Cheating or infidelity is an awful, awful thing. It implies an inherent problem in both the relationship and the person doing the cheating. It isn’t always as cut and dry as betraying a partner’s trust because you no longer love or care about them. If you still love your partner but have been cheating on them, the situation and your actions can puzzle you immensely. So, why do we cheat on someone we love?
How could you proclaim love and commitment and, at the same time, look outside of your relationship for intimacy? On the flip side, is it possible for someone to love you and still cheat on you? People who cheat and get caught are often considered the lowest of the low. But does cheating make you a bad person?
We asked Shazia Saleem (Masters in Psychology), who specializes in separation and divorce counseling, to help us solve these contentious queries and understand why humans cheat and what happens when you cheat and fall in love. Let’s find out the answers to complex questions like why do people cheat on people they love and why would someone cheat if they love their partner…
Can You Truly Love Someone And Cheat On Them?
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Why do we cheat on someone we love? Can you love someone and still cheat on them? Why do men cheat on women they love? Why do women cheat on men they love? On the face of it, these questions may seem like oxymorons. However, a recent survey by Divorce Statistics brings out some shocking numbers. The survey showed that almost 22% of men and 14% of women in committed relationships have cheated on their partners.
Offering insights on why we love, why we cheat, Shazia says, “Most of the time, cheating is situational — it is not pre-planned. It happens by choice, though. Opportunities and temptation to stray may be all around you, and it is your choice to stay loyal to your partner. It may be a sudden urge to give in to an extramarital attraction. It is also about instant gratification. Once the urge is abated, after cheating, people still choose to stay on with their partners.”
But just because you have been unfaithful to your partner (or have been cheated on) does not mean the relationship will end. According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), a significant number of partnerships survive infidelity. Some may even become stronger as a result.
Related Reading: 6 Cheaters Tell Us How They Feel About Themselves
Yes, you can cheat on someone you love
Yes, while cheating is always a choice — a hurtful one — it doesn’t always stem from a lack of love. From low self-esteem to a person’s attachment style, need for validation, long-standing emotional voids that can be traced back to childhood, unmet needs, or even a midlife crisis — a whole host of factors are at play when a person chooses to cheat on their partner. And yes, as dichotomous as it may sound, it may have nothing to do with how they feel about their primary partner.
Commenting on the why do we cheat on someone we love psychology (and why it’s wrong), a Reddit user says, “In a recent survey, 56% of cheating husbands and 34% of cheating wives rated their own marriages as either “happy” or “very happy”. These are people who didn’t need a reason to cheat, but they didn’t have the willpower to resist giving in to their own lustful impulses. Somewhat like a person who says s/he wants to lose weight. S/he goes to the gym four days a week and eats salads for dinner. But, every so often, sneaks a piece of chocolate cake. Can we say…”Oh, s/he really doesn’t want to lose weight”?”
This brings us to the questions we started with: What causes a person to cheat? Can someone love you and still cheat? And why do cheaters want to stay in relationships?
It’s more about the cheater than their partner
According to the internet, the answer to the question, “Can someone love you and still cheat?”, is a resounding ‘yes’. For example, on the Reddit thread, “Can you cheat on someone you genuinely love?”, a user had this to say, “Yes, I personally think so. My last boyfriend cheated on me. However, I do think his cheating stems from deeply rooted trauma and maybe even physical abuse — basically poor examples growing up. I believe with all my heart that he truly loves me.”
On the question of why do we cheat on someone we love, a Reddit user says, “Cheating, IMO, isn’t really about how you feel about another person. It’s about how you feel about yourself. I have cheated & been cheated on. Once I found & respected my own worth, things changed.”
I, personally, love what Quora user Timothy Dowell has to say on this topic, “First things first, cheating while in love is like trying to juggle fire — it’s risky and usually results in getting burned. Can someone cheat purposefully while claiming to be in love? Yes, it’s possible. Love isn’t a magical shield that prevents people from making poor decisions. Sometimes, the reasons people cheat are due to personal insecurities, low self-worth, lack of impulse control, or external temptations.”
Related Reading: Coping With Depression After Cheating On Someone – 7 Expert Tips
What Causes A Person To Cheat: Expert Lists 8 Reasons People Have Affairs
I spoke to a friend about this topic. He cheated on his wife of 15 years, and I needed a first-person perspective to make sense of the conflicting information I was getting online about the reasons for cheating. “Why do men cheat on women they love?”, I asked him. He replied, “Why did I cheat on my wife when I love her? There is no simple explanation for why we love, why we cheat. It was all about the adrenaline rush of pursuing someone new. I took my wife and our family for granted for a few weeks of intense attraction. When she found out about the affair, understanding why I cheated did not help make things better. For her, to risk years of commitment just for the thrill of the chase seemed pointless.”
