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 the 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 Stephanie, 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 happens, 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 other stressors in life such as illness and financial difficulty from which people seek an escape; these 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. According to Psychology Today, the 8 most common reasons why someone cheats are:
- Self-esteem issues
- Lack of love
- Low commitment
- Need for variety
- Being neglected
- Sexual desire
- Situational cheating
Depending on the person’s personality traits, their family dynamics, and even their past relationships, their reasons may vary. 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.
Let’s take a look at the 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. Myth: Cheating never “just happens”
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 hook-up 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.
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. Myth: Once a cheater always a cheater
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 might admit that they may cheat on any future partners.
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. Myth: Cheating is 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 another person is on the same wavelength and the partner is not, 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 wife/husband” 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. Myth: Cheating always ends a relationship
If the psychological facts about cheating tell us that a cheater can change, a relationship can definitely survive such a blow. It may even 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.
5. Myth: Cheaters fall out of love with their primary partners
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 why 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.
6. Myth: If both partners are happy, nobody will cheat
Unhappiness in the relationship may rank among the top reasons why 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.
7. Myth: A lack of sex will 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 why 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.
8. Myth: Cheaters are looking 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 relationships with an affair, not to end it.
Perhaps even for those involved in habitual cheating, psychology tells 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. Myth: The cheater must have planned on cheating all along
If s/he cheated, s/he 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 how often the couple finds time for each other, how much attention is being paid to each other, etc.” she adds.
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.