I don’t think you’re placing enough importance in the act of cheating. Sure, all of the things you describe may be “influences” that a person will consider when faced with a situation of whether or not to cheat on their partner, but that doesn’t make the act of cheating simply the culmination of other factors like the line on a measuring cup (you add enough bad things and eventually you hit the “cheating line”).
Cheating is a conscious act of betrayal that hurts your partner in a way and degree of magnitude completely separate from any act that came before. The state of the relationship before a person cheats creates a context for the act, but the act of cheating is not the culmination of a bad relationship or an “effect” of bad relationship, like sneezing is an effect of having a cold.
Pretty much everyone sneezes when they get a cold but not every one cheats when in a bad relationship.
Cheating is not an effect of a bad relationship, it is an AFFECT that one partner knowingly chooses to inflict upon their partner. (Yes, I know affect is a verb and not a noun, but I’m using the word as a noun for literary and I like to think poetic effect ;p)
Think of it like this.
Let’s say tomorrow morning you woke up to find the person you are in a relationship with, stealing money from your purse or wallet. And I mean red-handed, no talking their way out of it, your partner was straight up taking money from your wallet/purse!
Would you chalk it up to “well things were getting pretty bad, I guess I should have expected that he/she would STEAL MONEY FROM ME.
Because we understand immediately that the act of material theft from a person you are in a relationship CANNOT just be an “effect” of a bad relationship!
The fact that someone would steal money from the person they are in a relationship with, regardless of the state of said relationship, is a direct reflection of the values, personality and character of the person himself/herself.
The betrayal is so profound and complete, that “the action speaks for itself” regardless of the state of the relationship. Everybody knows you’re not supposed to do that, everybody knows why you’re not supposed to do that and everybody knows that when they do that they are choosing to directly profit at the expense of someone they are in a relationship with! We all know we’re not supposed to steal from the people who trust us, and we all know that if we do (absent emergency), it is a statement of who we are as a person.
AND THE SAME IS TRUE OF CHEATING! AT IT’S CORE CHEATING IS A CONFIDENCE CRIME, A HORRIBLE CRIME OF TRUST ON PAR WITH STEALING MONEY FROM SOMEONE YOU ARE IN A RELATIONSHIPS WITH! AND THE ONLY REASON WE DON’T IMMEDIATELY SEE IT THAT WAY IS BECAUSE AS A GENERAL RULE MOST PEOPLE WHO STEAL MONEY ARE MORE ASHAMED OF THEIR ACTIONS THAN PEOPLE WHO CHEAT ON THEIR PARTNERS! SO THIEVES ARE MORE LIKELY TO FESS UP AND TAKE THE HEAT, WHILE CHEATERS ARE MORE LIKELY TO TRY TO “EXPLAIN AWAY” THEIR ACTIONS.
Admittedly, I’m a bit biased in this regard. As a straight man, there a general rule that short of domestic abuse or criminal acts, it is not acceptable for us to voice our negative judgments of a straight male friend based upon how he treats women. We’re not allowed to call a guy-friend slime (to his face) when he tells us he cheated on his girlfriend/wife. So I have had to sit through WWWAAAYYY too many stories from my friends where they try to frame the fact that they cheated as an “effect” of a bad relationships as opposed to a knowing conscious act that DEFINITELY reflects upon their character.
(Note: Just because we’re not allowed to say it out loud does not mean we aren’t judging each other on this point though! Anyone who thinks that men don’t judge each other and talk about each other behind their backs is an idiot. We’re just better at hiding it from each other, because we’re too dumb to expect it from each other. On some instinctive level we don’t believe that our “group of guy friends” exists when we’re not with them. We honestly don’t think that our friends would EVER meet up without inviting us, or talk about us when we’re not there lol! But of course we do! Don’t believe me guys? Try to borrow money from a guy friend who knows something INCREDIBLY irresponsible you did, or get an invite to something where they want to impress people. I also assure you that no matter how much you think your guy friends “get why you cheated” there are beautiful available women that they know whom they will NEVER introduce you to! Not because they want them for themselves, but because they definitely “got why you cheated” and got what that says about you.
We judge each other just as much as women judge each other. The difference is we generally reach our final conclusions about each other in silence and once we reach an opinion about each other we don’t feel any great need to give each other a chance to change our opinions. At least women give each other the chance to explain themselves. It may lead to more fights and more “drama” but they don’t just stop being friends nearly as much or as permanently the men do.)
Off all the things that are wrong about cheating, the one thing that people (especially cheaters) tend to under-emphasize is that cheating is a profound act of cowardice. To cheat on someone you are in a relationship with reflects that you are too much a of a coward to either end the relationship if it it isn’t saveable or do all of the work necessary to fix the relationship if it is savable. Cheating reflects that you lack the basic courage to take a stand to either be in a relationship or to exit one like an adult.
Plus Cowardice is one of those things that is largely decided based upon the actions you take, not what you’re “going through”. People generally hate being judged by their actions and would much rather be judged by their “thoughts”, because you really can’t “argue” about your actions. You did them, and they stand as actual things that you can be judged for. Thoughts, however, are a different matter. No one really knows 100% what you’re thinking, feeling or going through, which gives you leeway to “explain yourself”.
IMO, when someone says “It’s over because he/she cheated on me”. What they are really saying is the other person did something that crosses a line that makes any possibility of repairing the relationship impossible. I don’t hear “it’s over because he/she cheated on me”, I hear “It’s over because I woke up and found him/her stealing from me”.
The action speaks for itself and the actor in a way that is beyond context.
By letting cheaters frame their actions as the “result of a bad relationship” we allow them to mentally separate themselves from their actions. IMO the better approach is to emphasize the cowardly aspect of cheating so that they stop looking at the things that are “making” them cheat and start looking at how the act of cheating defines them as people.
If this means that people will give us less sympathy should we ourselves cheat, then so be it.