Why Do People Cheat? The Psychology of Cheating
Why do people cheat? It is the question that many people ask after learning the world-shattering news that their partner or spouse has been unfaithful. Cheating is a pain and an abuse of trust that more than 40% of married couples have experienced. And for many, it is a deal-breaker that may spell doom for the relationship. Even when cheating doesn't lead a couple to break up or divorce, it can have a long-term impact on your relationship.
Cheating is not a simple affair. It is not cut and dry like we see in the media. There are many answers to the question, "Why do people cheat?" Each cause is complex and unique to the individual circumstances and may involve a different form of broken trust. Often, people forget that cheating on your spouse or significant other is not just limited to sexual activity. A person can commit adultery within their heart.
But it's important to recognize that the roots of adultery most often stem from an issue with the person who cheats rather than their partner. If you've been betrayed by a partner, it can be tempting to take some of the responsibility. Maybe you find yourself thinking, "I pushed them away by doing this," or, "They felt ignored because I didn't do that." Self-reflection can be valuable, but don't fall into this trap and try to make excuses or take on your partner's burden of blame yourself.
Even when praying for guidance, it is crucial to remember that no one causes their partner to cheat. Whether your partner has turned to cheating as a cry for help, an exit strategy, or an act of revenge, the final decision to cheat is theirs alone.
But why do people cheat, to begin with? As many people wonder, if a partner is unhappy in a relationship, why cheat instead of leaving?
A study uncovered eight significant reasons people tend to cheat: anger, self-esteem issues, lack of love, fear of commitment, unmet needs, need for variety, neglect, sexual desire, and trauma. However, there are other reasons we may not usually consider. Let's talk more about the psychology of cheating.
Anger or Revenge
Sometimes when a partner deeply hurts us, we want to make them feel the same pain we have experienced. Some people decide to take the healthy route and talk about their feelings, but others want to seek revenge. The mindset becomes, "They hurt me, so I will hurt them." In this case, if your partner is feeling hurt by something you said or did, cheating may become a vehicle for revenge and an outlet for their anger.
Of course, revenge isn't the only anger-related cause for infidelity. Your partner may choose to cheat because:
The frustration of not feeling heard by their partner
Anger from a lack of physical or emotional presence
Leftover anger or frustration after an argument
Without intervention, this can quickly become a vicious cycle. If a partner cheats, psychologically, we want to punish them for their actions. This is why there are cases where one partner's infidelity causes the other partner to cheat in turn. But such tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye thinking is not productive. Instead, it only creates a lose-lose situation that is hard to come back from.
Your partner having an affair can also stem from self-esteem issues. A person's insecurities can be at the root of why they feel the need to cheat. Someone who has low self-esteem or is insecure about themselves may seek the approval and affection of others. And sometimes, affection from one person isn't enough.
When we look at the psychology of cheating, spouses who are insecure about their body, age, or relationship may feel like they need to cheat for self-validation, or to prove that they've "still got it." Even partners who appear very confident may have hidden doubts and insecurities that lead them to cheat, especially if it helps them keep up that confident facade.
Lack of Love
As your relationship matures, you may notice that the excitement and butterflies you felt at the beginning of your courtship are starting to fade. Don't be concerned. Moving past the honeymoon phase is a natural evolution in a relationship.
Still, in some cases, when those feelings decline, a partner may think that the love or desire is gone. This feeling of loss may lead them to seek the excitement of a new relationship by dating someone new.
But in reality, fading passion doesn't necessarily mean that your partnership lacks love — together, you may just need to recognize the new stage of your relationship. Instead of cheating, try talking to each other about why you're feeling dissatisfied. It may help to consult a life coach or licensed marriage therapist about how to reconnect.
Another common issue in relationships is that one or both parties aren't getting their emotional or physical needs met. Unmet needs are perhaps the most common cause behind that age-old question — why do people cheat?
As human beings, we all need love. We cannot be without it. A lack of love can lead to us feeling lonely, lost, and neglected. And when it feels like our spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend is taking that essential need away from us, we may mistakenly look to someone else to fill that void.
Statistically, men are more likely than women to be unfaithful in their relationships. The psychology of cheating suggests that men express their love in a more physical way, often buying gifts, being affectionate, or using intimacy to show the love they cannot put into words. If they do not feel sexually satisfied, some will take rejection to heart and decide to step out on the relationship.
A familiar term in my work is "love languages." Everyone needs to be loved differently, and each person has a dominant love language and a passive one. These languages describe how people express affection and need to receive it from their partners. They fall into five categories: physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, and receiving gifts. When we learn our partner's languages, we can ensure their needs get met, keep them feeling loved, and build toward a more healthy relationship.
Fear of Commitment
Committing yourself to one person is a big step, even if you love your significant other very much. After reaching relationship milestones like becoming engaged, getting married, starting a family, or buying property together, some people might begin to feel the actual weight of their decisions. Many call it getting cold feet.
Now, the psychology of cheating comes into play. Instead of expressing that fear verbally or simply leaving the relationship, your partner may decide to cheat instead. The fear of the unknown can cause people to run from commitment, sabotaging their healthy, happy relationships.
Need for Variety
Many people believe that variety is the spice of life, but what does it mean when your significant other's idea of variety involves other people? A partner's need for variety isn't always a signal that something is wrong in your relationship. Sometimes this desire is a reaction to boredom from doing the same activities or not being on the same page intimately.
Other times, your significant other or spouse may be unfaithful simply because the opportunity has presented itself. Humans love the thrill of the chase and the excitement of discovering someone or something new. And for some, being in a monogamous relationship is a challenge because they are still attracted to other people. If your partner has poor impulse control, that attraction can become the first step in a downward spiral.
In recent years, repeated affairs have frequently been linked to having a mental illness like sexual addiction. People struggling with such an addiction often use intimacy to control and satisfy their desires or relieve negative feelings. These motivations can be compulsive, just like drug or alcohol addiction, causing someone to feel so desperate that they act on impulses unthinkingly and end up hurting their partners.
Even David, God's most beloved child, was guilty of committing adultery. He lusted after Bathsheba, the wife of a soldier in his army. His lust for her led to him commit murder, and as punishment, God took their first-born child.
Of all the reasons behind adultery, trauma best explains the psychology of cheating. You may not realize it, but childhood trauma — including neglect, abuse, or growing up with a parent who cheats — can significantly impact how people view and value romantic relationships. It can also lead to people lacking empathy, devaluing monogamy, or not caring about how their actions affect their husband or wife.
KF Life Coaching
So, why do people cheat? It's something that everyone wonders about, especially spouses and significant others who have suffered from unfaithfulness. I hope that by exploring the psychology behind cheating, you can better understand your partner's actions. If infidelity is a problem in your marriage or romantic relationship, consulting a life coach or licensed family and marriage therapist can help.
My services at KF Life Coaching are dedicated to empowering and offering hope to couples, individuals, and families trying to overcome personal obstacles to improve their relationships. This guidance can include rebuilding bridges and forging new bonds through forgiveness and understanding.
If you are interested in learning more, get in touch today! Together, we can start your journey to healing.
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