Mutual trust is a hallmark feature of committed romantic relationships and is often (not always) tied to confidence that a partner is both romantically and sexually faithful. What if that trust is violated?
Infidelity can wreak havoc on a relationship.
Infidelity is a leading cause for marital divorce and pre-marital break-ups; it can trigger domestic violence; and it is a strong predictor of poor mental health,including depression and anxiety. These adverse consequences might suggest that people go to great lengths to avoid infidelity, efforts reflected in overall rates that suggest infidelity is rare. But this is not the case. By some accounts, the lifetime prevalence of infidelity is approximately 20 to 25 percent of marriages, with men and women cheating at similar rates .
Given that infidelity produces a constellation of adverse personal and relational consequences, yet people are known to cheat, the question becomes: why? Why risk it? What are the motivations that lead to infidelity?
Why Do People Cheat?
A recent investigation asked nearly 500 mostly heterosexual individuals about their past experiences cheating on a romantic partner. Note that having engaged in infidelity was an explicit inclusion criteria for the study, so all participants shared at least one instance of their own infidelity as part of the study. Approximately 95 percent gave examples that included sexual/physical infidelity.
These scholars aren’t the first to ask the question of why people cheat, but evidence regarding infidelity motives is surprisingly scarce, suggesting the need for empirical inquiry. In their study, Selterman and colleagues solicited reasons for why people cheated and then focused their analysis on synthesizing the many motives people offered.
- Falling out of love. Sometimes a deficit in an existing relationship leads people to have extradyadic affairs. Over three quarters 77 percent of participants indicated that a lack of love for their stable partner, and or greater love for an extra-dyadic partner, was a fairly strong reason they cheated.
- For variety. Other times, infidelity is not a response to a problem with an existing relationship; rather, it’s a reaction to boredom. For many people 74 percent, a desire for variety factors into their cheating behavior. More men explained their infidelity as tied to this reason than women.
- Feeling neglected. Similar to feeling a lack of love, some people engage in infidelity as a response to their partner’s lack of attention. Participants 70 percent revealed that feeling neglected was at least moderately tied to their cheating behavior. More women than men recognized this as one of their motives for cheating.
- Situational forces. Not every act of infidelity is premeditated and driven by dissatisfaction with a current relationship. Many participants 70 percent noted that factors of the situation were a key reason they cheated. Maybe they were drinking or in some other way thrown into an opportunity they didn’t anticipate. More men recognized this motive as a reason for their cheating than women.
- To boost self-esteem. It seems counter-intuitive, given that infidelity tends to end with significant personal consequences, but for some people, the act of having an affair can boost their own ego and self-esteem. More than half of participants 57 percent indicated that enhancing their self-esteem was a motive for their cheating.
- Out of anger. This was not the most commonly cited reason, but anger played a role in the affairs of many participants 43 percent. In these cases, cheating was seen as a way to punish a partner or enact revenge.
- Not feeling committed. Lacking love and lacking commitment to a current romantic partner are both tied to general feelings of relationship dissatisfaction. They may go hand in hand. In terms of commitment, nearly half 41 percent of participants indicated that having low levels of commitment to their romantic partners motivated their cheating.
- Because of sexual desire. About one-third of participants 32 percent reported that they were driven to have an affair because of their sexual desire. Maybe in their established relationship, individuals aren’t engaging in the frequency of sex, style of sex, or specific sexual behaviors that they want; this can contribute to their reasons to cheat. Men reported this reason more than women
These eight motives for infidelity cover aspects of the self, the existing relationship, and the context. They reveal great variety in the reasons as to why people cheat.
9 myths about cheating you should stop believing
For the record, once a cheater, not always a cheater — and that’s probably just one of the many myths about infidelity you’ve heard.
Because anyone and everyone has the potential to have an affair, there’s a lot of information on the subject that isn’t exactly concrete, like why someone is unfaithful in the first place. The Boredom, the sexual desire, emotional desire, the loving their partner but relationship is dead, excitement of newness. The reason for the cheating is very different for everyone, and depends on individual’s personality, the history, ability to manage the emotional distress, conflict and the communicate emotions.
Most people just assume the cheating is about one thing and one thing only: the sex. Clearly, that’s not the case
MYTH: Men cheat more often than the women
Infidelity among women is growing. Warner Bros. Pictures
Statistics in the past showed men were more likely to cheat than women, but apparently that’s not necessarily the case these days. People of all gender identities cheat.
According to recent research by the Institute for Family Studies, men are still, in general, slightly more likely to cheat than women, But it’s interesting to note that infidelity amongst women has been growing at a rapid pace since the sexual revolution. Among the married adults aged 18 – 29, the women are actually more likely to cheat than the men.
MYTH: Cheaters aren’t still in love with significant other.
A lot of times the cheating occurs about because of need of adrenaline.
