Why People Cheat

I never thought I’d tackle this post. First of all, if I could answer this question with certainty, I certainly would not be teaching middle school math; I’d be taking over Oprah’s spot. The reasons people stray in their marriages are as varied and complex as marriage itself. Past, present and personality weaving together to create a perfect storm. To add to the complexity, the reasons people cheat are rarely the reasons they say they cheat. You are much more likely to hear excuses or blame because the truth takes bravery and insight along with a willingness to then divulge the understanding that was reached.

 

So, without further ado, here are the patterns I have seen emerge. We’ll start with the simplest.

The Bad Decision

This is the “it just happened” infidelity, although that excuse makes my skin crawl. This is the affair born of bad decisions that may or may not have other co-existing causes. There is no magic in a wedding band that suddenly causes all others of the opposite sex to be invisible. We all meet people that we find attractive and that awaken that little spark. But you always have a choice. Long before anything happens, you can make the decision to walk away. The earlier the better. The closer you get to flame, the more  difficult it becomes to leave. You may get to a point where your body has the best of you, but you can choose to use your brain before then.

The Need for Physical Connection

A marriage where the partners have different sexual needs is certainly a struggle. In this type of affair, one (or both) of the partners are craving more physical intimacy and they look outside the marriage to sate their appetites. My frustration with this type (and the affair described below), is that so often the straying partner is helping to create the desert at home by turning his or attentions away. This reason is also used as an excuse for infidelity and can even be created by the straying partner as a way for them to reconcile their decisions within their own mind. After all, it’s easy to claim a sexless marriage and difficult to refute unless you never close your blinds.

The Need for Emotional Connection

Two has the potential to be lonelier than one can ever be. There is no worse feeling that being with someone and yet feeling invisible. People can change and grow apart. In this type of affair, the straying partner is seeking responsiveness and demonstrative affection from another. They describe their marriage as “dead” and want to feel alive. I get it, but there are other options than an affair. Please, seek them out first.

The Need for Approval

This is often the affair of the narcissist. They are typically brief and in succession, a new partner replacing the former before he or she gets to know too much. This straying partner is driven by the need to be idolized, which is a trademark of early romance that fades as time reveals more about the person.

The Need for Stimulation

Affairs can be rewarding; there is a rush from the newness that is amplified by the necessary intrigue. Some people are wired to need more stimulation. These are your daredevils and stockbrokers. Others train themselves to need an increasing amount of stimulation, such as in the case of addiction. Their threshold for stimulation is set higher than a “normal” life can fulfill and so they are always seeking their next reward. I believe this is why there is a connection between Twitter use and affairs.

The Snipe Hunt for Happiness

I find this the saddest reason for infidelity. In this case, a person is truly unhappy and, rather than address the issue internally where it resides, they begin a snipe hunt for happiness, looking for it in external things and often, people. This affair is not driven by something missing in the marriage; it’s powered by something missing in the person. And, what makes it sad to me is that while they are on a winless quest for happiness, they steal joy from others along the way.

 

Many affairs can be described by more than one of the reasons above. After all, we’re all human with our complexities and fallibilities. Affairs happen. But maybe if we can understand more of why they do we can stop them before they start or learn from them once they do.

 

And, for those of you who have been betrayed, here is some more information for you:

Classification of Infidelity – A look at he types of infidelity from the perspective of the betrayed.

Will I Ever Trust Again? – A perspective on how to learn to trust again after betrayal.

Of Horses and Zebras – A description of how betrayal changes your brain.

The Upside of Betrayal – Betrayal isn’t all bad. There are some positives. I promise.

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23 thoughts on “Why People Cheat

  1. This is a a good post and I must say you write well with some ‘scientific’ perspectives. Now, let me add a human face to the discussions, by talking about what I did or why I cheated in the simplest of language. I got married for all the wrong reasons, got married to a man not ready to be my husband, and cheated as a consolation and in need for emotional and or physical connection. I wrote my story down and it may be of interest to somebody : http://amzn.to/1eqsfvp

  2. I hate that some of the reasons sound like they validate the cheating. That there is a good underlying reason that creates a situation that requires the cheater to seek out that elusive need…and who are we to judge them for needing those things in their lives. Don’t we ALL ultimately want and need the physical and emotional connection to another person?? Both cheater AND betrayed…
    I find myself often struggling with the idea that my ex had all reason and rationale on his side for doing what he did…and how that somehow makes ME look bad…I wasn’t holding up MY end of the marriage bargain. Which I will readily admit, at times I wasn’t…but that shouldn’t give him entitlement to do the ‘final blow’ damage and destruction to me, our family unit, our kids, and I think ultimately in the end, maybe even her and her children too. Yet then again, they seem to be thriving, so I guess for him the grass WAS greener. Thanks, as always, for a thought provoking post. 🙂

  3. My husband claims two or three of the above “excuses.” I think what hurts me most is when he blames me for his actions. I was just as lonely. I was just as in need of comfort and physical affection. But he blames me for the fact that he went and found someone to have sex with. It’s been six months and it still hurts so much.

