Why do people cheat? Chances are when you and your partner entered into your marriage, neither of you intended to break your covenants. So why then does infidelity happen?
In this article:
- How Many Couples Go Through Affairs?
- Experience and Environment
- Sexually Unsatisfied
- Emotionally Unsatisfied
- Lost Connection
- Life Crisis
- Self Hate/Insecurity
- Something More
- How to Deal?
- Start with This Infidelity To-Do List
Why Do People Cheat? Find Out Why Affairs Happen
How Many Couples Go Through Affairs?
This article is part of a three-part series, designed to help couples overcome infidelity.
- Part :1 [You Are Here]: Adultery Doesn’t Just Happen; 10 Honest (and Some Ugly) Reasons Why Your Spouse Cheated
- Part 2: From Hating to Healing; 4 Phases That Happen After an Affair and How to Get Through Them
- Part 3: How Our Marriage Became Better After Two Affairs
It’s not like cheating is just a normal phase of marriage spouses should just be prepared to accept. Actually, it’s overwhelmingly disapproved of. According to a 2014 Gallup poll, more than 90 percent of Americans think infidelity is WRONG.
Yet, according to a University of Chicago study, roughly 20 percent of married American men and 14 percent of married American women will have at least one extramarital affair at some point in their marriages. That’s saying nearly everyone in every five spouses will stray—and many experts suggest the number can be as high as three in every five.
So if the majority of us think adultery is wrong and the majority of us never intend to break the hearts of our spouses, what then causes people to act out against something they don’t agree with?
If you’ve experienced infidelity in your marriage, this is probably the biggest question looming over your marriage, so don’t think you can just ignore it.
According to our infidelity expert Dr. George James, a psychologist and marriage and family therapist, the response to ignore is actually quite common.
“Oftentimes, I’ve seen couples where they just try to push through it. They’re trying to act like maybe it didn’t happen,” he says. “And when I see that, it remains in the relationship for years. Almost every argument or every situation somehow gets related to the affair or cheating or anything connected to it.”
If you’re looking to heal your relationship or even just heal your broken heart, one of the first steps to recover from an affair is to answer: Why Did Your Spouse Cheat?
After years of researching this topic and speaking to couples who’ve endured incidents of infidelity in their marriages, we discovered these top reasons:
If you or your spouse is unhappy in your marriage, it’s quite practical to seek happiness outside of your marriage.
Relationships occasionally experience lulls—when a once cheerful and close-knit bond becomes one of tension and turmoil.
- Do you or your spouse walk on eggshells around each other?
- Are you or your spouse constantly arguing or in perpetual fear of starting an argument?
- Do you or your spouse feel like you can’t be yourselves around each other?
- Are you and your spouse more than often depressed or displeased with any aspect of your life?
Regardless of who or what is to blame for the unhappiness and/or how it started, if those problems creating the rift are not addressed, those moments of unhappiness can endure for days, weeks, months and even years. The danger comes when a spouse starts to tie those negative emotions to the marriage and/or correlate more feelings of happiness and joyful human interactions outside of the marriage.
It will only be a matter of time before a man becomes an unfaithful husband or a woman becomes an unfaithful wife. But as you will know from reading on, happiness within a marriage still doesn’t make it affair-proof.
2. Experience and Environment
Remember basic science class? What influences our behavior in relationships?
Behavior is determined by a combination of inherited traits, experiences, and the environment.
We’ll get to the inherited part next, but here we’ll focus on the experience and environment portion—which is often called “learned behaviors.”
- Did you or your spouse have a parent who cheated?
- Did you grow up thinking adultery was normal because you saw it everywhere around you?
- If yes, then did you know a Journal of Family Issues study found cheaters were twice as more likely to have a parent who was also a cheater?
Again, the cheater may still think cheating is morally wrong but may, at the same time, think it’s a common infraction because they’ve seen prior examples of it from their parents, family members, friends, etc.
Just think about it: If you know from experience that everyone speeds on this certain stretch of highway, are you not likely to speed too? Now if you also know from experience that no one ever gets ticketed on this road, are you even more likely to speed even though you know it’s unlawful? You’re only in trouble if you get caught, right?
This now is where the environment comes to play. If your marriage has an environment, where disrespect, bad behavior, and impropriety are tolerated with little-to-no consequence, you basically have a marriage environment, in which a spouse is more likely to speed down that road toward infidelity.
Now, getting to the inherited part. We all have heard those theories about a male’s natural animal instinct is to mate with as many females as possible to assure his bloodline. Hence the various claims of “he cheated on me” from wives around the world. Some theories go as far as to claim humans were genetically designed to be monogamous.
But there’s actually a 2015 genetics study that suggested cheating can be passed down through a specific gene—the vasopressin gene, which was linked to unfaithfulness especially in women. If this study is to be believed, there would be more men crying out, “my wife cheated on me” instead.
4. Sexually Unsatisfied
We’ve likely heard it before, intimacy is a huge necessity in marriage. So if one or both spouses aren’t getting enough sex and/or not getting pleasure from sex, they may seek to fulfill those needs outside of the marriage.
These spouses, for whatever reason, can often feel that addressing their unmet sexual desires will lead to awkwardness or dispute, so they avoid bringing it up. Bottling up these important discussions, don’t make them go away; they may actually create secrecy. And the danger comes when spouses look to satisfy those needs in secret.
