Why do married men cheat? The question has continued to boggle the mind of many a woman grappling with the hurt and emotional trauma of being cheated on. While it is easy to chalk cheating up to stereotypes like “men will be men” or “men are uncaring, unfeeling creatures”, the reasons behind a husband cheating on his wife can be far more nuanced.
From anger and resentment to unmet needs, sexual desire, and even low self-esteem – there is a whole gamut of factors that can make a married man stray from the vows of loyalty and faithfulness. It’s vital to not paint all incidents of cheating in marriage with the same brush and truly understand the nuances of this phenomenon considering that research pegs the incidence of infidelity at over 40%.
This is not to say that married women don’t contribute to that figure but statistics indicate that men are likely to cheat – be it in the form of a casual one-night stand or long-term extramarital affairs. But why do married men have affairs or cheat on their spouses? Let’s address the question in consultation with psychotherapist Dr. Aman Bhonsle (Ph.D., PGDTA), who specializes in relationship counseling and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.
Why Do Married Men Cheat? 9 Reasons
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As the old adage goes, cheating is a choice. No one is so truly blinded by lust or sexual desire that they don’t realize the magnitude of the situation they’re getting themselves involved in. Yet, so many men (and women, but since we’re trying to get an insight into the mindset of a man cheating on his spouse, let’s focus on that) willfully go down this road.
Going by the statistics put forth by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy study, 25% of married men have had extramarital affairs. That’s no small number and clearly indicates that cheating in marriage is a trend, not an aberration. This statistic also makes it clear that there can’t be just a singular factor – lust or high sex drive, for example – driving men toward infidelity.
Dr. Bhonsle concurs. “There can be several reasons and risk factors at play. Both relational and individual issues can contribute to a married man cheating on his wife,” he says. There can be myriad reasons behind infidelity because relationships – and the people in them – are complex. But if you look closely, a few common reasons emerge. So, why do married men cheat? More often than not, it’s for one of these 9 reasons:
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1. Boredom in marriage is one of the most common cheating reasons
Boredom in the relationship and life, in general, is a very real risk that comes with being stable, settled, and partnered for life. Unless both partners make a conscious effort to keep the spark alive and simmering, if not sizzling like a hot blaze, this sense of boredom can often make them distant. This distance creates space for a third person to come into the equation.
Dr. Bhonsle says, “Boredom brought on by going through the motions of everyday life and lack of excitement in the relationship can be very strong triggers for a man cheating on his spouse. The risk is heightened if he doesn’t feel strongly emotionally bonded to his spouse.” In such a situation, an affair partner can come as a whiff of fresh air, offering the titillating excitement that he finds lacking in his established relationship.
2. Insecurities and low self-esteem could prompt a man to cheat
We all have our share of insecurities that leave us with a jaded perception of ourselves. And these insecurities are often closely linked to low self-esteem. These are complex psychological issues and not everyone has the ability to deal with them healthily. So, what do we do? We resort to unhelpful safety-seeking behaviors.
A man struggling with low self-esteem and insecurities may jeopardize his committed relationship for an extramarital affair or a string of incidents of sexual liaisons outside his marriage for the momentary gratification these experiences offer. Being desired and wanted by another woman may make him feel worthy and good about himself, and that validation can be a strong enough motivator for a man to risk the stability of his established relationship with his spouse and his family.
Speaking on this issue, psychologist Pragati Surekha previously told Bonobology, “The mindset of a cheating man could be fueled by some feelings of inadequacy. When a person feels they’re lacking in some area of their life, they can compensate for it by seeking validation from elsewhere since it’s an easier alternative to actually working on their shortcomings.”
3. Sexless marriage or sexual rejection
The effects of a sexless marriage on a man can be profound, especially when it happens early into the marriage and his libido is still potent. The same hold for sexual rejection – that is a man’s advances being constantly shot down by his spouse.
Apart from the frustration of unmet sexual needs, this rejection or lack of intimacy in the marriage may lead to frustration and dent his sense of self. Of course, these issues can be addressed healthily through clear communication of one’s needs, or if necessary, with the help of a sex therapist. However, finding solace with another partner often seems like the easier way out, to most men. This is one of the prime reasons behind purely sexual affairs.
4. To punish or get back at his wife
Why do men cheat? Dr. Bhonsle says, “Infidelity could also be a way for a man to punish or get back at his spouse. This act of punishment could be for something the spouse has done or on account of the resentment of his unmet needs in the marriage.”
