There’s no gossip juicier than an affair. In a society driven by ‘whos’ and ‘hows’ rather than the ‘whys’, news of cheating is more important than the reasons people cheat. Because it gives the morally pretentious the opportunity to stand a little taller. Many do not consider it natural for people to cheat in relationships. Wickedness and lust of a sinful soul were considered primary reasons for cheating in the past, but could there be more empathetic motivation for infidelity?
All major religions have condemned adultery in some form or the other. Dante’s Inferno portrayed people who cheated on their loved ones as having weak character, as they were driven by their base instincts. In modern space, however, commitment and marriage are not always the same. In addition, with the advent of dating apps, cheating has been redefined, which emphasizes the need to study the question: Why do people cheat? Psychotherapist Dr. Aman Bhonsle (Ph.D., PGDTA), who specializes in relationship counseling and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy helped us take a look at infidelity in relationships and the reasons behind it.
11 Common Reasons People Cheat In Relationships
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Right or not, it’s neither uncommon nor unnatural as the scriptures would have us believe. If one were to believe statistics, 30% to 60% of married people will engage in infidelity at some point in their marriage. Infidelity, in the context of this article, will include emotional, online, or financial infidelity apart from sexual or romantic infidelity. The nature of cheating as well as the consequences afterward depend a lot on the motivation behind it. The important thing is to know that if you’re someone who has been cheated on, it’s not your fault. Multiple factors come into play.
Many of these factors are related not just to the relationship and its dynamics, but also to factors such as demographics, age, and gender, rather than just the involvement of ‘the other person’. The reasons people stray are often difficult to classify into simple categories and sometimes, they blend into each other. Let’s try understanding these:
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1. Primary reason for cheating: boredom
Talking about infidelity, Dr. Bhonsle considers boredom as the “mother of all the reasons people cheat”. He says, “The only reason people stray outside their marriages is that they can’t get what they’re looking for inside the marriage. Nothing excites you about being with the person physically, emotionally, or socially. People often cheat for excitement when they can’t get it in their marriage. It’s never specific to gender or orientation.”
The absence of a partner from active engagement in a relationship may lead to frustration. The need for connection may overcome a person’s sense of morality and could become one of the reasons someone cheats in a relationship. A popular example would be of Natasha Lever who disclosed that she cheated on her long-term partner, Rhodri Giggs, out of boredom. Research done for the Journal of Sex & Marital therapy suggests that affairs born out of dyadic or social reasons like boredom often continue for a long time. This is true in the case of Natasha who had an eight-year-old affair before the news hit the papers.
Revenge is a big reason someone cheats. Sometimes, people cheat as revenge for their partner’s lack of faithfulness or because they feel they’ve been betrayed in the relationship somehow. Because of the betrayal suffered due to a cheating partner, many would cite it as a good reason to cheat back on them. Interestingly, women are found more likely to engage in revenge cheating and confessing it as a form of payback, according to a survey. But revenge begets revenge. Often, it leads to both partners engaging in affairs just to even out the score.
Sienna Miller was hailed by everyone for getting revenge on Jude Law for cheating on her with her nanny, by having an affair herself. But the couple headed for separation later. A logic that works purely on getting the upper hand is not going to sustain the relationship for very long, nor is it a foolproof way of making one feel better.
Neglect is a major cause of emotional infidelity. It’s one of the reasons people choose to be unfaithful – not for sex, but emotional support. People in committed relationships begin to complain of neglect from their partners, especially after the spontaneity and excitement of the early days pass. Neglect could be unintentional but can affect partners worse than an outright argument.
Some reasons for neglect are:
- Loss of spark between the partners
- Monotony of a long-lasting relationship
- Busy lifestyle of one or both partners
Dr. Bhonsle says, “It can turn from an innocent friendship to a sexual affair when you prefer the company or the relationship with the said individual at the cost of the relationship you have with your significant other.” He further says, “It’s very common in arranged marriages, because there’s no strong emotional bond between the spouses before the marriage, and due to that, they are unable to enjoy and cherish each other’s company.”
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Incompatibility, either physical or cerebral, is another big reason someone cheats. With time, people may experience a change in their sex drive or may feel there is not enough variety in sex, or one partner holds off sex either as punishment or extortion. In such cases, where incompatibility is the reason people cheat, many feel justified to look outside the relationship for sexual needs. Research found a very interesting dynamic where the cheaters not only blame their partner for their infidelity but judge them more harshly than they judge themselves if their partner were to cheat back on them.
