A sex therapist says many people feel so guilty about cheating that they passive-aggressively try to get caught

Rawpixel.com/ShutterstockThey might leave their phone out for their partner to see.
  • Ashley Madison is a website for married people seeking affairs. Sex therapist Tammy Nelson is its resident relationship expert.
  • Nelson said some cheaters are so overwhelmed by the pressure to keep the affair secret that they passive-aggressively try to get caught.
  • Nelson tries to help clients who are having affairs re-integrate seemingly separate parts of their lives – like their desire to be a good partner and their desire to be flirty.

When Tammy Nelson sees clients who are having affairs, she often observes that they’re in some kind of existential crisis.

But it’s not necessarily about the fact that they’re having an intimate relationship with someone other than their partner, Nelson said. “Because a lot of people feel like they don’t want to have sex with the same person for the rest of their life.”

Instead, she said, “it’s the dishonesty. It’s really painful to you, not just to other people.”

Nelson is a sex and relationship therapist; after about 30 years in practice, she recently joined Ashley Madison, a website for people seeking affairs, as an outside consultant.

“It’s hard not to live in integrity,” Nelson said. And as a result, many people in this situation try – albeit passive-aggressively – to get caught.

“They leave their computer open; they leave their phone out,” Nelson said. “They just can’t take the pressure.”

Nelson isn’t the only expert who’s noticed this pattern.

Diana Kirschner, psychologist and CEO of Love in 90 Days, told Women’s Health that she believes a majority of cheaters want to get caught – perhaps because they think it will improve their relationship once their transgression is out in the open.

Sometimes, Kirschner told Women’s Health, that actually happens. Indeed, couples therapist Esther Perel previously told Business Insider that a couple can sometimes discover new kinds of intimacy and honesty after the discovery of an affair.

Meanwhile, in an excerpt of “Our Cheating Hearts,” published on the Daily Mail, Kate Figes writes that “sometimes the pressure cooker of deceit and denial when one spouse is having an affair builds to such an intensity that the only way out is to get caught. So, he may leave telltale notes or presents lying around – clues that are actually a cry for help.”

Nelson said she tries to help clients work on psychologically “re-integrating” seemingly separate parts of themselves, like the part who likes to flirt and likes being desired as well as the part who’s a devoted wife and mum.

“It’s hard to feel like, oh my god, I’m a liar, and keep those secrets,” she said. “That’s what destroys you.”

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