9 Psychological Facts About Cheating – Busting The Myths

psychological facts about cheating
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Some things in life are certain. You’re born, one day you’ll die, and the government will steal your money somewhere in the middle. And that a cheater is always a cheater. Right? The others may well be true, but some psychological facts about cheating might just end up bursting your bubble. 

Just like that recipe you thought you could follow without a hitch, infidelity is more complex than it seems at first glance. Lust isn’t necessarily the only thing that makes a person cheat and it’s not impossible to rebuild a relationship after an episode of infidelity. After all, you can always start from scratch after burning your pancake batter.

With the help of emotional wellness and mindfulness coach Pooja Priyamvada (certified in Psychological and Mental Health First Aid from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Sydney), who specializes in counseling for extramarital affairs, let’s take a closer look at the world of cheating. 

What Is The Psychological Reason Behind Cheating?

“But we were so sexually satisfied in our relationship, I can’t believe he cheated!” said Melinda, talking about her boyfriend Jason cheating on her despite not showing any signs of discontent with the relationship. Though Jason’s pleas of “It just happened, I wasn’t planning it” may not salvage the situation, the fact remains that what he’s saying might just be true. The scientific facts about cheating tell us that lack of sex isn’t always the reason behind cheating. 

“Psychologically, there can be many reasons for an affair,” says Pooja. Though everything might seem to be going well on paper, infidelity can shock the foundation of your relationship completely out of the blue. 

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“Anger and resentment in the primary relationship, dominant polyamory traits in someone’s personality, low level of commitment, or stressors in life such as illness and financial difficulty from which people seek an escape; can all play a role in cheating,” says Pooja.

“Sometimes, even body image and confidence issues may lead someone to pursue someone outside of the primary relationship,” she adds. The psychological facts about cheating are something that people usually don’t think about since they’re either too busy mindlessly cheating or recovering from being cheated on. But why does it happen? What is the psychology behind cheating? What makes a person take the plunge? According to Psychology Today, the 8 most common reasons that someone cheats are: 

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  • Anger
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Lack of love 
  • Low commitment 
  • Need for variety
  • Being neglected
  • Sexual desire
  • Situational cheating

Depending on the person’s personality traits, family dynamics, and even their past relationships, their reasons may vary. Moreover, the psychological facts about a cheating man might be different from that of a woman. The psychology behind cheating and lying is complex, but the more you educate yourself on the subject, the better your chances are of trying to wrap your head around it. 

If you’re currently struggling with coming to terms with being cheated on, the facts about cheating won’t help numb the pain. In fact, uncovering the reasons might just make it hurt all over again. Nonetheless, the only way to get over it is by not suppressing these feelings and getting the answers to any questions you may have. Let’s finally take a look at some psychological facts about cheating that might give you valuable insight into the mind of a cheater.

9 Psychological Facts About Cheating

Out of the 441 respondents in a 2021 survey by Health Centers, around 46% of people reported they were unfaithful. And according to the American Psychological Association, around 20–40% of divorces in America are caused by infidelity. Though studies on the psychological facts about cheating tell us that men are still more likely to cheat, it’s also worth noting that according to the Institute for Family Studies, the numbers have been growing rapidly when it comes to women being unfaithful. 

It’s no surprise that it happens all around us, and educating yourself about the psychological facts about cheating will only do you good. Let’s get right to it then. 

Related Reading: An Overview Of Stages Of Guilt After Cheating

1. Cheating can “just happen”

Yes, it’s entirely possible that a person in a committed relationship, who was set in the ways of monogamy, might end up cheating due to situational factors. It can, so to speak, “just happen”. “Sometimes the opportunity to have a one-night stand or a no-commitment-no-risk casual hookup can lead to cheating,” says Pooja.

“Situations conducive to cheating arise when people have the opportunity to have multiple partners, or when one has a partner who won’t find out about the affair. These circumstances can lead one to take that risk,” she adds. Of course, in such situations, habitual cheating psychology definitely differs from that of a person who has uncharacteristically indulged in a one-night stand. That being said, it still doesn’t give the cheater any respite. 