“For lots of people, as sex stops, it doesn’t mean the desire to have sex might stop. It’s that their interest and their interest in other people can sometimes start to increase,” Dr. James says. “They need to talk through it; because if they continue not to talk about it, once again, the door is wide open for somebody else who’s willing to have sex or interested in having sex with them.”
5. Emotionally Unsatisfied
Similar to physical intimacy, emotional intimacy is another necessity.
- Do you and your spouse just go through the everyday motions?
- Might you or your spouse feel unloved, neglected, unappreciated or mistreated sometimes?
- Have you or your spouse felt betrayed or hurt by the other?
Once again, if one or both spouses aren’t seeing their emotional needs met, they may soon seek emotional validation from other people. Having an emotional affair may not be physical, but there’s still betrayal between the couple.
“I’ve also seen a lot of couples who will tell me that they stopped being appreciated by their partner. And when we hear it from somewhere else, it feels really good,” says Dr. James. “And this level of attention that we’re not getting at home, we start to get it elsewhere.”
This is one of the reasons why workplace affairs are so commonplace. Spouses who are in close proximity to coworkers start establishing emotional connections with their co-workers. According to a study from The Normal Bar book, roughly 36 percent of men and 13 percent of women admitted to an affair on a business trip.
6. Lost Connection
In many ways, this is similar to both a lack of happiness, sexual satisfaction, and emotional satisfaction. As those components all play a role in keeping the foundation of a relationship intact, they also play a role in its breakdown.
- Are you and your spouse as close as you once were?
- Do you and your spouse keep more secrets from each other?
- Do you and your spouse find yourselves enjoying more time outside of each other’s company?
- Have you seen a dip in the frequency of romantic dates, intimate moments, and casual conversations with your mate?
- Do you or your spouse find yourself not missing each other whenever you’re apart?
In a story reported by the Wall Street Journal, research suggests the rise of infidelity among younger couples may be due to a general increase in the amount of time couples spend away from each other.
“With distance, we stopped hanging out, we stopped going on dates, we stopped doing things together, we stopped doing the things that really got us to a place where we said we loved each other,” says Dr. James about couples who’ve lost their connection. “And now, we’re hanging out with the fellas, or we’re hanging out with our girls, or we’re out all night, or we’re drinking, or clubbing, or doing things that we haven’t done in a long time, and it’s because we feel like we need to.”
7. Life Crisis
We often see this scenario depicted in movies and shows. The man (or woman) can’t come to terms with aging, so he acts out with impulsive choices to prove his vitality (i.e. buying a sports car, making a drastic change to his appearance and/or having an affair with a younger woman to prove he’s still got it). But sadly, that scenario isn’t just fiction cooked up for the Hollywood studios, it’s a proven FACT.
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed more people sought out extramarital affairs while they were on the cusp of a big birthday (i.e. 29, 39, 49, etc.)
But it’s not just aging. Anytime someone foresees a major life change, such as an illness, loss/change of career, financial uncertainty or death in the family, that person may make more erratic decisions in an attempt to find meaning in their life.
Maybe you connect with your mate. But what happens when things get stale?
- Are you doing the same things you always do?
- Has your sex become routine?
- Are you or your spouse longing for the thrills and excitement of your single days?
Sometimes these curiosities get the best of us—especially if someone is constantly fighting an urge to pursue what they think they’re missing.
And according to studies, the potential for boredom and curiosity may actually be stronger in couples who’ve had sexual experiences prior to marriage.
9. Self Hate/Insecurity
- Do you wonder why your spouse married you?
- Do you constantly compare yourself to other people?
- Do you constantly feel the need to prove your worth to your spouse?
- Are you always seeking validation from others, coworkers, friends, social media followers?
- Do you constantly suspect your spouse of being unfaithful with no real proof?
Research also suggests that insecure spouses were more likely to have affairs, but this can also apply to the spouse who was cheated on. Because of a low-self esteem, a spouse might allow a spouse to engage in bad behaviors in fear that their partner will leave them (refer back to #2 and the speeding analogy).
10. Something More
Sometimes, it’s a combination of reasons, but the main catalyst was an opportunity presented itself. Sometimes, the unfaithful spouse just thinks it’s his/her right to cheat, especially if they’re among the 10 percent who don’t think infidelity is even wrong.
“And sometimes, there isn’t necessarily a deep reason. There’s just somebody who cheats because that’s what they want,” says Dr. James.
How to Deal?
Once you figure out the cause of your spouse’s infidelity, what do you do next? Do you even want to repair the relationship? If yes, then can you really repair the relationship? Well, according to Dr. James, that depends…
“The goal is that you want to be together. You care about each other. You love each other. You want to stay connected, but if you don’t get the help, you put this connection, this love that you have in jeopardy,” he says.
Start with This Infidelity To-Do List
- Seek help/resources.
- Get it all out.
-This is What Dr. James calls a Fire Sale
- Be willing to embrace an even rougher road ahead.
- Know that it wouldn’t happen quickly.
-Read our Part II on From Hating to Healing Post-Infidelity; 4 Phases That Happen After an Affair and How to Get Through Them
- Rebuild your communication.
- Prepare for what your new relationship will look like.
- Learn techniques to keep the relationship going.
-Read our Part III on Do Affairs Actually Make Relationships Better? Rebuilding Post-Infidelity
Here are some helpful tips on what to do when someone cheats on you. Watch this video from Jereme L. Ford:
Overcome infidelity with your spouse with this guide.
BMWK, why do people cheat? What other reasons cause a spouse to be unfaithful? Did knowing why your spouse was unfaithful help you recover?
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Oct. 3, 2016, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.