But this is just one point of view. When I asked a friend who had been cheated on, I discovered a whole host of regret, self-blame, and feelings of guilt as well. The answer to “why does infidelity happen” or “why do people cheat on people they love” rarely lies in a vacuum, and we need to see all sides of the situation before passing any judgment (or judging at all, for that matter). People who cheat are not always evil or out to take advantage of others. For some, years of neglect, a traumatic past, or even physical abuse and low self-worth can all lead to actions that are self-sabotaging.
If you have ever wondered, “Why do guys cheat even if they love you” or “Can a man cheat and still love his girlfriend/wife/partner?”, or even “Why do women cheat on men they love?”, a study on Love and Infidelity: Causes and Consequences suggests that relationships which are not optimal or those that are characterized by low satisfaction and high conflict have the highest rate of multiple partners and infidelity. Reasons varied from relationship issues such as wanting more sex, anger at a partner’s behavior, wanting more freedom, stress, neglect, and a need for more sexual partners.
When I asked Shazia, “Why do we cheat on someone we love?”, she said those who do often lack emotional awareness. “People who cheat cannot identify their emotions or feel guilty. In some other cases, they seek thrills outside of a relationship that has become dull and monotonous. In such circumstances, they cheat without realizing the consequences of their action,” she added.
Clearly, there are diverse reasons (and opinions) on what causes a person to cheat. If you want to understand why people cheat on someone they love (or you keep wondering, “Why do I keep cheating?”), let’s look at what the experts say about the 8 reasons people have affairs.
1. Feeling unheard and unseen
Why do people cheat on people they love? Feeling neglected is one of the most common reasons for cheating and seeking love outside your partnership. Life happens, romance falls by the wayside, and you feel your partner doesn’t see you for who you are anymore. They may ignore what you say or do, or even worse, you feel disconnected from them daily. Over time, these strong feelings can take a toll on your relationship and force you to look outside for the attention and emotional intimacy you crave.
2. Looking for the thrill again
How can someone cheat on someone they love? The answer to why people cheat may lie in routine. Monotony. The same old, same old. It takes a commitment to working together and a conscious effort from both partners to keep the spark of love alive. Scheduling those date nights, spicing up things in the bedroom, and surprising your loved one with a call or a sexy message. However, all too often, couples begin to overlook these crucial aspects of nurturing a romantic relationship. If your life at home is boring, your relationship can be at an increased risk of falling prey to infidelity.
Related Reading: 15 Warning Traits Of A Serial Cheater – Run If You Spot These
3. The deficit model of relationship infidelity
This model purports that people who report a lack of love and no freedom of expression of emotions resorted to longer extramarital affairs. These affairs may have started as physical relationships but soon morphed into emotional and long-term affairs. It comes down to the fact that what you lack in your current relationship forces you to look for the same elsewhere.
If you feel starved of attention, even crumbs of interest from another will be enough to draw you to them. This is the most potent of the 8 reasons people have affairs because it can pave the way for a real connection between affair partners, posing a threat to the primary relationship. So if you’ve been wondering, “Why do I keep cheating when I love my partner?”, this may well be the reason. It could help to introspect and get to the root of where this need for attention from outside is stemming from.
4. Low self-esteem
Why does infidelity happen? Why would someone cheat on a person they love? The answer usually lies with the person doing the cheating rather than the committed partner. If you’re cheating on your spouse, it may be time for some self-reflection. You see, people believe that there is a direct connection between low self-esteem and cheating. The need to be reassured that you are desired and desirable (and increase your self-confidence) can be a compelling reason behind your constant search for a new relationship.
Related Reading: 15 Signs Your Husband Is Cheating On You With A Coworker
5. Attachment theory
Bowlby’s Attachment Theory explains the emotional connection between people and how they are formed. It suggests that the early childhood bonds you forge continue to influence you and your relationships throughout your life. Curiously enough, this theory may hold the answer to the puzzling question of, why would someone cheat on a person they claim to be in love with.
This question, how can someone cheat on someone they love, is investigated further in a paper by Russell, Baker, and McNulty. They suggest that people with high attachment anxiety styles tend to “feel that their needs are not met in their current relationship and use sex to meet their unmet needs. Similarly, individuals high in attachment avoidance tend to be chronically less committed to their relationships, constantly want something new, and have more permissive sexual attitudes.”
6. Anger and resentment
Partners who fight constantly or harbor resentment against each other are inherently unhappy in their relationship. It’s no surprise that the grass starts looking a whole lot greener outside of your partnership. “Hurt is also among the reasons why we cheat on someone we love,” says Shazia, and goes on to advise that one must control that urge to cause hurt before it takes over the rational sense of mind.
