Being cheated on is a gut-wrenching experience.
Nobody wants it to happen to them, and few of us would even imagine that the person we love and care about could stab us in the back so brutally.
But cheating happens.
In fact, it happens a lot.
This is an in-depth guide to infidelity.
What’s the truth about how many people are cheating and their motivations, gender and relationship types?
Here’s the cold, hard truth:
Nobody wants to get cheated on but many of us will be cheated on.
We have the statistics, polls, analyses, interviews and research.
Who is cheating, why, and where? Do men cheat more or do women?
Let’s get started.
- What do the numbers say?
- Why do people cheat?
- What goes on in cheaters’ minds?
- Why do women cheat?
- Why do men cheat?
- Who cheats more?
- Homosexual and bisexual cheating
- How long do most affairs last?
- Digital dirt
- Which professions cheat more?
- Emotional cheating
- Financial cheating
- Should I stay or should I go now…?
- Cultural perceptions of cheating
- How do you “get over” being cheated on?
What do the numbers say?
The overall numbers on infidelity are alarmingly high.
Some websites have published unverified numbers claiming that “about 40% of unmarried relationships and 25% of marriages see at least one incident of infidelity.”
Another estimate from the journal of Marriage and Divorce concludes that a mindblowing 70% of married Americans cheat at least once in their marriage.
More reliable numbers from the US General Social Survey point to lower statistics for infidelity, but they are still worrisomely high.
According to the General Social Survey, “twenty percent of men cheat compared to 13 percent of women.”
According to LA Intelligence Detective Agency the numbers are somewhat higher. They write that:
- 30 to 60 percent of married couples will cheat at least once in the marriage
- 74 percent of men and 68 percent of women admit they’d cheat if it was guaranteed they’d never get caught
- 60 percent of affairs start with close friends or coworkers
- An average affair lasts 2 years
- 69 percent of marriages break up as a result of an affair being discovered
This is not what any of us want to hear. But the ugly truth is better than a beautiful lie.
So let’s find out the truth about cheating.
Why do people cheat?
The usual reason that people assume for cheating is that one or both partners are not happy, are unsatisfied or are having other personal problems.
The truth is more complicated.
As LA Intelligence Detective Agency notes:
“Statistics show that 56% of men and 34% of women who commit infidelity rate their marriages as happy or very happy. This makes the reason people cheat a little harder to dissect and comprehend.”
A poll from Superdrug Online Doctor found that men and women cheat for very different reasons.
For American and European women the number one reason was that their partner did not pay enough attention to them and the least important reason was that American women were bored and European women “needed to feel sexy.”
For American and European men, the reason was that the other person they had an affair with was very hot and the least important reason was that their partner was no longer paying attention to them.
What people consider cheating also varies a fair bit, especially between the US and Europe.
Out of those who do cheat, the reasons, forms of cheating and consequences vary considerably.
The website the Truth About Deception maintains a poll for cheaters that’s updated daily. It currently has over 94,600 respondents. The poll allows users wh have cheated to anonymously say why they cheated, how many times and more information.
The results as of March 23, 2021 shows some fascinating info:
- 43.7 percent of cheating women and 22.2 percent of cheating men have cheated on their spouse with someone they both know.
- 72.1 percent of cheated males cheated in a one-night stand, while only 53.1 percent of cheating women cheated by having a one-night stand.
- 53.1 percent of cheating women have cheated on their husband more than once; 66.9 percent of cheating men have cheated on their wife more than once.
- 40 percent of cheating females and 30.5 percent of cheating males have engaged in cybersex with someone other than their spouse.
- 34.6 percent of cheating females and 25.9 percent of cheating males did so because they were bored with their sex life.
- 73.7 percent of cheating females and 48.1 percent of cheating males were motivated to be unfaithful due to problems in their relationship
- 49.8 percent of cheating females and 19.8 percent of cheating males thought about splitting up because of the affair
- 30.3 percent of cheating females and 15.2 percent of cheating males did so to get even with their partner
- 47.8 percent of cheating females and 39 percent of cheating males were caught by their significant other.
In addition, 44% of people aged 17 to 24 admitted they cheated at least once to get back with their ex after a breakup, and 53% of the respondents admitted having sex with their ex.