Another interesting pattern that emerged in research in cases of incompatibility is the way people from different genders react to it. Men would be more hurt by sexual infidelity than emotional infidelity, though it’s the opposite with women. Men are also likely to be more tolerant of their wives having same-gender affairs than when they have an affair with a man. The opposite is true with women. The affairs initiated for compatibility reasons are also likely to be long-term and more prone to PDA. But such cases may result in feelings of deep resentment in their partners, which could even turn violent over time.
Some other ways that incompatibility manifests in long-term relationships are:
- Change in values
- Loss of non-sexual intimacy
- Increased conflict
- Differing schedules
- Financial pressure
5. Unmet physical needs
Somewhat related to the previous points, many long term relationships enter into a rut after a period of time. The excitement and passion that defined the early stages of the relationship are no longer there. But a person’s sexual desire does not simply vanish into thin air. At this point, one partner might try to initiate a romantic experience. If ignored or rejected, they might then turn to someone else to help meet these needs.
If this sounds selfish, it is not necessarily so. Our bodies are hard-wired to experience some amount of sexual desire in order to ensure the propagation of our species. When these needs go unmet in a committed relationship, the body will start to rebel to the point where it really does go beyond ‘making a bad choice.’ This doesn’t justify the actions of a cheater but does call out a powerful motivator for infidelity. Research suggests that unmet sexual needs tend to result in sexual infidelity while relationship dissatisfaction usually leads to emotional infidelity.
6. Unresolved past
This is one of the primary reasons for cheating if one can not let go of the past and be happy. They’ll constantly be on the rebound, and these feelings manifest as a desire to go back to their ex behind the back of the current partner. It is not uncommon for people to have an affair with their earlier high-school boyfriend or some distant family friend they had feelings for. There are high chances of people going for an affair with a long-lost lover with whom they shared great chemistry. In such cases, they’ll often compare you with someone else, or would go to great lengths to change your appearance to that person’s. The reason people cheat in such cases is them trying to relive happier times.
7. Reasons people cheat: thrill of new love
When Tiger Woods crashed his car outside his house, he made news for different reasons. His wife accused him of cheating. Several women later came out with evidence of having been in an affair with him. For a man who had everything, it could only be the thrill of a new affair that led him into liaisons with multiple women. Sometimes, the ‘thrill’ is the biggest turn-on for guys.
People with low self-esteem use the ‘high’ of a new affair to feel good about themselves. When you’re new to a relationship, you experience a dopamine high produced from getting attention and validation from your partner. Dopamine is a feel-good hormone, which is often released as a ‘reward’ by the brain for certain activities. Addictive substances such as junk food, drugs, and love create a heavy release of dopamine into the brain. This is one of the reasons that falling in love feels great, and why people run for that feeling again and again. This is another reason for infidelity where getting attention and validation takes precedence over sex.
Eyes Wide Shut portrayed the curiosity of a happily-married man to engage in something he hadn’t experienced earlier. Curiosity is often the reason to cheat on someone – it’s rarely about love, but about exploring one’s sexuality. The dynamics and importance of sex in a relationship can’t be denied. People seek variety with others when their partner may not be into trying anything new or non-traditional.
In such cases, people often do not intend to hurt their partners. This is one of the reasons cheating husbands stay married as the main rationale is a desire to express themselves sexually. People in such cases are less likely to come clean to their partners. A study has found that in a monogamous relationship, the revelation is distressing to the partner who experiences acute feelings of betrayal and inadequacy although it is far more complicated than that.
Some common reactions to discovering a partner’s infidelity include:
- Depressed or dissociated
- Undesirable or insecure
- Nauseated or repulsed
- Hostile or vengeful
- Homicidal or suicidal
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8. Commitment Issues
Many times, the reason people cheat is their fear of commitment. People have been known to cheat on their partners hours before their marriages. Incidents like these could be also a sign that your boyfriend likes his female friend more than you. While many equate it to wanting a last-minute hurrah, it’s often a plea for help about something they do not wish to engage in at that point, i.e. commitment. Commitment issues are often visible through other signs such as lack of interest in planning a marriage, wanting to do too many last-minute things, or cryptic remarks. A famous one is Prince Charles’s remark about “Whatever love is” from his interview with Princess Diana before their fateful marriage.