If you thought that the psychology behind cheating would give you an elaborate layout of why people cheat, you’re probably a bit disappointed to find out that it can just be as mindless as the cheater says it was. Does this mean that everyone is capable of cheating? “Everyone” includes you as well. Ask yourself, would you indulge in infidelity, should the opportunity present itself? You definitely didn’t think we’d be making you analyze your own psyche, did you? 

2. Psychological facts about cheating: cheaters can change

how to fix a relationship you ruined: apologize after cheating
A cheater can always change, provided they’re willing to

It’s time we bust this myth for good. As we just pointed out above, cheating can be due to extremely situational circumstances. Just because a person cheated once doesn’t mean they’re always going to be a cheater. If an addict can kick off the nastiest addiction and get clean, a person who cheated once can definitely obey the rules of monogamy. Of course, this only applies to those who actually want to change, and not those who admit that they may cheat in the future too. 

Repeated cheating psychology usually revolves around deep-rooted issues that have not been addressed by the so-called offender. But given how it’s possible to turn your life around through sheer willpower and commitment, the whole “once a cheater” argument can go for a walk. 

3. Cheating isn’t always about sex

“One of the most overlooked psychological facts about cheating is that it’s not always about sex or sexual intimacy,” says Pooja. “Often, people find something amiss emotionally or intellectually in their primary relationship, and the other partner fills that gap. Couples must evolve together in all spheres of life. Sexuality is just one of those spheres. When both partners are on different wavelengths, it can lead to cheating. Emotional infidelity is real and sometimes more intense,” she adds.

Emotional cheating may even begin and stay as something platonic for the longest time. This is why catching the signs or even realizing that you may be doing it, becomes difficult. A ‘work spouse’ can end up getting a bit too close, or that best friend might just cross a few boundaries…these things do happen.

Studies suggest that a psychological fact about cheating women is that they’re looking to fulfill an emotional need and are not always in the pursuit of sex. Though some would claim that sexual cheating hurts more than emotional cheating, doesn’t emotional cheating suggest a much more imminent, greater threat toward the intimacy in the primary relationship? 

4. Facts about cheating: it doesn’t always end a relationship

If the psychological facts about cheating tell us that a cheater can change, it then follows that a relationship can definitely survive such a blow. It may feel like the bond you two share has now been nullified because your partner took another lover for the night. And rightly so, too. The trust has probably been shattered, and building it back up might appear impossible. But as you’ll soon realize, that’s not the case. 

“Many relationships survive affairs, sometimes even multiple affairs. Even so, many couples enter a better phase of their relationship after recovering from an affair. Cheating can mean a lot of things to a lot of relationships and need not end them,” says Pooja.

Forgiving someone who cheated is not the easiest thing to do in the world. But since the psychology behind cheating and lying shows us that a cheater doesn’t necessarily remain a cheater for the rest of their lives, rebuilding trust is absolutely possible in any dynamic, even despite infidelity.  

Related Reading: Behavior After Getting Caught Cheating – 5 Things To Expect And 7 Things To Do

5. Cheaters don’t always fall out of love with their primary partner

Even when infidelity may have transpired in your dynamic due to emotional reasons, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the cheater has fallen out of love with their primary partner. As we’ve pointed out, it’s a psychological fact about cheating that there are multiple reasons it happens. Though the betrayal of trust is an open-and-shut case, deciphering the feelings a cheating partner has for their primary partner isn’t so straightforward.

A cheater may be deeply in love with their partner, but still seek something outside of the primary dynamic due to body image issues or commitment issues. Just because you’re in love with someone does not mean you’re now exempt from all worldly temptations. So, it doesn’t matter if you came here trying to find psychological facts about a cheating woman or a man, the fact that the cheater doesn’t necessarily fall out of love with their partner remains the same for all.

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6. People cheat even in happy relationships

No, it’s not just a psychological fact about a cheating man, women in happy relationships can cheat too. Unhappiness in the relationship may rank among the top reasons that it happens. One of the first things a cheater says is something along the lines of “I was so unhappy in my relationship, my partner never loved me.” 

But the fact remains that couples who are happy with each other might just end up cheating as well. As you know by now, the reason for such an act doesn’t even have to be due to any external factor. As Pooja pointed out, dominant polyamory traits and/or low level of commitment and body image issues might make a person flip the switch. 

