Why do people cheat? 16 common reasons for infidelity

Image credit: Shutterstock - By Roman Kosolapov

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.

Infidelity statistics suggest they might not be what you’d expect or have been told.

If you’re asking yourself, “why do people cheat?”, then here are sixteen reasons for you to ponder why people cheat on their partners.

Why do people cheat? Here are 16 reasons why

Image credit: Shutterstock – By Dmytro Zinkevych

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”.

2) They want to be someone else in their life.

Cheating allows people to escape the day-to-day of the life they created. Sometimes people even cheat to escape their work life.

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.

“A relationship can become familiar and mundane so someone may need challenges in life,” according to Foojan Zeine, PsyD, a licensed marriage and family therapist.“They need some kind of impulsivity to create aliveness.”

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.

3) 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.

Samantha Joel, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Western University explains why breaking up with someone can be so difficult:

“When people perceived that the partner was highly committed to the relationship they were less likely to initiate a break up. This is true even for people who weren’t really committed to the relationship themselves or who were personally unsatisfied with the relationship. Generally, we don’t want to hurt our partners and we care about what they want.”

4) 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.

It can also occur because of built-up resentment, explains relationship expert Susan Winter:

“This has a lot to do with appreciation and admiration…These people feel the need to ‘win’ everything, so they might end up cheating.”

This kind of cheating comes from desperation to try to get their partner to listen to them.

5) 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.

In general, people want variety and might be more promiscuous than we commonly believe, according to social psychologist Dylan Selterman:

“This speaks to the idea that humans are promiscuous, and even if things are going well, that does not necessarily mean that there’s not a desire for more — at least in terms of more experiences with other partners.”

Adventure, as it were, can be achieved through sexual escapades.

What’s more, in a study Dylan Selterman conducted on why people cheat, they found that “people might be motivated to test the waters with regards to their own orientation or identity.”

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 try something new with another.

6) 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.

Also, according to relationship expert Susan Winter in Insider, if you have a lot of influence and temptation, it can make it easier to cheat:

“If you have a lot of money, power, and influence, this makes it easier to cheat…Also, if your career allows for great mobility and world travel, it makes it easy to hide affairs.”

The question is, will your partner give in to the temptation? Keeping them away from those situations is not always feasible.

7) 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.

According to social psychologist, Dylan Selterman “lack of love is a powerful motivation — it’s definitely one of the stronger ones.”

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.

8) 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.

Laurie Berzack, MSW, matchmaker and dating coach, told Bustle that it’s important to exercise caution when hanging around someone you might be attracted to:

“Whether you’re choosing to spend a lot of time together, or you’re forced to work overtime on the same team, this is a common situation where people need to exercise caution to protect their relationships.”

When we are near the familiar, or someone we’re attracted to, we can 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.

9) Alcohol

Alcohol is a big contributor to cheating. We lose our inhibitions when we are drunk and the more we drink, the better we feel.

The better we feel, the less we care about. Life is great! Let’s make out! It happens.

Psychiatrist Anjali Chhabria told the Times of India:

“Alcohol has often been used by individuals to reduce their own fears, cope with their anxiety and deal with their negative emotions leading to temporary state of happiness. It usually reduces inhibitions and sometimes helps express repressed emotions.

Even if people just use alcohol as an excuse to cheat, there are definitely underlying issues and concerns, which easily manifest themselves under the influence of alcohol. Thus, there may not be a direct connection, but there definitely is a psychological connection between drinking and cheating.”

Take stock of how your partner interacts with others when they are drinking heavily.

If they can’t hold their liquor, get into arguments, or tend to have a wandering eye when the wine is flowing, it might be time for a discussion about your relationship and to not let them be drunk alone with others.

10) Not as close as they used to be

We never really know someone as much as we think we do.

Take time to continue to get to know your partner as your relationship progresses and check in with them from time to time to find out where they stand.

According to Dr. Zeine in Reader’s Digest, seeking sexual or emotional connections can occur for both men and women at different times in their lives:

“There are times or phases in men and women’s lives where they could have sexual or emotional needs.”

People change and relationships change.

If you continue to treat your partner the way you did when you first met, you might find that a lot of things have changed when you decide to ask questions.

If you feel unsure or if you doubt their commitment, that’s a big red flag that you need to address.

An interesting plot twist here is that the doubts you are feeling might not be about your partner’s monogamy, but your own.

We often project our thoughts and feelings onto others and end up doing the exact thing we were hoping didn’t happen to us.

11) 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.

12) Once a cheater always a cheater

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.

13) People high in narcissism and neuroticism are more likely to cheat

A 2018 study found that women who ranked high in “neuroticism” and men who ranked higher in “narcissism” were more likely to cheat.

With narcissism, affairs are usually driven by ego. There could be a variety of reasons why they’re feeling insecure, and cheating enables them to lift their ego back up.