    Also, I don’t mean to be offensive to the other commenter who gave a link explaining why she cheated, but I can’t click it. I just can’t relate to someone who could hurt another person that way. I’m sorry. Maybe someday I can, but not now.

  4. I had a consensual open marriage arrangement until, instead of talking to me he became verbally and emotionally abusive while saying yes to me; “I support you bisexual needs.” I did not have the the physiological background and being so invested in loving both him and her ( seven years with her and 20 years with him) I did not realize that the emotional withholding he continued to display was him NOT accepting my bisexuality. I can only see this in hindsight, a year and half later with the final divorce proceedings at the end of this month. He did not accept me or communicate with me effectively and I failed to see the logic behind the cold wall he built, around year five of our marriage. Instead I was fed a bunch of lies about my character that had nothing to do with my sexual preference(s), and I BELIEVED him. I sought out emotional relationships which nearly crossed the line in the physical aspect several times — beyond the marriage relationship or the seven years with the woman. I had emotional affairs. Today I can say I am better but not healed. Those scars are deep and the triggers are many. Humans are social creatures; we NEED communication. When one or both partners fail at knowing how to communicate effectively, affairs happen.

  5. I think that affairs are caused by one single thing: a sense of entitlement. The rest are just excuses and justifications for cheating, a way to “explain” why their chosen partner wasn’t “good enough” to fulfill their needs.

    If a couple is falling out of love, growing apart, whatever, rational adult humans communicate and take action to divorce, break up, divide and go their separate ways. Entitled children decide to have their cake and eat it to, destroying everyone around them in the process.

    “But he’s so damaged, doesn’t know how to love…” “She had such a rough childhood and is looking for validation…” “This was a mistake and now I regret marrying you…” Whatever.

    The fact remains that one (or both) partner(s) decided that they “deserved” to find happiness (or validation, or excitement, or something new and shiny) in the arms of someone else with the backup plan of their current partner to fall back on.

    That’s entitlement.

    1. There are certainly many situations where entitlement seems to be a factor. Where the whole attitude is one of “my happiness is more important than anything else.” It’s also someone trying to take the easy road out. Which never leads anywhere good.

  6. It’s not really our business to discover why people think and act the way they do–it’s our business to decide if we will tolerate it or if we will embrace it. Their actions have absolutely nothing to do with us, it’s their own issues and journey, just as our own issues and journey carry us.

    1. You are right. Last year when I found out about my husband’s affair it was all I could do to try to rationalize him cheating. Fourteen months later, we are divorcing and I realized it doesn’t really matter WHY he chose to cheat many times in our 22 years of marriage, to try to understand is a waste of precious time and energy. I just wish our kids wouldn’t have to deal with this.

    2. I agree to a point. We can only control our responses, not their actions. However, I think understanding serves two potential purposes – helping to reduce some of the pain that comes from the cheating partner blaming the affair on the spouse and helping to recognize patterns going forward that could lead to infidelity.

  7. The patterns of betrayal help to identify the why. Maybe the help us put stakes in the ground so we can shorten our period of grief. What they don’t do, ever; they don’t change the fact we were betrayed by someone we trusted with our heart and our future.

    Thank you for this one.

  8. The one reason overlooked is the use of cheating, affairs, and sex as a weapon, means of ending a marriage and/or causing a spouse pain.
    People forget or do not know that cheating itself, infidelity, is ok in todays marriage due to no fault divorce laws. I

    Prior to my wife’s death last year, she initiated an effort to use sex as a means to provoke me to leave but instead I focused on my children. Karma is a bitch for sure at times if she is not treated well. Being the primary care giver, I was due to be compensated by the wife with a PHD who made over 200k the year prior to her death but instead she believed that by using sex she could end the marriage and be in the legal clear financially.

    It may be a fraction of the situations regarding cheating but does exist. I have been beat unconscious during my childhood due to violent schools and neighborhoods but that experience was more tolerable.
    There is a lack of humanity in those who fail to understand the emotional impact upon those they cheat on.

    People tend to make too light on the subject on a certain level but do believe that it reflects serious character flaws in those who cheat on their husbands and/or wives. In consideration of all the effort it takes to get married, have children, move around the country, buy houses and so on and so forth and it is all thrown into the street with a casual spreading of the legs.

  9. My ex is pathological. Even 14 years after our relationship ended (and we HAVE to keep in touch because we have a daughter) he denied ever cheating on me while I was pregnant (she called me, I found her underwear mixed in with my laundry) and denied many other things. Sad thing is that he scarred me for life. I don’t trust the same or love the same- all in fear that it will happen again. So here I still sit…single in a true relationship with just my daughter.

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