When we say unmet needs, we mean not just sexual but also emotional needs in the relationship. Contrary to popular perception, men, too, want to feel loved, desired, and appreciated in their intimate relationships. However, as married couples become more settled in their life, partners may stop making the effort to convey these little things to each other.
Over time, this complacency in the relationship drives them apart, and the man may resort to seeking that affection and appreciation from someone else. This is how most emotional affairs take hold and can be far more damaging to the primary relationship than purely sexual extramarital relationships.
5. The lure of the forbidden fruit
Why do happily married husbands cheat? Well, or at least, seemingly happily married. One of the prime risk factors behind infidelity is the lure of the forbidden fruit. The thrill and excitement of doing something so taboo and getting away with it can be far more gratifying than the best orgasm, and this adrenaline rush can become a key motivator for a cheating man.
In the book, Cheatingland: The Secret Confessions of Men Who Stray, which documents the brush of 61 married men with infidelity and the reasons behind it, “the thrill of it” and “heart-pounding sex” emerge as the most common themes. So, if an unfaithful man has had many affair partners or a string of short-lived extramarital liaisons, there is a good chance, he is doing it purely for the thrill.
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6. Misogyny is among the common cheating reasons
The answer to “why do married men have affairs” can also be found in patriarchal conditioning and societal norms. Bonobology reader Amit Shankar Saha says, “Through mythology to patriarchal history, men have had the luxury of having multiple partners without any guilt because men have been socially conditioned to see it as prowess.”
Dr. Bhonsle agrees that misogyny could well be the reason behind the actions of an unfaithful man. “A husband cheats on his wife because his misogynistic mindset says, “I can do whatever I want and she has to take it.” In such cases, the cheating man focuses more on the “me” than the “we”.
“It’s almost like a customer-centric approach to marriage, where he goes in expecting a certain “level” or “quality” of service, and if those expectations are not met, he thinks it’s justified for him to cheat. He never truly becomes a collaborator or an equal partner in the marriage.”
7. A cheating man could have an insecure attachment style
Men’s decision to cheat may not always be governed by lust or sexual needs. There could be psychological factors at play, which may cause him to subconsciously sabotage his relationship with his spouse. One such factor is an insecure attachment style – or be more precise, an anxious-avoidant attachment style. People with this attachment pattern are wary of intimacy and struggle to maintain a committed relationship. They may either lash out, emotionally distance themselves from someone trying to get close to them or resort to self-sabotaging behaviors such as cheating.
This attachment style is formed when a child is raised by emotionally unavailable caregivers and learns that they have only themselves to rely on. Because their emotional needs were overlooked, minimized, or invalidated, being aloof and detached becomes a defense mechanism for them.
Your partner may be a good guy and may genuinely love you and yet may inflict one of the worst emotional wounds on you because of his conditioning and deep-rooted emotional trauma that he may not even be aware of. In such cases, seeking help from a clinical psychologist and focusing on healing individually and as a couple can help you get past this setback but only if he is willing to put in the work through his issues.
8. Why do married men cheat? The ex factor
The risk of infidelity is one of the biggest dangers of reconnecting with an ex when married. Dr. Bhonsle says, “If a man has had an intense relationship in the past, still has feelings for an ex, or shares a close friendship with an ex, it can quickly turn into a breeding ground for an affair.”
He shares the following reasons why a man may gravitate back to a former partner despite being married:
- There is emotional support in that connection
- There is trust
- He feels she understands him better than his spouse
- Sexual chemistry already exists between the two
All of these elements can come together to fuel the most potent emotional affairs backed by intense sexual dependence and can be the hardest to break free of.
9. Childhood trauma and experiences also play a role
A person’s childhood experiences can also play a role in making them more predisposed to infidelity. If a man has suffered childhood trauma such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse (and that trauma has not been addressed), he is more likely to cheat in his intimate relationships.
Likewise, witnessing infidelity up close – a parent cheating on the other – can also increase the likelihood of cheating. ). A study has found that children who were exposed to infidelity in their parent’s marriage are twice more likely to cheat than those who have not.
This list of possible reasons why a husband cheats on his wife is, by no means, a way of legitimizing the choice of infidelity. Every marriage goes through its share of rough patches, and when that happens, the right way to deal with the situation is to communicate clearly or seek help, go into couples counseling if necessary.
Likewise, if the infidelity is triggered by a person’s underlying emotional traumas, the healthy approach would be to address those and work on breaking unhealthy patterns. However, this approach is hard, daunting, and downright scary for most people because it involves facing your inner demons. Seeking fulfillment, validation, or emotional support from a third person can be far more exciting and alluring. And that’s what the answer to “why do men cheat” boils down to.