The likelihood of cheating does seem to correspond to marital status as well. As far as the numbers show it seems to make a big difference if you’re married or not or at least correlate to an overall difference.
As Branka Vuleta notes:
“There is a 20% chance of a first marriage resulting in divorce within five years. In comparison, couples who cohabit for five years have a 49% chance of separating. Similarly, married couples have a 33% chance of divorce within 10 years, whilst cohabiting couples have a 62% chance of splitting up in this timeframe. These statistics indicate that married couples are likely to remain together longer than couples who choose to cohabit but do not marry.”
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What goes on in cheaters’ minds?
Of course only the cheater themselves what’s going on in their minds and in their underpants.
But there are definitely gender differences in motivation that emerge in polling across the world.
As Fatherly notes:
“Men are more prone to casual and opportunistic cheating, which plays a big part in why they get caught. Infidelity, for many men, is evidence of recklessness.
For women, however, cheating may be evidence of a more thought-out plan to address perceived needs. The potential costs of being sexually reckless is otherwise too high. Intimate partner violence, which one out of three women experiences at some point, is often triggered by infidelity.”
It’s often not about looks either.
In fact a reputable study cited by HuffPost found that a majority of people surveyed cheated on their partner with someone they considered less physically attractive than their spouse. Furthermore, only 25 percent of men found the woman they were having an affair with to be more interesting than their wife.
As Sophia Mura writes for Bride magazine, there are four main traits that make someone more likely to cheat, namely: they rank low for agreeableness and conscientiousness, your lives are not intertwined, you see their differences as flaws and they’ve become narcissistic.
According to Mark Manson, the main reason people in relationships cheat is “when one’s need for self-gratification outweighs their need for intimacy.”
In other words, the desires of the moment and lust for immediate satisfaction temporarily outpaces their desire to be respectful and loyal to the love and relationship they have waiting at home. It’s not always some big problem going on: in many cases it’s plain temptation and the heat of the moment.
How did people meet the person they’re cheating with?
The chart below shows some of the common places cheater met their mistress or boy toy.
Why do women cheat?
Obviously every woman is different. That said, women tend to cheat for very different reasons than men.
In general, women cheat when they feel a lack of intimacy and feel ignored by their partner, whereas men are more visual and tend to cheat due to immediate temptation.
Nonetheless, women are not always cheating for deep reasons. Sometimes, like men, they get caught up in the heat of the moment.
As Jeremy Brown explains:
“Some women cheat to avoid boredom; other women cheat because they feel neglected. Still, other women say they cheat just because they want to. The reasons for infidelity are complex and unique to each relationship…
The concept of a cheating wife contrasts a lot with what our culture tells us about women. To many, the thought triggers stronger reactions than that of a cheating man, which is more expected based on historical norms.”
What this means is that many cultures still idealize women as perfect beings who never get horny or tempted. It’s a misogynist streak which believes men are allowed to sometimes lose control and be kind of stupid, but women should stay loyal and not stray from their man.
The truth is that while women are more likely to cheat for reasons of feeling a lack of love and wanting something more serious, plenty of women do cheat because they want to try sex with someone new: it’s not just a male thing, contrary to the popular myth.
Why do men cheat?
Men generally have different motivations for infidelity than women, although every case varies.
Men tend to be more visual and get tempted into infidelity by their physical desires. However once you dig deeper there are usually more disquieting reasons why men cheat.
According to psychologist Robert Weiss, once you cut through the excuses and denial, the real primary reasons men cheat are the following: immaturity, other problems, low self-esteem, too cowardly to just end things, wants to get another side piece before ending things, impulsivity, childhood abuse or to get revenge on his partner.
Weiss says that a man who is immature and has other issues like a sexual addiction, drug use or alcoholism may cheat as part of a broader lifestyle issue or he may also be seeking
“validation from women other than his mate, using this sextracurricular spark of interest to feel wanted, desired, and worthy.”
In addition, Weiss says that sometimes men get infatuated and aren’t really into it, quickly tapping out to seek out some new nookie because he’s “mistaking the neurochemical rush of early romance, technically referred to as limerence, for love,” and “fails to understand that in healthy, long-term relationships limerence is replaced over time with less intense, but ultimately more meaningful forms of connection.”