9. Falling out of love
This is one of the sexless relationship effects no one talks about. Falling out of love doesn’t always mean not loving your partner. People fall out of love due to various reasons, but people stay in such a relationship to conserve the environment of family, stability, and safety. The frustration of being in a relationship with no love can lead one to engage in an affair. This is one of the reasons people betray their spouses after years of marriage.
According to research, men and women have been observed to go through a surge in infidelity when they reach middle age. They want to feel desired again as a lover, not as a desexualized parent. However, sexual needs might transition to emotional ones. In fact, people who initiate affairs because of a lack of love in marriage find the cheating experience to be more intellectually and emotionally gratifying than others.
Some signs that you and your partner might be falling out of love are:
- Lack of excitement to see each other
- Loss of openness with each other
- Increased attempts to avoid each other
- Increased use of silent treatment during arguments
- Uncertainty regarding the future of the relationship
- A feeling of longing that your partner can’t fulfill
- Either one or both of you are quick to be defensive
- Constant exchange of criticism between the two of you
People with a narcissistic attitude find it easier to get into an affair instead of dealing with a marriage in which they find inadequate ego boost. Dr. Bhonsle says, “It’s a way for them to massage their ego that they’re still a hot-ticket item or desirable enough for people to hanker after them.” Here, the need for attention is one of the reasons someone cheats in a relationship. People with such issues are often more interested in having an affair instead of the person with whom they’re having the affair.
A research study suggests that narcissism is often the reason that a cheating person shows no remorse. They may not even consider themselves to be cheating in cases like an online affair. Also, since the foundation of an affair initiated by a narcissist is an ego boost, these affairs are mostly short-lived and they are likely to cheat again after being caught.
11. Opportunity: catalyst or the reason people cheat?
I can’t think of enough gifts for marriage counselors and therapists to say thank you for correcting this myth. Because sometimes it appears simple enough. You get a smile from a stranger. They come over and invite you for a drink in their hotel room. Your partner is away. Nobody knows you here. Nobody will ever get to know about this. So you accept the offer. This doesn’t mean that everyone who gets an opportunity will cheat, it’s a sum of other factors too.
Dr. Bhonsle says, “It’s not as much the opportunity as much as the willingness to engage with the opportunity.” Opportunity is the catalyst, even if it’s not the reason to cheat on someone. But if given an opportunity, not everyone will say no to it. Opportunity is a reason people cheat on their spouses, especially if the marriage is going through a rough patch. However, people often find it difficult to enjoy such experiences and are more likely to come clean.
There are different ways in which infidelity takes place and different reasons people stray. Despite what everyone around you says, it’s only the people in the relationship who truly understand what they’re going through. Research suggests that the reason a person cheated on their partner plays a major role in the outcome of the affair. Though in only 20% of cases the affair led to the breaking of the relationship, research also suggests that a person involved in infidelity once is three times as likely to get involved in infidelity in the future.
The numbers would not suggest forgiving someone after cheating – but it’s often more complex than that. People are likely to break off the relationship if the affair started because of reasons like revenge, neglect, or lack of commitment, rather than for reasons like a chance opportunity.
- Statistics suggest 30% to 60% of married people will engage in romantic, emotional, sexual or financial infidelity at some point in their marriage
- People don’t always cheat due to the presence of another person. Often, the problem lies within the relationship
- Major reasons why people cheat are boredom in the relationship, sexual curiosity, and neglect in the relationship
- In spite of popular belief, people don’t usually get involved in extra-marital affairs unless problems already exist in the relationship
The answer to “why do people cheat?”, unlike popular belief, is not always ‘the other person’. People wonder if there are any good reasons to cheat, but it’s difficult to say if there are any, unless the relationship you’re currently in is abusive. In most cases, cheating may feel good for some time, but more than one person suffers through your actions. When the shock of being cheated upon subsides, one is faced with the question of how to deal with it. Through Bonobology’s panel of experienced counselors, you can gain insight and advice for such unfortunate events in your life. In the end, it’s you and your partner who have to decide how you’re going to get through this. And the choice is not always easy.