What’s Harder on a Relationship Than Cheating?


Over on Reddit, there’s a discussion going about what’s more harmful to a relationship than cheating, which, generally, “gets all the hype” (as far as relationship roadblocks go). I didn’t read the entire thread, but most of the usual suspects seem to be mentioned near the top: family death (especially the death of a child, ugh), serious illness, lying, withholding affection. I also think money problems (or disagreement on how to spend money, even if there’s an abundance of it), unmanaged addiction, disagreement over expectations of the involvement of family and friends in your lives, infertility, disagreeing on where to live, and typical kid-related stress (behavior problems, learning disabilities, social issues, fucking homework, etc.) can all do a number on a relationship — sometimes as much or even more than infidelity. Oh, and, of course, not being a good match or being in love with someone else tends to hurt relationships.

I’ve never had a cheating incident in a relationship, but…

I’d say the biggest challenge on my marriage — which is a good one! — is the stress of raising young children, with the death of a parent a pretty close second (especially because it involves the settling of an estate, which involves a lot of decisions that require careful thought and consideration all while dealing with the sadness and grief of losing a close loved one… and raising two very young kids). That said, I don’t think Drew and I would be as close as we are if it weren’t for the challenges we’ve faced together. And certainly raising children brings a lot of joy, too. It’s mostly a good kind of stress, which, of course, isn’t true of a lot of stress couples face which ultimately ruins or deeply damages a relationship.

What, besides cheating, has harmed your relationships (past or present)? Would you consider the issues worse on your relationship than cheating? Have you been in a relationship that has survived infidelity but faced harder challenges?


  1. Once, I was in a relationship where another woman was pregnant with my then-boyfriend child. We started dating and around three months in we found out. We lasted around 4 more months, the relationship didnt survive, it was too much pressure.

  2. Avatar photo muchachaenlaventana says:

    I think lying of any sort or concealment of things, being secretive. I think cheating can sort of apply to this category since overall its a huge violation of trust. I had a non physical cheating happen in a past relationship, which was essentially just a huge lie fest on the part of my then boyfriend and it basically caused the same damage as if he had actually cheated.

    1. RedRoverRedRover says:

      I agree, any kind of breach of trust is a huge issue for a relationship. It changes it completely.

  3. Violence of any sort is at the top of my list. I might stay with my boyfriend if he cheats on me, depending on the circumstances. But I would sure as hell walk out if he were to brutalize me or threaten me with violence in any way. I already warned him once at the early stage of our relationship that throwing a small cardboard box against the wall in anger when I wasn’t even in the room was borderline unacceptable for me. I just have no empathy for people who feel the need to throw, or punch or slap any inanimate object, animal or person out of anger.

    1. I agree that violence against living things isn’t acceptable in a relationship, but you’ve really never been upset enough to want to punch a pillow? Or frustrated enough to throw something down in anger? Does it only count if you’re upset with your partner? Like, once I tossed my phone at the sofa after being on the world’s longest, most frustrating call with Comcast “customer service”. I want to know the secret for remaining Zen at all times…

      1. I actually never feel the urge to throw or punch something, no. It really just doesn’t compute in my mind. I understand going to the gym to lift weights, running for 30 minutes or doing yoga, because yes, those things help me clear my mind and let go of frustrations. But I don’t do violence, I just don’t. Basically I want my partner to feel the same way about this, because I while I would totally understand “I need to go run right now, I’m so pissed”, I would just feel weird and possibly unsafe if my partner were to throw or punch something as a way to release anger. It just doesn’t compute in my brain.

      2. anonymousse says:

        Yeah, I don’t feel violent. I ride my bike or go for a run or walk.
        I think it is still really scary to witness a partner hit a wall, door or whatever.