Also, narcissists tend to lack empathy so they aren’t able to think of the impact of their actions on their spouse.

After all, everything is about them and they are doing what they can to make themselves feel better.

Furthermore, it has also been found that poor self-esteem and insecurity can raise the risk of an affair.

14) People with childhood issues are more likely to cheat

A 2015 study found that a history of childhood trauma (physical, sexual, or emotional) that has not been resolved raises the chances of something cheat.

Furthermore, people who have had a parent who has cheated is more likely to do the same when they are married.

However, what was interesting in this study is that the parents cheating didn’t affect the way the children viewed cheating – they still weren’t accepting of the idea.

So what exactly accounts for them being more likely to cheat isn’t certain. Researchers concluded that this could have something to with another indirect influence, such as the fear of commitment, being passed down to children.

15) Boredom

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.

16) For body image/aging reasons

This is a scenario that’s happening more frequently. Middle-aged men or women having an affair with somebody the age of their children to prove that they “still have it”.

Relationship expert Susan Winter told Insider that this is a common reason for cheating:

“Usually, in this scenario, the partner that wants to cheat is seeking out confirmation of their desirability…And they use the reinforcement of a new person to bolster their own self-confidence.”

Perhaps they feel a little insecure about being older and they prove to themselves that are still fit and healthy by having an affair with a younger, attractive person.

What to do if your partner has been cheating: 7 tips

1) You are not to blame

The first thing you need to realize is that you’re not responsible for your spouse’s actions. You are in no way to blame for their infidelity.

Very Well Mind offers some great advice:

“Blaming yourself, your partner, or the third party won’t change anything and it’s just wasted energy. Try not to play the victim, either, if you can help it, or wallow in self-pity. It will only make you feel more helpless and bad about yourself.”

2) Accept your feelings

When you find out your partner has cheated, you’ll feel a range of negative emotions such as shock, disappointment, sadness, and confusion.

But you need to remember that these emotions are normal.

And the only way these emotions will eventually go away is if you accept them.

According to Very Well Mind, it’s important to accept your emotions and the grieve the relationship you once had, because it has now changed:

“Don’t expect the mixture of feelings and the mistrust to go away even if you’re trying to forgive your partner and repair your marriage. Your marriage has changed and it is natural to grieve the relationship you once had.”

3) Get over the jealously

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”.

Bustle explains why jealousy really is a useless emotion:

“Jealousy may be a powerful emotion but it’s not one that allows for logic. When you’re in a jealous fog, you don’t think clearly, you don’t express yourself well, and, to get real hippy-dippy with this noise, you aren’t in the moment relating with other people, and that sucks.”

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 make up 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.

4) Don’t try to get even

When your partner cheats, it can be very tempting to react with anger, trash talk them and have an affair of your own.

But acting destructively won’t do you any good, according to Jane Greer, Ph.D., a New York-based relationship expert.

“Trying to get even keeps your anger alive, and keeps you in a state of negativity, which will prevent you from moving on and going forward in your life.”

“Getting even will give the vengeful partner a momentary sense of satisfaction,” says Irina Firstein, LCSW, a couples therapist.

“But ultimately it’s not going to move you toward any resolution and will only make things more complicated.”

5) Don’t jump to conclusions

It may be important to explore how this happened. Was it something to do with the dynamics between the two of you? Were you drifting apart?

Dawn Michael, Ph.D., clinical sexologist, relationship expert says that “all of this information is valuable.”

“Just be careful not to overreact or do anything you may regret later on, as yelling, blaming, and freaking out won’t resolve anything and will only make your partner shut down and not want to talk about it.”

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.

6) Plan communication

Depending on what has happened, and what your living situation is, you may be keeping silent between each other when you’re around the kids, you may be screaming, but whatever it is, you need to make sure that you’re not feeling pressured to talk, according to Andrea Bonior Ph.D.

It’s up to you to decide when you talk about it in a reasoned and calm manner:

“Do you want to sit down and have a conversation about it once you are feeling more calm? Do you want to talk it over in a therapist’s office? Do you want to meet in a neutral place to discuss a plan for the coming weeks while you get your bearings? Now is the time to figure out how to communicate in as reasoned a manner as you can muster, because games and stunts will not be helpful in the long run.”

7) Contact your support network

When someone cheats on you, it can make you feel very alone. You may be embarrassed to talk about it with others but know that you should not be.

Only tell people who have your best interests at heart and are there to offer emotional support.

Keep in mind that your support network may have opinions about it, but you don’t need to agree with them, according to Andrea Bonior Ph.D. in Psychology Today:

“And make sure that you remind yourself that just because a loved one has a certain opinion about your relationship or your partner — for better or for worse — doesn’t absolutely mean you should agree with it.”







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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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