Why Do People Cheat?
It’s a fact of life: Cheating happens. But why do people cheat?
It’s easy to throw a cheater under the bus and declare them a bad person.
While it’s true that some people do set out to hurt the ones they are supposed to love, effectively making them seem like a bad person to society, that’s not always the case.
More often than not, there are many underlying reasons why people turn to cheating.
And they might not be what you’d expect or have been told.
Understanding the reasons behind infidelity can help you avoid its damage.
Here are fifteen reasons why people cheat on their partners.
Let’s start to answer by considering three primary types of reasons for cheating:
1. Individual reasons. The phrase “once a cheater, always a cheater” refers to individual reasons for cheating—qualities about the person that make him or her more prone to commit infidelity. Researchers have identified a variety of individual risk factors, including:
- Gender. Men are more likely than women to commit infidelity, largely because men have more testosterone, which is responsible for the strong desire to have sex.
- Personality. Those who have less conscientious and less agreeable personalities are more likely than people high on these traits to commit infidelity. (If you’re wondering about your own personality, try this assessment.)
- Religiosity and Political Orientation. Very religious people and those with a conservative political orientation are less likely than others to commit infidelity because they have more rigid values.
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2. Relationship reasons. People also cheat because of relationship reasons—characteristics about their relationship itself that are unsatisfying. For these people, becoming involved in a well-matched partnership diminishes or eliminates their desire to cheat. “Once a cheater, always a cheater” does not hold true for this group. When they stray, factors about the relationship itself must be examined. Researchers find that partnerships characterized by dissatisfaction, unfulfilling sex, and high conflict are at higher risk for infidelity. Also, the more dissimilar partners are—in terms of personality, education level, and other factors—the more likely they are to experience infidelity.
3. Situational reasons. Others cheat because of the situation: A person might not have a personality prone to cheating and might be in a perfectly happy relationship, but something about their environment puts them at risk for infidelity. Some situations are more tempting than others. Spending time in settings with many attractive people can make cheating more likely. The nature of a person’s employment is also related to infidelity—individuals whose work involves touching other people, having personal discussions, or a great deal of one-on-one time are more likely to have an affair. When the sex ratio is imbalanced (an overabundance of men or women in the work or campus environment), people are also more likely to experience infidelity. Finally, people who live in urban areas, as opposed to rural, less populated regions, are at greater risk—people in metropolitan locations generally have more liberal attitudes about extramarital sex, and cities simply have more people, creating an environment of higher anonymity and a larger potential group of partners with whom to have sex.
1) There was an opportunity.
It might sound strange, but sometimes, cheating happens because an opportunity was presented.
For men or women who say, “I know where my partner is at all times”, whether it’s out of routine or control, they don’t worry about cheating.
When the partner gets an opportunity to travel alone, work late alone with a coworker, for instance, the opportunity might strike. It’s not that they meant to cheat – it really did “just kind of happen.”
According to a psychotherapist with 35 years of experience, the main reason for cheating is that “the opportunity arose and it just happened” and most of the time, “they weren’t actively looking for it”.
One of the most common reasons for infidelity is the feeling that you and your partner have drifted apart. In this case, cheating can feel like a way of finding something new and exciting when your relationship has become predictable and familiar. A sense of disconnection from one’s partner can happen for a variety of reasons. There may be a lack of proper communication in the relationship (talking about specific issues or just generally keeping in touch about how you feel). Or life may have become dominated by work or looking after kids, so time together has become more functional than loving.
3) They want to be someone else in their life.
Cheating allows people to escape the day-to-day of the life they created.
When we come to accept and acknowledge that we want other things in life, we don’t always have the courage to tell our partners.
Cheating offers an opportunity to try on another life and see how it fits.
Some people find that they regret doing it, but in some cases, it frees people up to discover what else there might be in the world.
If there’s a lack of balance in a relationship, one partner can begin to feel a bit like a parent and the other like a child. For example, one partner may feel like they have to be the responsible one, making all the decisions, organising the home, managing the finances and so on, while their partner doesn’t pull their weight. An affair might then be tempting in order to feel appreciated and equal. Equally, the partner in the ‘child’ position may feel criticised and as if nothing they do seems to be enough, meaning an affair might feel like a way of reclaiming some sense of independence and authority.
5) They are trying to get your attention.
Not all cheating is about hurting the other partner; sometimes, it’s a last ditch effort to get their attention because the relationship has gone down the drain over time.
Cheating is a good wake-up call for relationships that are living in the status quo and have stopped evolving and growing.
Conversations, while seemingly more appropriate than cheating, might not yield the kind of attention or result that a partner wants.
This kind of cheating comes from desperation to try to get their partner to listen to them.
6) Sexually Addictive Behavior.
Affairs can commonly be linked to problems with sexually addictive behaviors. This is where someone habitually engages in sexual activity as a way of satisfying desires and relieving negative feelings they find hard to control. These desires can be compulsive in the way that a drug or alcohol addiction might be. For some people, this can mean they end up engaging in affairs repeatedly or in multiple relationships.
7) They wanted a change of scenery.
For some cheaters, it’s about the thrill of the chase and living life on the edge. They love and adore their partners, but need to find things from other people.
Adventure, as it were, can be achieved through sexual escapades. It’s not always right, and sometimes a lot of people get hurt, but it is one of the main reasons people turn away from their partners to seek the comfort of another.
