Why Married People Cheat

A Breakdown of What Causes Spouses to Stray in Marriage

Couple sitting on opposite sides of bed, close-up of young woman
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A spouse's infidelity can destroy a marriage. Upwards of 40 percent of married couples are impacted by infidelity. Despite this large percentage who cheat, most will say that cheating is wrong. You may never truly know why your spouse was unfaithful. Your spouse may never truly understand it either.

Reasons for Cheating Can Fall Into Three General Categories:

  • Individual reasons, such as a character or personality train
  • Relationship reasons, such as relationship dissatisfaction
  • Situational reasons, such as being in a situation that puts one at risk for cheating given a prime opportunity

Many people cheat after frustration in their marriage. The spouse has made several attempts to solve the problem to no avail. Or, the individual lacks the skill set to communicate feelings and needs that precipitate infidelity. There are also some spouses, albeit to a lesser degree, who do not value monogamy, lack empathy, or simply do not care about the consequences.

It is critical to realize that if you were the one cheated on, you are NOT responsible for your spouse making the decision to cheat. You are not to blame for your spouse's behavior. You would, however, want to explore how the dynamics between you and your spouse led you to this point. Even if you are not to blame for your spouse's choice, you will want to fix the underlying problems in your relationship.

Here Are Some Commonly Identified Reasons Why a Spouse Has an Affair:

  • Get a self-esteem boost
  • As a way to end an unhappy marriage — an exit strategy
  • Fear of growing older
  • Feeling self-righteous
  • Thrill of the chase
  • Desire to sow wild oats
  • Deep-seated unhappiness
  • Feel neglected
  • Jealous of new baby
  • "Buyer's remorse" and second thoughts after wedding
  • Feel trapped
  • Insecurity
  • Revenge
  • Because he/she can
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Financial pressures
  • Escapism from daily life
  • Believe he/she can get away with it
  • Thoughts of being "above the law" both morally and legally
  • Lack of real consequences for similar actions
  • Looking for a one-night stand
  • Sex addiction
  • Hormonal changes
  • Long-term relationship outside marriage
  • Selfish or self-centered
  • Is a serial/chronic cheater
  • Having an episode of mental illness (i.e., manic) or substance abuse
  • Personality disorder such as narcissistic or borderline
  • A "cry for help"

Motivations for Seeking an Extra-marital Affair Differ by Gender

In general, men are seeking more sex or attention. Men express their love in a more physical way. They often don't have the perfect "feeling words" for their wives. So, sex becomes an important path to connection and intimacy. When the wives turn them down for sex often, they take that rejection to heart, and it can easily translate to feeling "unloved." 

When women cheat, they are often seeking to fill an emotional void. Women frequently complain of disconnection from a spouse, wishing to be desired and cherished. An affair is more often a "transitional" person for the woman. She is seriously looking to leave to her marriage and this other person helps her do just that.  

Regardless of the underlying reason a spouse cheats, it can either devastate a marriage or be the catalyst for rebuilding it, depending upon how the infidelity is dealt with.

Related:

  • Unconscious Reasons We Cheat​
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