheating: Who, What, Where When Why
Abiola: Dr. Ish, you are a recurring relationship expert on “The Today Show” and your first book is the popular “Little White Whys: A Woman’s Guide Through the Lies Men Tell and Why.” Your next book will focus on cheating. Why do people cheat?
Dr. Ish: I think people cheat for different reasons. Here’s my Tic-Tac-Toe theory on cheating: Men cheat down and women typically cheat across.
If you notice, women never cheat with a man who is ‘less than’ the man she already has. He is usually a man of similar or more means, similar or more attractiveness, similar or more agreeable temperament. Women cheat with the idea that if (or when) the current relationship ends they will be able to smoothly transition to the next relationship with as little disruption as possible in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed. Women cheat with the idea that the next man will be the best man and as such be able to meet her needs better than or at least just as good as her current guy. Women typically cheat when they’re ready to move on.
Men however, cheat for entirely different reasons. Men cheat for sex… usually. It can also be for attention, adoration, to feel important or desired again…to know they still ‘have it’, whatever ‘it’ may be. But usually it’s for sex. Which means men routinely ‘cheat down’! If you notice when men cheat it’s almost never with a woman who’s as attractive as the one he currently has. It’s never with a woman who’s as stable emotionally and or financially as the woman he currently has.
For a man, cheating is not about transitioning smoothly to anything because most men have no intention of ever seriously committing to a woman they cheat with. Cheating for men is about meeting a need! Period. Once that need is met he will be able to return home and focus on his daily routine; which includes his girlfriend/wife/family… and he’ll hope like heck they never find out!
Abiola: What is your Cheater Meter app?
Dr. Ish: This first cheating phone app’s just for women to check out their men. I’m working on one for men but it’s proving to be quite a bit more extensive. Women are much more complicated to figure out!
The Cheater Meter is cool because it takes the results of years of studies on couples and relationships and pools that information into 10 seemingly simple questions to give the user feedback. The questions are centered around traits that studies show people who cheat are more likely to have; that is to say they have a very high predictive value.
Underscore the word predictive. The app helps women better predict which guy may or may not cheat depending on his score. Both men and women agree; it is highly accurate. The empowerment comes from now being armed with critical information and explanations (at the end of the app) as to why the questions are so meaningful. It’s been causing quite the stir around the country so far!
Abiola: I read that your parents are still married after 55 years. My parents are still married too. Are adults who still have married parents automatically more commitment minded or prone to monogamy?
Dr. Ish: Yes. The message comes across when we’re kids. It’s only natural because as people we all learn by seeing and then doing. We learn what’s around us. If we have a good model for a healthy couple and marriage we’re that much more likely to want that and be able to create that same type of relationship in our own adult lives. Studies show that children of divorce are more than 50% more likely to undergo a divorce or separation at some point in their adult lives as opposed to children from intact homes.
Abiola: That’s exactly what I thought. However, parent’s marriages don’t necessarily predict the marriage success of the kids. What is the biggest lesson for relationship longevity that you have learned from your parents either directly or from observing their relationship?
Dr. Ish: Couples who’ve achieved ‘Happily Ever After’ status typically say it’s because of compromise or a need to see their spouse happy or a mutual willingness to work everyday on staying together. While I’ve heard my parents mention this too what they say more often is that they made a commitment to each other and to a common goal. They both were determined to raise a house of civilized, well-behaved, educated children who could go out in the world and make an impact!
My mom wanted to become a nurse and my dad wanted to become a mathematician but they didn’t have the chance to pursue college, although you’d never know it from talking to them. To this day they remain the smartest two people I’ve ever met! To their credit and my continued amazement, they raised a family of 7 children in the deep-south who’ve all gone on to lead drug free, crime free, happy productive lives. And what’s more than that, we actually all like each other!
Abiola: That’s beautiful! Now my theory is that any man who is approaching 40 who has never been married must be commitment phobic. Obviously you personally spent much of that time in school; but is this something that you’d like to speak to personally and your advice to women in dating?
Dr. Ish: I’d typically agree with that. A 40-year-old man, never married, with no children would certainly raise a red flag for having a fear of the ‘C’ word. But it’s definitely been a different path for me. 14 years of college, medical school, residency and fellowships adds up really quickly and before you know it you’re a ‘man of a certain age’ and even though you’re settled you haven’t ‘settled down’ quite yet.
Even through the stress and busy times in school I always enjoyed long-term, committed relationships. I believe in love and I believe in marriage and I believe they will both come to me in due time…all I can do is be ready! If you’re a woman and looking to date a ‘man of a certain age’ then my best advice to you is to pay attention and make sure he is exactly who he says he is…you’ll find this out over time. Just remember, when dating a man 40+ years old: Objects in his rear view mirror are typically closer than they appear!
Abiola: We’ll take that into consideration. I tell my audience that if a man cheats he will cheat again. What do you think? Once someone has cheated will they always be a cheater?
Dr. Ish: Yes and no. Once a man cheats he will always be much more likely to cheat again but he may not necessarily do so. It depends on the reason he cheated and where he was in life at that time. Not all, but most men do mature. If he cheated when he was younger, still in the process of striving and achieving, still searching and figuring out who he was and determining his place in the world but has since come into himself and figured these things out through that maturation process he very well may never cheat again.
But here’s the thing: you can’t stick around and wait on him to mature. Here’s why: A: he won’t respect you for it because he won’t believe you respect yourself. B: he’ll very likely take it for granted that you’ll always be there no matter what he does. There must to be some consequence for his actions. Having that said, if the two of your worlds collide at some point in the future and he truly seems like a changed man then go for it!