When a man cheats to break up, he may do it because he’s too scared to tell her straight up and wants her to do the hard work or Weiss says,
“he may want to end his current relationship, but not until he’s got another one lined up.”
Sometimes a guy just cheats because the chance comes up.
As Weiss says:
“He may never have even thought about cheating until an opportunity suddenly presented itself. Then, without even thinking about what infidelity might do to his relationship, he went for it.”
Who cheats more?
Men cheat more than women.
As stated, according to the General Social Survey, 20% of married men admitted to cheating and 13% of women, but the amount of women cheating has gone up 40% over the past several decades from its past miniscule amount.
In addition, some researchers wonder if the number of women is actually higher but women are just less likely to admit to an affair than men.
Apps like Tinder and dating apps have made it even easier for men and women to cheat and hide it from their spouse, especially if they stick to sexting for the initial phase of the affair.
Polling from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago shows that more women are cheating than ever before, especially in younger demographics, with 12.9% of US women between 18-24 saying they’ve cheated and 15.9% of US males in the same age range.
On adults over 65-years-old, only 10% of women cheated and 25% of men, showing just how dramatic the rise in younger women cheating has been.
In other words, a lot of men cheat, but more and more younger women are getting in on the backstabbing now too.
The highest age bracket for cheating women is not younger women, however, it’s still women between 50 to 59-years-old, a trend which has been recognizable for years now but switched from the 90s when women between 40 to 49 had the highest cheating rate.
In terms of demographic breakdowns in the US, the Institute for Family Studies has a lot of data.
Black Americans cheat more than other races, with 22% of married Black Americans admitting they’ve cheated compared to 16% of Whites overall and 13% of Hispanics.
In terms of gender and race, married Black men had a cheating rate of 28%, compared to 20% of married White men and 16% of married Hispanic men.
Age also has a significant impact on cheating.
Men and women both cheat more in middle age and between 51 to 59-years-old is the peak, with 31% of men and women in that age bracket admitting they’ve cheated.
Education level has no known correlation with cheating.
Politically the results are mixed. Although past studies have showed that liberals and Democrats are more likely to cheat by a few percentage points, recent results from the cheating website Ashley Madison showed that 60% of its members identified as Republicans and 40% as Democrats, making Republicans and conservatives more likely to cheat in the United States.
People who go to church or religious services less than once a year are more likely to cheat than those who go a few times a year or more. In other words religious people are less likely to cheat.
In fact, church or religious service attendance is linked to a number of benefits.
According to a 2016 Harvard study, religious service attendance is directly linked to “better health outcomes, including longer life, lower incidence of depression, and less suicide” and “associated with greater marital stability — or more specifically, with a lower likelihood of divorce.”
Family background is also important. Those who are adopted or come from broken families are slightly more likely to cheat.
As Anugrah Kumar notes for Christian Post:
“Fifteen percent of adults who grew up with both biological parents have cheated on their spouse before, compared with 18 percent of those who didn’t grow up in intact families.”
Homosexual and bisexual cheating
Even many people in heterosexual marriages have felt sexually or romantically interested in someone of the same sex, specifically 20% of straight women and 10% of straight men.
According to the journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 13.7% of those surveyed were open to the idea of a same-sex affair and 2.9% were equally into either sex.
Men tend to be more easygoing if their wife cheats on them with a woman, with 33% saying that wouldn’t be a dealbreaker and 76% said they’d prefer their wife cheat with a woman than a man.
Only 22% of women say that their husband cheating with a man would be acceptable to them, and 62% of women would rather their husband cheat on them with a woman than a guy.
How long do most affairs last?
- 25% of affairs last under a week
- 65% last under six months
- 10% last more than six months
In other words, the most you’re likely to get out of an affair is a few months. And it’s also true that cheaters tend to be repeat offenders.
Even though it can be tempting to give a cheating woman or man another chance, the statistics show that they’re much more likely to do the dirty deed again.
In fact, cheaters have a 350% higher chance of cheating again than someone who’s never cheated.
More interesting stats:
- 2%: Number of children who are the result of affairs.
- 3%: Marry the lovers they had the affair with.
- 50-60%: Number of married men who engage in extramarital sex at some time during their relationships.
- 80%: People who become addicted to an online affair.
- 75%: Percent of divorces in which cheating is a factor.
- 25%: Affairs lasting less than a week.
