I just wrapped up a podcast interview, and I was asked by the host a question that I get asked a lot – why do people cheat? In my practice I work with 3 groups of clients:
The first group are the men and women who have cheated, and they are looking to understand why they did what they did, and they’re also trying to understand the loss of their relationship and start over.
The second group are the couples where one partner has cheated, but they’ve resolved to stick together for the time being and see if they can repair their relationship.
The third group are the men or women who have been injured by their partner’s cheating, and for whatever reason their partner isn’t willing to come to therapy with them, and they are trying to make sense of what’s happened and make the best decisions about how to move forward whether that be with or without their partner.
No matter which group the client falls into, they inevitably ask me why? Why would my partner do this to me? Why would my partner risk what we have for a temporary fling, or a long-term relationship with someone else without first just breaking up our marriage?
I’ll start with the caveat that I’m not a researcher, but of course I have my own observations from what I see in my practice, and I read the research. People cheat for all sorts of different reasons, and it happens in all demographics – men cheat, women cheat, people in their 50’s cheat, and so do people in their 20’s and 30’s.
When I break it down to the smallest common denominator, and really get to the bottom of the reasoning I’d say they do it because it makes them feel alive in some way. It’s exciting. It brings out parts of them that have become dormant during the course of their marriage, although it doesn’t always appear that way looking at it on the outside.
When you look at it in a more broad sense, a man can be cheating on his wife because he’s not satisfied with their relationship – and it doesn’t always have to be the sexual relationship. It could be that he’s not happy because things have become stagnant, they aren’t talking about what’s important and they aren't connecting in a way that breeds intimacy.
This man may be doing things just to appease his wife because he doesn’t want to deal with her controlling nature, or her nagging him and so he’s become quiet in some way, he’s become inauthentic and no longer true to himself and he meets this other woman at just the right time, and this other women makes those parts of him come alive.
Cheating can also come from a sense of loss. A woman may cheat after she’s lost something or someone – she may have lost a parent, or her sense of freedom as she’s become a parent herself. Through this experience of loss there are parts of her that she’s also lost and so she is looking to feel alive, and an affair creates a sense of life within her.
Cheating is also much easier than a long-term marriage. It can be all the fun parts of the beginning of a relationship that bring about that rush of emotions and euphoria that comes along with newness, and there’s no dealing with juggling the kid’s carpool or sports schedules. There is a freedom that comes along with an isolated relationship that exists only in those few hours in which both parties can sneak away.
While every couple and every situation is different and it may look very different on the outside, inside people are trying to feel more alive in some way. I am in no way condoning cheating as a mechanism of coping, however in order to do this work, I have to “get it,” and find understanding without judgment.
If you are struggling to make sense of an infidelity, I’d love to help. You can contact me for a free phone consultation at (909) 226-6124 and I’d be happy to help you begin the healing process.
If you have recently discovered your partner has been unfaithful, and are wondering what you should do next, click here to get my free guide, "My husband cheated: Communicating with your partner in the wake of Infidelity," it will help you take the right steps after such a life-altering discovery and learn what to do in order to have effective communication.