Why Do People Cheat?

Over the years couples who have come into counseling with me to repair their relationship after an infidelity often feel guilty (the offender) and victimized (the other).  Obvious, yes?  What I often hear is “How could you do this to me?”  What I never hear in response and what seems obvious to me is “I didn’t do this to you; I did this  for  me.”

A PR release I received from an online hook-up site for married people professes to have some answers as to why. “According to their numbers 63% of females said cheating made them feel more alive; 39% said it helped them regain their confidence…43% of female cheaters had an affair to have the feeling of butterflies again.”

What women say they seek from an affair is sex (65%), the butterfly feeling (43%), to explore new desires (41%), affection (41%), and friendship (39%). Men ostensibly seek sex (87%), to explore new desires (39%), friendship (39%), affection (33%), and that butterfly feeling (23%).  Whether it’s an emotional connection, physical chemistry, or something else, 84% of cheaters want a partner who is cheating for the same reason they give themselves.

“It’s not always about finding someone new and running off, potentially destroying the family dynamic,” says the Director of Communications for the web site.  “Many of our members tell us that infidelity has helped save their marriage by satisfying their natural desires allowing them to return back to the marriage a more complete person.”

I can’t argue with their statistics nor their commentary, but remember that these answers are gathered from people who proactively went looking for an outside lover by signing up on a web site dedicated to just that; if their PR is to be believed, more than 54 million member accounts worldwide.

Granted, my data base after 35 years of psychotherapy practice is nowhere near theirs but while the web site’s responses as to why a person might cheat (or actively look for an outside partner) seem reasonable, what I find is that while many committed individuals might fantasize about others, those who do actually go outside their relationship do so because they weren’t actively looking for it, the opportunity arose and it “just happened.”

The individual – male or female – may be sex starved, kink starved, affection starved, eager to be desired again and/or to feel excitement once more (the butterfly feeling) but they didn’t actively go looking for it. The opportunity was there – with a work mate, a classmate, someone in their social circle or at the gym, for instance.

He or she might have eagerly leapt into an affair or struggled mightily with their conscience before going for it.  It might have been a once and done event or a long term relationship. However it went down, it never in my experience was done to the partner as a vengeful act.  It happened because it served some need in the cheater which was not at all necessarily a lack in the marriage.

It’s important to know that it’s possible to have a stronger marriage after facing an infidelity.  Communication can be improved and areas of tension and friction be dealt with. If there was some dissatisfaction that might have led to the infidelity it can be discussed and potentially corrected. It is also important to know that there is a downside that always faces the one who cheats, however.   If s/he confesses, the consequences of the mate’s anger, hurt, and future suspicion must be faced, sometimes for the rest of their relationship. If s/he keeps the indiscretion a secret that secret will always remain a barrier to complete honesty in the relationship. In either case, there will be a penalty for the one who cheats, whatever reason he or she gives himself for the indiscretion.

If you were drawn to this article because you or your partner is considering straying, or may have already, consider the reason you have given yourself for this happening.  Are you being honest with yourself?  Do you think your partner is? Can this self honesty lead to better understanding or an improvement in your relationship?  I sincerely hope so.

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