Is Dishonesty in Relationships the New Normal?

In a word, no. But it requires turning the tide.

Posted Jun 30, 2017

The last time I started a new divorce group, 5 of the 6 women had been cheated on. From what I can tell, intimate betrayals are becoming more and more common. To the point where I started to wonder if dishonesty was the new normal. I mean, look around. Cheating, lying and stealing are everywhere. It's hard to find someone who hasn't been impacted in one way or another by a scandal or a scam.

From politics, to pro sports; from finance to marriage, being dishonest is rampant. 

In five seconds, without thinking much about it, I can rattle off a list of major scandals that occurred in the past 10 - 20 years. There are political scandals: The Russians hacking into our election process, Republicans rigging districts in their favor; sex scandalsActor Bill Cosby drugging and raping numerous women over a 50-year span, Tiger Woods getting outed on his numerous affairs (ultimately going to rehab for sex addiction), Elliot Spitzer getting caught with a prostitute after publicly denouncing prostitution; financial scandalsBernie Madoff, stealing nearly 65 billion (yes, that's billion with a “B”) from clients, the subprime mortgage crisis where thousands of homeowners lost their homes—and no one went to prison, the Enron debacle; and sports scandalsBarry Bonds, Marion Jones, Lance Armstrong, and even Olympic athletes, were discovered to be doping.

That’s a pretty staggering list. And there are many more where those came from. And these are just the scams that made headlines. The amount of financial, emotional, physical and spiritual wreckage from all these schemes is immeasurable. Yet, because reports and allegations of cheating are almost as common in the news as weather reports, we might ask if we have become comfortably numb to deception and lies? Have we, in fact, come to expect to be ripped off, gotten over and cheated on?

While I can’t answer that for you, I can tell you that my clients seem to be less and less surprised when their fidelity is breached as the years pass. 

Please don’t confuse the word “surprised” with the word “hurt.” I’ve never met anyone who was anything short of devastated when they find out that their mate had cheated on them. Given how prevalent it is in all other areas, it makes sense that we are tolerating it more in our romantic relationships too. We can't deny that it’s a very real possibility.

In 2002, a website was launched to facilitate marital infidelity called  The homepage shows a woman with her finger up to her mouth (as if the say, "shhhh,")  and their motto is, "Life is short. Have an affair."

With 32 million users—give or take (mostly men but a fair amount of women)—the prevalence of cheating is obvious. 

I realize that infidelity has been around ever since pair bonding came into the picture, but it's previously been seen as wrong, immoral and the exception to the rule. It seems that it is becoming more part of our mainstream, whether we like it—or agree with it—or not.

How did we become such a cheating culture?

According to Cat Zavis, Attorney and Exec Director of Network of Spiritual Progressives, we have our priorities wrong and we're trained young to go off the straight and narrow. "Rather than teaching children how to care for one another, they are taught to be competitive and to look out for number one. This is how the definition of success has evolved."

She also says, "We've gotten so power hungry that we have lost our moral compass. We are willing to go to any lengths to lie and cheat our way to the top, only we call it outsmarting others. We view those at the bottom as dumber and somehow deserving of being exploited or kicked to the curb like litter—even if we had clear advantages over the less wealthy or educated from the get-go."

Obviously, if we are brought up to believe that it's okay and normal to disregard the needs of others in service of getting our own needs met, we will do just that. We  need to be taught to care for others. 

What can we do about it?

The concern is that the line between good behavior and bad is not so clearly defined these days.  This makes it harder for kids (or perhaps even adults too) to know what's okay and what's not okay to do in business, at work and at home.

It's tempting to feel overwhelmed, throw up our hands and say, "that's just how it is and there's nothing we can do about it. Cheating is where it's at." But I don't think that's the answer. 

Here are three solutions you can implement today:

1. Keep your side of the street clean. Don't lie. Don't cheat. Don't steal. Make it a point to think of others before yourself. The Golden Rule is a good measure of behavior. If you wouldn't want to be treated in a certain way (i.e. cheated on or lied to), don't do that to anyone else. 

2. Teach your kids to help and care for each other. Teach your kids to be upstanding citizens by talking to them about the problem. When stories of betrayal or mistreatment show up in the news, talk to your children about what is wrong. Use is as a teachable moment. When your kids fight over something or cheat someone, this is an incredible opportunity. 

3. Don't allow inappropriate behavior to go unnoticed—whether it's coming from a TV show, a video game, a person (like a celebrity, or a prominent politician)—even when it's coming from you, name it. Don't just sit back and tolerate mean or hurtful actions from family, friends, or acquaintances. Allowing bad behavior can be construed as tacit approval and that is what allows the behavior to remain and grow worse.


Although lying, stealing and cheating feel rampant in our culture and, at times, out of control, there are still many more decent people in the world than indecent.

Don't give in to the problem and don't lose hope. As a culture, we can find our way back to a norm of simple human kindness, generosity and decency.

If you practice the three tools outlined in this article on a regular basis, you will be doing your part to keep your relationships healthy and to make the world a better place.

I'll leave you with this quote:

“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turn, then to go forward does not get you any nearer.
If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” 
― C.S. Lewis