Being in love with someone is different from loving someone, so here’s where you’ll sometimes catch cheaters on a technicality.
the idea that all the cheaters are void of emotion for partner is fallacy at best.
Only 28% of divorces in the US occur as a result of cheating,The key driver for most cheaters is the ability to not get caught. They aren’t interested in leaving current set up, they just crave Adrenalin rush that sneaking around gives them.
MYTH: Cheating is only physical.
Cheating can be emotional too.
Cheating is subjective, and everyone has their own idea of what it means to be unfaithful. So you might associate cheating with sex, your partner might define the infidelity as developing intimate bond with someone.
A recent study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that men tended to believe that sex alone could be defined as cheating, whereas women also perceived cheating to include flirting, dancing, and emotional engagement, . Another study found that women felt more betrayed by their partners forming emotional connections with a third-person, whereas men felt more betrayed if the relationship was sexual in nature.
It’s important for you and your significant other to be open with one another from the get-go and discuss where you both draw the line. Because while one person might be thinking in terms of physical intimacy, emotional infidelity can be problematic, too.
The term ‘micro-cheating’ has become popular in the last couple of years where seemingly innocent behaviors could be considered cheating,. Each couple has to define cheating and their expectations around what behaviors are acceptable and which are not.
MYTH: Once a cheater, always a cheater.
It is possible for someone to stop cheating.
It’s understandable why you’d tread cautiously when getting involved with someone who’s cheated in the past, but people do change.
If it’s possible for someone to be ex-smoker, ex-drinker, or ex-drug user it seems illogical to believe someone who cheated on mate at age 16 is forever doomed to be cheater for rest of his or her life.
In other words, if your feelings for this person are strong, it might be worth giving them the benefit of the doubt.
MYTH: Cheater cheat if they are unhappy in current relationship.
Cheaters can be happy with their significant other.
As confusing as it sounds, some cheaters are actually quite happy with their significant other. In these cases, cheating is symbolic of something person is lacking in their relationship, or in life.
goal of most cheaters is to hold onto all that is ‘good’ in their primary relationship while addressing their other ‘needs’ on the side,Whatever they are unhappy with in the relationship does not rise to level of being ‘deal breaker’ in their eyes.
Some cheaters stray because they feel up against wall. In other words, cheating gives them sense of control.
Some people will cheat because they feel like trapped and cheating provides them with way to exert some form of control and power over their situation. Feeling trapped in bad relationship isn’t healthy for anyone. But, it does make you more vulnerable and seeking empathetic people or counsel which often leads to the affair.
MYTH: Cheat because they aren’t having sex with significant other.
Affairs aren’t all about sex.
In 2018 infidelity survey that was performed by the Trustify, it showed that about 31% of cheaters did admit they were very unfaithful because of the lack of the sexual satisfaction in their primary relationship.
However, about 20% also said their affair was meant to fill the void in which their emotional needs were not being met ever, 17% sought the revenge on their partners, and 14% wanted more the attention than their SO was giving them always.
It’s not just about the ‘sex’ always. It’s about being very much desired and being wanted, connection, the intimacy, playfulness, and the sexual expression. If the couples focus only on the sex as the act, they miss the point about why the partner cheated in the first place.
MYTH: Cheaters cheat only to get out of their marriage.
They want affair to compliment with whatever their current relationship is.
Most cheaters don’t go into affair with intention of getting caught.
Very few cheaters are looking to replace relationship with another. Their goal is to complement whatever they already have.
MYTH: Cheating is intentional.
Cheating isn’t necessarily planned or thought out.
It sounds ridiculous that an affair wasn’t on purpose but my clients didn’t say, Today’s the day I’m going to cheat on my spouse
Little by little, they began developing feelings for someone outside of their marriage and maybe rationalized it as ‘It means nothing, we’re just good friends.’ They start sharing more with this other person than their partner, start making negative comparisons and idealizing this other person, Over time, there’s an increase in physical affection and sometimes the affair turns physical.
MYTH: It’s the other person’s fault.
Blaming the third party shouldn’t be a default.
Oftentimes people blame the third party, but at the end of the day, it’s just a rationalization. You’re hurt, and it’s very understandable, but keep in mind person your partner cheated with isn’t committed to you.
The other man/woman may not know that cheater is in a relationship or married to someone else. Even if they do know, it takes two to tango and cheater is the one who is in a relationship and took the step to violate trust and faith that comes with it.In this, it is NOT the other person’s fault at all. They are culpable but that’s not the same as saying it is their fault.(source) (source)
One primary reason could drive a person to be unfaithful, it’s likely that a combination of factors is at the root of many extra-dyadic affairs.
It’s also possible that there are motivations that were not fully captured in this study, in part because participants were trying to remember what motivated past behavior. Sometimes, memory isn’t on point to what actually motivated the behavior in the first place.
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