- 98%: Men who have frequent fantasies about someone other than their partner, but it’s not just men.
- 80 percent of women do it too.
- 65%: Affairs that ended within the first six months.
- 57%: People have used the internet to flirt.
- 42% of women who admitted to cheating on a large poll said they are blond, 23% were redheads, 20% for brown and 11% for black.
According to the Australian Journal of Counselling Psychology, out of a survey of cheating adults, “more than 10 percent had formed intimate online relationships, 8 percent had experienced cybersex and 6 percent had met their Internet partners in person.”
It is also becoming more common for women to cheat online.
Digital infidelity is a growing occurrence, with classic signs often occurring. These include:
“Spending time online in private, smiling about messages received without elaborating on them, and deleting messages or search history as a matter of course.
Usually behavior changes as things are kept secret and there is a need to tell small lies. Withdrawal from home life can also occur, as does going to bed later than normal, or getting up in the night.”
Which professions cheat more?
According to the Investigation Hotline, the most likely professions to cheat that they have investigated are those in the trades, medical profession and entrepreneurs.
- 29% of male cheaters are plumbers, electricians, etc. and only 4% of women are in the trades
- 23% of women on Ashley Madison are in nursing or medicine, while only 5% of men are.
- 11% of cheating women and 11% of cheating men are entrepreneurs.
- 12% of men and 8% of women on Ashley Madison are in the information technology field
- 9% of unfaithful women and 8% work in the retail and hospitality sector
Career also has another link to cheating, since those who are financially dependent on their spouse are more likely to cheat. That means those in lower-paying jobs or who are not working will generally cheat more on their partner.
When it comes to IQ there also seems to a connection, since men with higher IQs are — in general — less likely to cheat.
Those who go on business trips are also more likely to cheat.
According to a poll from Gleeden that surveyed 8,000 people, 62% of men and 57% of women said they’d cheated on a business trip.
Despite being different than the earlier General Social Survey results cited, this was of European adults and results vary from survey to survey.
Emotional cheating is when a man or woman spends emotionally intimate time with someone else having deep conversations and a strong personal connection even if it doesn’t involve sex.
Fully 56 percent of men say they’d be more upset to hear their woman is emotionally cheating, and 73 percent of women would be more angry about an emotional affair than physical cheating.
Couples therapist Alicia Munoz observes that:
“Emotional cheating is a particular type of secretive, sustained closeness with someone who isn’t your primary partner. It’s one person making a unilateral decision to cultivate nonsexual intimacy with someone other than their primary romantic partner in a way that weakens or undermines the relationship.
Many see this type of connection as having an erotic component to it. Though there often can be an underlying romantic or erotic energy in emotional cheating, it can also occur without the element of romance or eroticism present.”
Emotional cheating is extremely common, but that doesn’t make it any less hurtful to the person it’s happening to.
According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, “35% of women and 45% of men admit to having had an emotional affair before.”
As Munoz writes, people get so upset:
“because their partners have engaged in an inappropriately deep, sustained closeness with someone else in a way that excluded them. I’ve even talked to people who feel their partner is emotionally cheating on them with a therapist!”
The difficult thing about emotional cheating is that it can be hard to separate from just having close relationships outside your romantic relationship.
The best way to tell if someone is emotionally cheating is to determine if: the other relationship strengthens or weakens your romantic relationship and if the other connection is a kind of addiction and craving or more of a healthy choice.
- They confide more in the other person than you
- They don’t value time with you in the same way
- They turn to the other person after fighting with you
- They meet and speak with the other person more than you
- They give gifts and share many special times with the other person
- They don’t bother trying to fix issues with you anymore
- They treat the other person like a lover with their words and behavior
- They deny that it’s inappropriate and become defensive if you question their new connection
While emotional cheating does happen quite often, it’s important not to just throw accusations of it around for leverage or to cover up other issues in a relationship.
Furthermore, emotional cheating is usually a sign that something else is going wrong in the relationship and thus is often not the only problem that’s occurring.
Financial cheating is a growing trend. It’s when married couples hiding the money they have from each other.
As Nicholas Kjeldgaard reports for NBC:
“About 40% of people in serious relationships are keeping money secret from their partner.”
One of the most common reasons is exactly what you would imagine: people racking up charges on a credit card and not telling their partner.