      3. Reading what Vathena wrote versus what the two of you are saying I see two completely different things. Throwing a cell phone down on a sofa or hitting a pillow or even making an exasperated noise seem completely different to me than hitting a wall/door or throwing something across a room. I mean obviously everyone has their own comfort levels with things and everyone is going to see things differently. But, for me I am more in line with what Vathena is saying. Going to the gym releases the stress I might feel but I still might throw my phone down on the sofa after an annoying call with my cable company (I think it’s a requirement for cable companies to make people angry).

      4. anonymousse says:

        I don’t think hitting a pillow violently, repeatedly or punching a wall are very different. Tossing a phone onto a couch isn’t in the ballpark for me. Throwing it into a wall with force is violent, and isn’t the same as tossing it onto a padded surface.
        Believe it or not, I’ve seen someone go off and punch a pillow in such a way, that I had to leave the vicinity. Violence is scary, and violence on inanimate objects is a threat of violence in many cases, IMO.

      5. You’re definitely not the only one who has experienced abuse and violence. So yes, I’ve seen people be violent and I’m sure it is possible to interact with a pillow in an extremely violent or threatening way. But, I think hitting a pillow in the same manner that one would throw a pillow on a sofa is different than the violence involved in hitting a wall, and what that would look like if the object in that situation was a pillow instead. Either way it’s up to each individual to their comfort level with violence. But, I don’t read violence in what Vathena is describing, just exasperation. Like I said I’ve seen violence and to me I can see a difference between the two. Obviously everyone isn’t going to see it that way.

      6. anonymousse says:

        I’m aware I am not the only person who has experienced violence and abuse. I’m not sure why that is important to point out to me.
        I agree about comfort levels, and I wasn’t even responding to Vathena, I was just agreeing with Miel.

      7. LOL at “I’m sure it is possible to interact with a pillow in an extremely violent or threatening way.” Yes, possibly! What I’m getting at is that small outbursts of exasperation/frustration are unavoidable for many people. (My mom told me she used to go in the backyard and yell expletives when my brother and I were driving her nuts – she couldn’t just leave us at home alone to go for a run. Plus she didn’t/doesn’t run.) And I agree with you jlyfsh, there’s a difference between expressing frustration in the moment and having an anger/violence problem.

      8. anonymousse says:

        Okay, but Miel started this subthread about….violence!

      9. anonymousse says:

        Anger management exists for a reason.

      10. Miel said that her boyfriend threw a small box against the wall in anger and that it was almost a deal breaker. And that got me thinking, well, I’ve definitely gotten so pissed off about something that I’ve tossed an object. But I’m not an angry or violent person generally (I hope!) So I was kind of musing about what is in the “normal range” of human emotions and reactions. I would think it is the rare, and lucky, person who is able to stay calm at all times and only express/defuse frustration during a weekly yoga class.

      11. anonymousse says:

        But she considers that violent.

      12. anonymousse says:

        Nice example of an adult leaving the situation and expressing anger in a more mature way than exhibiting physical anger at an object in front of her kids…

      13. RedRoverRedRover says:

        I’m like you Vathena. I’ve definitely gotten to the point where I’ve slammed a door or kicked something or whatever. Usually it happens when I’m already tired, overworked, etc and then something else piles on that brings me to a breaking point. But I could never even imagine hitting a person or any other living thing. That’s a very separate thing, in my mind.

      14. Avatar photo muchachaenlaventana says:

        I agree– there is a huge difference between throwing something in frustration and being violent (to me). Violence is defined as “behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something” and I think typically when people throw something in anger/frustration it is more because they are in need of an outlet, not that it is with violent intentions. I don’t often or even frequently have those sorts of outbursts and typically handle the anger/frustration/stress in a more productive way, but sometimes its just a big welling up and it happens. I have had a few instances where I threw something or kicked something , not in violence but frustration/anger/release. It was stupid in hindsight but in the moment made me feel a bit better, and was never done in front of or around anyone else or with violent intentions.