You suspect or know your partner has betrayed you, so you want to get even. “The motivation is revenge,”
9) They spend a lot of time with other people…alone
Proximity matters. If your partner spends a lot of time with other people whom they might find attractive, the likelihood of an affair taking place is heightened.
The more someone sees of another person, the more attractive they become. This is made even more evident when they are spending time alone together.
Working late, having to take trips together, or just stealing a moment in a backroom at a party are all likely-to-happen situations in a person’s life.
The question is, will your partner give in to the temptation? Keeping them away from those situations is not always feasible.
10) There’s a lack of emotional connection
A key factor for cheating is feeling unvalued and neglected.
When this happens, the person has an affair to validate their sense of worthiness.
They want to know that they matter to someone else because they’re not getting that emotional connection from their partner.
This is particularly the case for women who operate based on their feelings. They want to feel appreciated and loved.
It’s a good idea to talk to your partner about how they are feeling in the relationship.
You might think things are great, but how does your partner really feel? Are there areas of your relationship that could be filled by someone else?
You don’t have to be all things to your partner, but a sense of support, love, and understanding is important.
If your partner is in a situation where they unload their feelings on someone else because they feel like they can’t talk to you, the likelihood of that relationship progressing into infidelity increases.
11) They are spending a lot of time around their ex
While it’s not common, some people want to stay in touch with their ex-partners. This may be because of children or common responsibilities, or because they are just better friends than lovers.
Whatever the reason, if your ex is hanging around with their ex, trouble might be brewing.
When we are near the familiar, we feel comfortable and safe. We tend to forget all the nasty things people did to us when we get out of a relationship and time has healed some of the wounds.
If things aren’t solid in your relationship now, it’s an easy invite for your partner to go back to something he or she knows well.
12) Men and women differ in their reasons for cheating
Research suggests that men are more likely to have affairs than women and do so mainly because of sex.
Men express their love physically – and when they are rejected by their partner for sex, they may take it to heart, and cheat due to feelings of insecurity.
However, when women cheat, it’s generally to do with their emotions.
You’ll often hear women complaining about an emotional disconnection with their partner – and their wish to be desired and loved.
This can lead to women cheating to fill that emotional void with someone else.
Usually, most women find a “transitional” partner as a way to end a relationship. In other words, she wants to leave a marriage, and this other person helps her do that.
However, this is not to say sexual satisfaction isn’t a driver for women, either. Simply, being bored in the relationship may lead both men and women to cheat.
In fact, one study looking at men and women who were actively pursuing affairs, both genders said they were hoping to improve their sex lives.
There’s a reason that once a cheater always a cheater is a popular saying. A 2017 study found that those who have cheater before are up to 3 times more likely to cheat again in their next relationship.
The research found that when a partner cheats, the act of lying about it can create patterns in the brain that makes it easier for the person to cheat again.
This can turn into a slippery slope because even the guilt of lying can diminish with time and cause the person to lie about more than cheating.
You feel sleeping with others will improve your sense of self-worth, signal your independence or increase your social status and popularity.
14) They can’t break up with you.
For whatever reason, your partner is not able to tell you that they want out of the relationship and if there is one thing that is guaranteed to end a relationship, it’s cheating.
Playing the bad guy, or girl, for a while provides the chance for you to get free without having to be the one that ended the relationship.
It might seem sick and twisted, but cheaters do it as a way of protecting themselves from other kinds of hurt.
Boredom can lead to cheating in both men and women who are looking for a bit of thrill and excitement.
Some people even say that having a fling with someone else enables them to feel invigorated and put energy back into their marriage. Usually, though, boredom mostly has to do with the bedroom, and people look to fulfill their sexual needs with someone else.
In fact, one survey found that 63 percent of females said cheating “made them feel more alive” – and 39 percent said it helped them regain confidence. 43 percent of female cheaters had an affair to have the feelings of butterflies again.
In the same survey, it was found that 87 percent of men seek sex and 39 percent to explore new desires. For men, only 23 percent cheated to have that butterfly feeling again.
So what now? How can you protect your relationship from infidelity?
First, talk to your partner about their definition of infidelity. People have different ideas about what constitutes cheating and partners need to develop consensus. It is easier to understand where the boundaries are and what will hurt your partner if you have had an open discussion about it. Most people agree that sex with another person constitutes infidelity but the reaction to other behaviors can be more nuanced. Does going out for lunch with an attractive coworker constitute infidelity? What about sexy chat sessions with strangers online? Open discussions about such questions will help set boundaries and hopefully avoid hurt feelings down the line.
Keep in mind that men and women tend to find emotional affairs more threatening than sexual affairs.
If your partner has been legitimately dating someone else, and there’s a strong emotional connection between the two of them, that can be more unforgivable than simply an affair or one-time encounters based purely on sex.
However, the common response in both cases is to be jealous. But if you are going to have these issues resolved, you need to get over that jealousy.
Jealousy can lead to resentment, and as the old adage claims: “Resentment is like a poison you drink yourself, and then wait for the other person to die”.
If you’ve found yourself with a cheater, you have an opportunity to dig into the why of the situation. It’s important to not makeup stories or put words in your partner’s mouth.
Ask questions about what happened and listen carefully. There’s no need to throw your hands in the air and quit the relationship right away.
A break might be needed to sort through feelings, but it’s not the worst thing that could happen to you. It might be the wake-up call you needed and your partner intended.
If you are a person who struggles with infidelity, as a victim or participant, it is important to get help, through therapy or books by professionals with advanced degrees in psychology. “Once a cheater, always a cheater” does not have to ring true for you.
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