In the survey, 51% of Millennials acknowledged they hide financial secrets from their partner, higher than Gen X’ers, at 41%, and Baby Boomers at 33%.
- Finding out your partner has a credit card you didn’t know about
- Getting removed from joint bank accounts or cards by your partner without a good reason
- Noticing money that’s not where it should be or is massively overspent from what was agreed on
- Your partner acts hostile and defensive around talks of money or their finances
- Your partner is living the life of Riley without any apparent new source of income
- Your partner picks up a dangerously expensive new hobby like gambling, or shopping every week for expensive clothing
The best way to resolve financial infidelity is to always be open about financial issues with your partner. Approach issues around finances with caution since it can be a very emotional topic for many people.
Fortunately there are effective ways to learn more positive attitudes around money and how to make it less of a toxic time bomb in your life and more of a proactive method for expanding your opportunities.
Should I stay or should I go now…?
When it comes to cheating, there’s no easy answer about whether you should stay or go. Every relationship is different.
As Psychologist Justin Lehmiller notes:
“It may surprise you to learn that only 1 in 5 people said they broke up with their primary partner as a direct result of the affair. However, it’s important to note that another 27% said they broke after the affair, but for a different reason, which points to the fact that affairs are often (but not always) symptoms of deeper, underlying problems in the relationships. So, in total, nearly half of participants broke up after their affair, but it wasn’t always the affair itself that caused the breakup.”
In her TED talk “Infidelity: to stay or go…?” relationship expert and broadcaster Lucy Beresford makes some very valuable insights.
“Your friends might say ‘hm, can a leopard change its spots?’ Your mother might say ‘plenty more fish in the sea, my darling.’ But most times, that pressure to quit comes from within,” Beresford notes.
Beresford urges people to do their best to reconcile their relationships and take that new injury and distrust and work with it to find some new common ground and reestablish the basics of trust and intimacy.
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Cultural perceptions of cheating
Cheating is not reacted to the same way in every culture, and neither is the gender of the one cheating. Many male-run and more religious societies disapprove of cheating for any reason.
Some more traditional societies also put the share of blame on women for cheating even if the man is the one doing it, claiming he must be unsatisfied or not being treated well at home if he strayed.
Cheating is regarded as morally unacceptable in most countries, although very liberal countries such as France have a lower rate of disapproval about affairs. Other more Westernized, liberal countries sometimes do not take a moral stand on cheating whatsoever.
According to a Yale University analysis, the percentage of people who think cheating is always wrong is:
- Finland: 36%
- France: 47%
- Germany 60%
- Italy 64%
- Spain 64%
- Russia 69%
- Japan 69%
- Poland 71%
- Mexico 73%
- Canada 76%
- UK 76%
- Nigeria 77%
- Australia 79%
- South Korea 81%
- USA 84%
- El Salvador 89%
- Philippines 90%
- Lebanon 92%
- Egypt 93%
- Jordan 93%
- Indonesia 93%
- Palestine 94%
In terms of who cheats most, there are some surprising results including Finland where cheating is considered a “parallel relationship.”
The following estimates list what percentage of people have cheated in these countries:
- Finland 36%
- UK 36%
- Spain 39%
- Belgium 40%
- Norway 41%
- France 43%
- Italy 45%
- Germany 45%
- Denmark 46%
- Thailand 56%
As we can see, not all of these results correspond to cultural perception of cheating and some countries like the UK where cheating is still seen as unilaterally wrong have quite a high estimated rate of infidelity.
Others track fairly logically, with many socially liberal Scandinavian nations having a much higher rate of infidelity.
How do you “get over” being cheated on?
It’s crucial to understand that getting cheated on is not your fault, and it does not even necessarily mean your spouse doesn’t love you anymore.
While this doesn’t lessen the pain, it does bring some reassurance.
Rick Reynolds is the founder and president of the Affair Recovery has some valuable experiences to share about his own experience with infidelity and how to recover from it.
“Not knowing that there was hope left me skeptical and hesitant to give my marriage a chance. If I had known surviving infidelity was possible, I would’ve more quickly sought help, and I certainly would’ve had a better attitude. It wasn’t until we met others who had succeeded in saving their marriages — and were better off for it — that I began to realize there was hope for us, too.”
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