      15. I think with a bunch of these examples, it’s hard to separate out the intent. If someone is angry at the phone or someone on the phone and throws it onto a wall out of frustration and it breaks, is that violence? Does it depend on whether their partner can see it? Alternatively, what if someone kicks a door out of frustration and not knowing their own strength in the moment puts a hole through it? Because their partner can now see it and it could serve as a warning, does that transform it into violence? I’m asking because honestly I don’t know the answer. The line between a light physical act out of anger/frustration and violence seems a lot in the eye of the beholder and the intent, which are hard to demonstrate without words.
        My natural fight or flight response is flight, so I’m far more likely to run out of a room than throw something. And even that was something I had to deal with with my husband because he reads that as abandonment.

      16. RedRoverRedRover says:

        I guess it’s one of those comfort level things. Like I said, I’ve had outbursts, and they’ve been in front of my husband too, but by the time I get to that point he’s seen that I’ve been having a really hard day/week/whatever, and am already frustrated, and then something tips me over. Whereas I had a boyfriend once whose go-to response was punching the wall (and often putting a hole in it). It wasn’t a one-off response to frustration, it was every time something happened that he didn’t like. Big, big difference.

        I think it also does make a real difference whether the person exhibiting that behaviour is stronger than you or not. My husband knows I’m not a violent person in general, and he’s obviously a lot stronger than me, so that feeling of being in danger isn’t there for him. He doesn’t like it, but he’s not scared of it. Whereas if I were the man and he were the woman, it might be completely different.

    2. I agree. I had an ex and shortly after I broke up with him, I heard he punched through a wall. At that moment I immediately felt relief that I was not in that relationship. He’s never shown himself to be violent during our relationship, but obviously he was more than capable of that.

    3. Ann Droid says:

      I’m 50F and never before in any relationship have I ever acted out in violence until now. To give you an idea, my last serious relationship (of 12 years) ended because I found out he had been cheating EVERY SINGLE DAY. He cheated with hookers, all different kinds, some with no protection ( I saw his emails to them ) he was a sex addict and a sociopath. He was also running craigslist ads looking to financially support young hot girls. There were times we were so broke we couldn’t pay the bills and shit was being shut off! All that and never once did I suspect he was cheating. I obviously left him. But not once did yell, scream, throw anything, or act violently in any way. Horrified, I left the guy. Since then, I’ve dated a few men. One of which, was very short lived…around 3 months until his real self surfaced. This guy was bad news. He became homeless and blamed me. He stopped paying rent so he got tossed out. THAT WAS MY FAULT TOO. Losing his job was also my fault (even though I actually went to work with him (doing demo work) working side by side for free. The guy was a major nuisance with 2 felony convictions, violent ones, he served some years for. He stole my car with my dog in it, stole my phone, tried to ruin my life because I wanted nothing to do with him. He halfway succeeded. One day, after I’d stopped seeing him, he had come to my house wanting help, crying he was cold and hungry. Of course I felt bad and let him stay in my basement that night. I got no sleep that night. He kept wanting to talk, kept bothering me, being demanding as if I owed him something.. Eventually, he was screaming in my face, calling me names & threatening me. My bllood began to boil, he wouldn’t let up, he was so far out of line. He was mentally “off” not even making sense, antagonizing me to the point I could’ve killed him with my hate hands I was so upset. I’m 95 pounds, he was a foot taller than me & outweighed me by approx. 80 pounds at least. But none of that mattered, nothing mattered at this point, nothing at all “just get him AWAY FROM ME!!” I was thinking. Now I’m just incredibly ENRAGED from this fucking guy. And that was IT!
      I’D HAD IT!!! I’d totally fucking had it with this prick! Really HAD IT! Like about to explode…the aggravation, the antagonizing, it was just too much! I couldn’t take it anymore! And suddenly? I just PUNCHED HIM IN THE FACE ! I must’ve punched him hard cuz I broke his nose! He was not just crying, he was bellowing. Wailing out while his nose was gushing gushingis with blood: “YOU BROKE MY NOSE! You BROKE my FUCKING NOOOO…SE….!”
      OMG! My NOOOSE IS BROKEN!!!” ” As he was clutching his face and dialing 911. I jumped in my car & sped off! Shortly thereafter, he ended up robbing a store, got caught & was sentenced to something like a dozen years.
      But not before he stalked me, he stalked my bf, all the while attempting to ruin our current and future lives. For that reason, I feel he’s right where he belongs.
      (Comment Continued)

  4. I think cynicism is really bad for a relationship. There is only so much time to communicate about everything. I think it is really important to have a partner who has faith that their SO is making choices from a place of admirable intentions.