Most women are nurturing and very forgiving but be careful because serial cheaters will definitely take advantage of this! That leopard has no reason to change his spots if he believes that no matter what he does you’ll eventually take him back.
Abiola: Exactly. And about 69% of relationships where infidelity is involved end. Do you recommend that people stay or go? Is cheating a relationship definite ender?
Dr. Ish: Tough question and I think every couple’s situation is different. First they would have had to define exactly what ‘infidelity’ means to them because it means different things to different people and there is certainly a striking difference in meanings among men and women. If someone cheated because they felt neglected or undesired I believe it can be saved.
Fill the void, close the gap and stay connected. However, if they cheated out of selfishness, anger, impulsiveness or sheer lust and disregard for the other’s feelings then that bridge to trust may be too damaged to repair. Being able to truly forgive and forget is incredibly hard. The forgiving part is easier; that comes with understanding…it’s the not being able to forget that tends to leave the sting.
Abiola: Once and for all, Dr. Ish, do you think that monogamy is harder for men?
Dr. Ish: Once and for all…YES! Men will say, ‘It’s really not our fault’. And here’s why: It’s biological, it’s psychological and it’s social. Biologically men are hard-wired to ensure their bloodlines. We are subconsciously attracted to women who have those physical traits that let us know they’ll be good at bearing children. Unfortunately that attraction is not specific to any one woman. Men are also genetically ‘hunter/gatherers’. We roam the forest looking for food, clothes and shelter for our family and inevitably come across a damsel in distress. It’s in our nature to ‘help’ her. That’s typically where the boundaries begin to get crossed.
Psychologically, (and I know women hate to hear this but it’s true), men can quite easily separate sex from love. Men are much better at compartmentalizing emotions than women and can consider sex simply a physical activity with little to no emotional attachment. I know that sounds harsh and maybe even cruel but if you ask guys and they give you an honest answer they’ll say the same. Guys eat when they’re hungry. Sleep when they’re tired and have sex when they’re feeling frisky. They feel like these are simply needs that need to get met and once they’re met they move on with the rest of their day.
Socially, it’s ingrained in men from the age of little boys to be the best, the most popular, the biggest, the strongest, the fastest, the most successful; and to the victor goes the spoils! Teens and young men are given ‘Atta boys’ and pats on the back when they have multiple girls interested in them. It’s a subconscious sign of his virility. The social trappings of success also send a very loud signal to women that ‘I’m the man who can provide, provide, provide for you like no other man can!’ And again, unfortunately, that signal is non-specific or not confined to just one woman. So men have biological genetic drives that are then reinforced by social values and that leads to the mountain of monogamy being much more difficult for a man to climb than a woman.
Abiola: Sex doesn’t keep anyone. That we know. Do you see a difference between a sexual affair, an emotional affair, an internet affair? Or is an affair an affair?
Dr. Ish: Very true, sex can be fun but if there’s never any deeper connection, people tend to move on. I think there’s absolutely a difference between ‘just sex’ or friends with benefits vs. an emotional affair vs. an online ‘buddy’. The trick is how each couple defines the word affair. Some women consider kissing cheating. Some women consider an exchange of personal information cheating. Some women consider having lustful thoughts of another woman cheating. That may be a bit of a stretch but again, it all depends on the guidelines of what cheating means to her.
For most men cheating means having sex with another woman you have feelings for. If it was ‘just sex’ they tend to group that more with a physical activity and not consider that cheating. It’s definitely a slippery slope!
Abiola: Are open marriages a more honest option? Have you ever counseled couples interested in this path?
Dr. Ish: I have seen couples in open marriages and have seen many of them work. This takes two very self-assured, self confident, very grounded, very transparent individuals to make that happen. However, I’ve also seen them go real wrong real fast and that usually happens when one or the other starts to feel less attractive, less desired or a little (or a lot) neglected. So yes, initially open marriages can seem more honest on the surface but beware, there can be many hidden lies lurking just beneath!
Abiola: What makes you an infidelity expert, Dr.Ish Major? Does that mean that you have cheated extensively? (laughs)
Dr. Ish: Hmmm… I think my expertise comes from being raised by 5 sisters and 8 aunts and getting the benefit of their experiences from a very young age. I’ve always noticed people seemed drawn to me and very comfortable around me and as such usually end up telling me some deep dark secret within minutes of starting a conversation.
One of my sisters told me she believes it’s because they get the sense they can trust me and that I care. So I’ve ended up being the de-facto counselor for countless numbers of friends and family members. Add that to my own life experience and my experience treating thousands of patients having relationship problems and there you have it. I have a very keen ‘BS-o-meter’ and am quick to call people out about it when I sense they’re not being totally honest.
My own personal experience with this came when I was in my fourth year in medical school. I met and fell madly in love with an unbelievable woman. She was everything I ever wanted. Unfortunately, she wasn’t the woman I was dating at the time. I lied to her and in the process lost forever the most special woman I’d ever had the honor of knowing. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about her.
Abiola: This has been a great conversation. Where can people find you online and off line if they want more Dr. Ish?
Dr. Ish: I’m easy to find. The websites are LittleWhiteWhys.com and TheCheaterMeter.com. And I can always be found on facebook chatting away and answering all sorts of relationship questions! Look for ‘Ish Major’ and let’s start the conversation! Class dismissed.