7. When the sex is not fulfilling
Physical intimacy is an undeniable necessity for a loving relationship to flourish. If your desires are not adequately met in your marriage/primary relationship, it is not unusual to seek fulfillment elsewhere. This is one of the most common reasons why people cheat. However, this is not to say that it makes it okay to cheat on your spouse if your sexual needs and desires are not met. As a couple, you need to both make a concerted effort to add spontaneity to your sex life. This starts with open, honest communication and the help of a trained therapist if required.
Related Reading: 7 Things You Should Know About Having A Discreet Affair
8. Long distances apart
Why would someone cheat on a partner they love? Distance is another common culprit. Whether you are in a long-distance or long-term relationship with work/personal commitments that keep the two of you away for extended periods, too much time away from each other can lead to feelings of neglect and disconnect. Both of which make it easier to stray and answer the pressing question: why do we cheat on someone we love?
On a recent Reddit thread discussing the idea — can someone love you and still cheat — a user had this insight to add to the usual arguments about long-distance relationships and the “permission” to be unfaithful, “It’s one thing if it’s a mutually open relationship with both partners consenting to it or if it’s a polyamorous relationship. In those cases, love & “intimacy” (physical/emotional) with others can exist together. But if you’re in a monogamous relationship & you look for intimacy outside of your relationship — you don’t love your partner & don’t respect them. In that situation, you have no business being in a relationship with this person.”
Shazia adds, “Everywhere, you can find cases of cheating. In some countries, up to 50% of people cheat. Cultural factors also affect your choice. It is an informed choice you make to gratify your ego and give in to the gratification. When the initial high dies down, the actual challenge of facing the consequences of your actions comes.”
What To Do If You’ve Cheated On Your Partner
Shazia says, “It is never good to label someone — once a cheater, always a cheater. Yes, there will be trust issues. A wise person moves on, learns from their mistakes, and works toward affecting change. Labeling doesn’t help anyone. It is better to seek professional help and come out of this with willingness and determination.
“Going through the phase of infidelity is very, very tough. The trauma created as a result of cheating affects all aspects of their lives. Both partners need to support each other. The person who cheated needs to reassure the other through words and actions. On the other hand, the victim needs to learn to trust again. They need to give space.
Related Reading: When Your Partner Finds Someone Else Attractive
“Getting back together is a matter of choice. If you both want to move ahead together, you have to work toward reaching a neutral space and forming a new bond again. It’s almost like starting a brand new relationship with new boundaries and a new set of rules.” If you are an unfaithful partner and you want to make amends, there are some definite steps you can take toward reconciliation.
- Be honest: Needless to say, you have to come clean about your infidelity. Yes, this is risky, and your relationship might end, but a partnership based on dishonesty is bound to fail — sooner or later
- Take the time to reflect: Cheating never happens by accident. While it may not always be premeditated, there are always opportunities to stop it from escalating. If you have cheated on your partner, you need to take the time to reflect on your actions and the motives behind them. Be prepared for some uncomfortable emotions and strong feelings as a result
- Be kind: At the same time, treat yourself with kindness. You are not a bad person because you did “bad things”. Self-condemnation will only take you so far. To move on to the next stage of your relationship requires empathy and patience (from both partners)
- Learn from your mistakes: Being unfaithful gives you a chance to learn more about yourself and not repeat the same actions in the future
- Cheating on someone you love is a common occurrence
- Statistics show that a significant percentage of couples have been unfaithful even while in a committed relationship
- There are 8 reasons people have affairs, these include unmet needs, the thrill of chasing someone new, low self-esteem, attachment styles, and anger and resentment toward the primary partner
- Understanding why we love, why we cheat can reduce the confusion and gaslighting attached to such traumatic situations
I will end by returning to Timothy Dowell on Quora. He sums up the “why would someone cheat on someone they love” conundrum perfectly, “Now before you start questioning the authenticity of every “I love you”, remember this: True love involves respect, trust, and consideration for your partner’s feelings. Cheating goes against these principles, showing a disregard for commitment and emotional connection.
“Love and cheating might coexist, but genuine, healthy love doesn’t drive someone to betray their partner’s trust. If someone is purposefully cheating while claiming to be in love, it’s time to question the authenticity of their feelings and evaluate whether the relationship aligns with your values. Remember, love should elevate you, not tear you down.”
Yes. If a person is remorseful and wants to mend their ways, they can attempt to make things right again in a relationship that has gone awry in the aftermath of infidelity. It might take some time to rebuild the trust, though.
There is no one answer to how a person can cheat on someone they love, but yes, it’s possible to be in love with a partner and still cheat on them. When a person does that, they could be insecure or bored in their relationship or there could be a lack of intimacy. Cheating also happens for the sake of fun or a sense of thrill and not necessarily because one has fallen out of love.