    One thing that I would think would be a difficult issue to get past is a stark difference in libido. I think the partner going without can struggle with feelings of rejection and deep frustration and perhaps even abandonment. I think the partner being pushed can feel deeply defensive and resentful from having a partner that is constantly unsatisfied despite their efforts to please and who doesn’t appear to respect their physical boundaries. Perhaps this falls under basic incompatibility.

  5. Not being able to communicate. If one person has trouble communicating it’s hard to be able to talk about things. My last boyfriend was 10 years older than me and already had a 15 year old daughter. When I asked if he was okay with having more kids, he flat out ignored me for two days. I didn’t mean now or even with me, just wanted to make sure if we got that far he could give me what I wanted. No kids is a deal breaker for me. The relationship didn’t last much longer since he cannot communicate anything serious.

  6. anonymousse says:

    Abuse, neglect, withholding of affection.
    I’ve experienced all of those, and cheating.
    I would say abuse is worse.

  7. In the same realm as not agreeing on where to live, but distance without a definite endpoint. It almost broke us up for good.

  8. My first serious relationship involved lots of emotional abuse, and that affected me way worse than the cheating. A year later I wasn’t that concerned that he was living with the girl he cheated on me with, but I was still trying to convince myself that it was okay to eat 3 times a day and wear colors.

    1. Avatar photo veritek33 says:

      emotional abuse really fucks you up. been there

  9. sobriquet says:

    Most of my relationships ended because of a failure to talk through and work out issues effectively. A stupid fight would go unresolved and we would move on until the next stupid fight happened. They started piling up over time- each fight lacking compassion or resolution, each argument nicking away at the relationship- until it got to the point where I wouldn’t bring up any issues at all because I didn’t want to deal with it.

  10. anonymousse says:

    Not being able to fight fair. Being able to argue and disagree without resorting to below the belt garbage is so important.

    1. RedRoverRedRover says:

      This is a big one. Knowing that you can bring up issues without fear of being attacked or met with anger.

      1. snoopy128 says:

        Knowing that we fight fair as been really good in my relationship. It opens up the door for more, honest communication. We both know that any discussion is a safe space.

  11. Avatar photo MaterialsGirl says:

    emotional abuse for sure. its the gnawing and constant eating away at your soul

  12. Undiagnosed and/or untreated mental illness. This was the major cause of the breakdown of my first marriage. Thankfully he left when he did – before children or shared property. I’m so happy to have moved on to a great partner.

    1. Juliecatharine says:

      YES. Mental illness wreaks havoc on relationships and the people in them. Cheating is awful but it hurt me less than the constant stress brought on by loving someone (unhealthily) who was seriously over the edge mentally.

  13. Sue Jones says:

    I would say a volatile temper and anger management issues can kill a relationship. As can untreated mental illnesses such as depression. And yes, money issues. And addiction. Basically all of the above mentioned as well.

  14. Serious, chronic illness when you’re young. There is so much loss and grief tied up in the dreams you has for your marriage that you will never get to realize, through neither of your fault. And one of you is a caretaker now, and one of you is ill. I’ve been in abusive relationships in the past, before all this and my marriage, but even in that wasteland there was a way out, eventually. You can slowly heal. When there is no cure, but management? That’s been much harder to deal with. Bruises fade. I can learn that it’s okay to buy clothes again. But I will never be well again. Thank god my husband is the best partner I could have chosen; he’s made bearing this burden possible.

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