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7. A lack of sex doesn’t always lead to cheating

“They must be in a sexless relationship” is usually the first thing a person thinks when they hear of somebody’s infidelity. However, the truth is that a relationship is more than just sex, and infidelity can occur for more than just the lust for sexual pleasure. 

Though a lack of sex may be one of the main reasons that people tend to look elsewhere to fulfill their needs, it’s not a given that any relationship undergoing a dry spell is destined to experience infidelity. The psychological facts about cheating tell us that if a person experiences emotional distress or disrespect in their current dynamic (despite having a great sex life), they may still end up emotionally (or sexually) cheating on their partner.

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8. Cheaters don’t always wish to end their current relationship

Studies on the psychological facts about a cheating woman have proved that most women do not cheat to end their primary relationship. For whatever reason, if a woman decides to cheat, they do it to supplement their primary relationship with an affair, not to end it. 

Perhaps even for those involved in habitual cheating, studies tell us that they may not really be looking to end their relationship. The motivation may come from polyamorous tendencies or a low level of commitment. 

9. Cheating isn’t always planned

If they cheated, they must’ve been thinking about it since day one, right? They must’ve planned the whole thing out in their head. Can’t find any hotel reservations under their name? Well, they probably used a fake name, they’ve been thinking this through since forever, right?

No, not really. “Not everybody makes a flowchart to cheat,” says Pooja. “More often than not, it is the by-product of a lot of circumstantial factors that lead committed people to look outside their primary relationship. These factors can be multiple: emotional, intellectual, and sometimes plain practical like the decreasing time a couple spends with one another, whether they’re losing interest in the relationship, etc.”

Scientific Facts About Cheating

Now that we’ve busted a few myths that people usually hold about cheaters, we may as well take a look at some interesting scientific facts about cheating that most people don’t usually know. Let’s dive in:

  • Studies suggest that women are cheating 40% more than they used to, in the last half-century
  • A study found that men are more likely to cheat before they reach a milestone birthday, that is, at the ages of 29, 39, 49, and 59
  • A study finds that financially dependent spouses are more likely to cheat on their partners. In the case of a wife who is financially dependent on her husband, there’s about a 5% chance that she will cheat. In the case of a financially dependent man on his wife, there’s a 15% chance he will cheat
  • On average, people are more likely to cheat with close friends, a study finds
  • Older people generally commit more infidelity than younger people

Whether you take a look at the psychological facts about a cheating woman or a man, it’s safe to say that the scientific facts about cheating and the myths we busted definitely do raise an eyebrow or two. The phenomenon is often layered, and can also sometimes be a mindless activity that literally “just happened”.

Key Pointers

  • The psychology behind cheating is often nuanced, and the myths we believe don’t necessarily hold true 
  • There can be many reasons behind the act of cheating, like self-esteem issues, lack of love, low commitment, need for variety, and being neglected 
  • Cheating isn’t necessarily planned, nor does it mean that the primary relationship is bound to fail 
  • People in happy relationships can end up cheating as well, and the infidelity may not always be sexual in nature

Infidelity in a relationship is a highly subjective and prickly subject. Most people define it differently, and the psychological facts regarding a cheating man differ from those of a woman. Hopefully, the points we listed out today will help you get a better look at what really goes on behind the scenes, or even help you understand yourself a bit more. 

If you’re currently going through infidelity or something of the sort in your relationship, Bonobology has a multitude of experienced counselors who’d be willing to help you through this trying time. Reach out for help.


1. What is the psychology behind cheating?

Depending on the personality of a person, their family dynamic, ethics, and other factors, the psychology behind cheating often varies. However, the reason behind cheating is often among these six factors: a lack of love, low commitment, need for variety, being neglected, sexual desire, and situational cheating.

2. What personality traits do cheaters have in common?

Though it may be difficult to pin down common personality traits, research suggests that those who have difficulty in controlling their impulses, work long hours, or have narcissistic tendencies may be more prone to cheating on their partners.

3. What does cheating say about a person?

Based on the reasons a person has cheated, what cheating says about a person can vary. For example, if they’ve cheated because they wanted to hurt their partner, they may be considered sadistic and disloyal by people. On the other hand, if situational factors led to an otherwise trustworthy partner cheating, they may be considered as someone who cannot control their impulses.

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