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Why Do Men Cheat And Still Stay With Their Wives?
Another common question around infidelity perpetuated by men is: why do happily married husbands cheat? Well, if a man is betraying the trust of the person he vowed to love and cherish for the rest of his life, can he really be happily married? But yes, a lot of the men who cheat do seem happy in their marriages, and certainly check a lot of the boxes of a happy, fulfilling life – at least outwardly.
What’s also true is that most cheating men continue to stay married. While research indicates that close to 45% of all divorces are on account of infidelity, statistics also point out that only 5-7% of people actually leave their spouses for a long-term relationship/marriage with their affair partners. So, in a majority of cases, a marriage unravels if and when cheating spouses get caught and not because they choose to walk out.
So, why do men cheat and still stay with their wives? Dr. Bhonsle shares the following reasons:
- Societal disapproval can be a big deterrent
- Family pressure may make a man stay married and still cheat
- He may not want to put his children through the agony of a divorce
- His spouse may offer logistical support to the family structure – taking care of the children or caring for ailing elders in the family – which he may not want to disrupt
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How To Cope With Husband Cheating On You
By now, a few things are amply clear – a sizable majority of men cheat on their spouses, the driving forces behind a cheating man’s actions can range from the state of the marriage to his own emotional and psychological issues, and despite the cheating, he may not want to out of the marriage.
Why do married men cheat is only part of this very twisted and complex puzzle. Another important component is figuring out how to deal with a cheating husband. A lot of women tend to stay on in marriages with cheating spouses even when they haven’t truly processed the hurt or forgiven their partners for their transgressions because they feel that walking out is not an option.
To this, Dr. Bhonsle says, “Remember, you always have options and choices in life. The choice available to you may be an unpleasant, uncomfortable, less luxurious option, which can make it scary. But it’s always there.” If you discover that you’re being cheated on, here are some tips to help you cope:
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1. Confront your cheating husband
Don’t turn a blind eye to your husband cheating on you. Instead, confront and have a conversation. Dr. Bhonsle advises, “Confront your husband in a way that leads to a conversation about what lies ahead. Will the cheating stop? If it does, can you give the marriage another chance? How are you going to go about it? If not, how are you going to deal with ending the marriage?”
2. Self-care must be a priority
Remember that being cheated on is a big deal, and the hurricane of emotions you’re going through is absolutely valid. Do not bottle up these uncomfortable emotions. Instead, prioritize self-care, and do what you need to be able to work through the pain.
3. Assess what you want for yourself
Once the initial hit of pain and hurt has somewhat boiled down, think about what you want to do next. Do you want to give your cheating husband another chance? Or do you want to walk out of the marriage? If so, what kind of logistical support do you need to make that transition? Ending a marriage is a major decision and no matter how valid your reason, you need to make sure that this is not an emotional response to the hurt you’ve been caused but a well-thought choice
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4. Involve the third parties
Dr. Bhonsle says, “Depending on what you decide, you may have to involve a third party to navigate your relationship from here on out. If you’ve decided to call it quits, then you need to rope in a divorce lawyer. And if you’ve chosen to stay and make it work, then seeking professional help and opting for marriage counseling is strongly recommended. Without it, you and your spouse may not have the wherewithal to get to the root of the infidelity, repair the relationship, and truly heal from this setback.”
5. Move on
Irrespective of your decision, you need to move on from this setback – whether alone or with your partner. Make sure you don’t overlook your healing journey because the emotional trauma of being cheated on can change you in so many ways. It’s crucial to make sure those wounds are healed and don’t turn into triggers for your unhealthy behavior patterns in the future.
- Statistics indicate that about 25% of married men cheat on their spouses
- The reasons prompting the infidelity could range from boredom in the relationship to unmet needs, misogyny, the presence of an ex, and unhealed emotional traumas
- Despite cheating, a majority of men don’t want to walk out of their marriages
- Learning that your spouse has betrayed your trust can be a deeply hurtful experience that can leave lasting emotional wounds
- Make sure you process it in the healthiest way possible and only then decide your future course of action
Why do married men cheat? As you can see, the underlying reasons behind the choice of infidelity can be really varied. Trying to understand those reasons can help you deal with your partner and the situation more empathetically. Once again, this does not mean that you minimize your own pain or blame yourself for their actions. But the right perspective may help you humanize your cheating husband rather than demonize him, which may go a long way in helping you assess what you truly want for yourself.