Why do people cheat on people they love?
Just the idea of being cheated on drives most people into a paralyzing state of fear.
But on the other side of the coin… when presented with the opportunity, we find that cheating is actually far more common and easy to do than we would like to think it is.
It is also very tempting under the right circumstances!
About 1 in 5 adults in monogamous relationships have cheated on their current partner, according to studies. And nearly half of people admit that they have been unfaithful to a partner at some point in their lives.
But why? Why does cheating happen?
To answer this question, I dug into this video by Matthew Hussey and Esther Perel.
I love Esther Perel’s work. She is the author behind the highly acclaimed book Mating In Captivity, and her TED Talk on the topic of infidelity is one of the most popular TED talks in existence!
I also dug into the works of David M. Buss and Cindy M. Meston… two of my favorite authors, whose works I find incredibly beneficial for learning more about the science of human mating behavior.
And finally, I also dig into this with my own experiences and perception… not only as a man, but also as a dating coach.
So let’s dig in and unpack it. Why do people cheat on people they love?
First Off, It Is Naive To Think That You Could Never Be Cheated On
I made this mistake in my marriage – and I can tell you from experience that blind trust in your partner is not only naive, but also self-destructive to a certain point.
This is something that Esther Perel quickly points out in her interview with Matthew Hussey – and I feel like it is really, really important to be aware of this mindset.
The truth is that people in happy relationships cheat. It happens. It just does.
It isn’t fair, and it isn’t fun… but it absolutely happens.
But why? Well, let’s explore that next.
Why Do We Cheat On Someone We Love?
Esther Perel goes into this a little bit as well. Of course, these are simplifications. The science of human mating behavior is complex.
But right away, we can see that there are many diverse reasons for why people cheat… and the reasons are not always what we think they might be.
Sometimes, people cheat because they are unhappy. Sometimes, they don’t care anymore… So why not cheat?
Sometimes, they cheat because they want their relationship to be fixed, because they are chasing something, or because they don’t know how to get the other person’s attention.
Sometimes, they cheat because they want their relationship to work, but have needs that are not being met.
And sometimes, they cheat because they’ve already given up on the relationship… and are just biding their time until they are forced to make a more permanent change to their life (divorce, moving out, etc.).
Of course, those of us who have been cheated on may be asking the obvious question.
If you want so badly to cheat, why not leave your relationship first? That would obviously be better than cheating…
But the answer to this question isn’t quite as simple to undress, either.
Another Thing To Take Into Account Is That When You Leave A Relationship, You Leave A Whole Life Behind
Leaving your relationship to start a new life is not an easy thing to do. And many people would rather risk cheating to fulfill their unmet needs or unfulfilled desires than to walk away from the relationship, into the unknown, to completely rebuild their life from the ground up.
This may be especially true for couples who have children together, who have been married for decades, who have shared property, who run businesses together, who hold high social standing in their community, etc.
Cheating Violates Trust And Threatens The Relationship
Cheating is absolutely taboo. People will get so enraged, angry, and bitter towards partners who cheat… and for good reason.
Cheating is a violation of trust… a trust situated around the most intimate social construct that humans are capable of taking part in.
The act of sexual intimacy is a very powerful social construct, and many people see it as being very personal to them and their partner.
It is a pleasure and a special bond that they share together. For many people, giving their sexual energy to someone is so personal and intimate that they equate it with giving THEMSELVES, or at least a part of themselves, to that person during the act.
The fear of sharing that intimacy with others can arouse strong, intense feelings of jealousy, bitterness, anger, resentment, and even hatred.
But… even though we all pretty much know and understand this to a point, cheating still happens.
But Sex Isn’t The Only Issue, Either
There is also the emotional element to it. In fact, women are far more likely to be upset by any emotional entanglement between their male partner and his ‘fling’ than the sexual entanglement.
This quote, taken from the book The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating, by David M. Buss, explains this perfectly.
“Women get extremely upset by male infidelity because it signals that the man is diverting resources to other women and might even defect from the relationship. Women stand to lose the entire investment secured through the marriage, and replacing a husband is not always easy, especially if a woman has children. Consequently, evolutionists have predicted that women will be far more upset by an affair that contains emotional involvement than about one that does not, because emotional involvement typically signals outright defection rather than the less costly siphoning off of a fraction of resources.”– David M. Buss, The Evolution Of Desire: Strategies Of Human Mating
Another Thing To Keep In Mind Is That Infidelity Is Easy To Commit – Even Though It Carries Very Strong Negative Social Consequences
Cheating is not just commonplace. It is also much easier to fall into than many ‘non-cheaters’ might imagine!
Think about it. You are just living your life, going to work, taking care of the kids, going to the lake on the weekends, etc… when all of a sudden, a beautiful, sexy, charismatic person waltzes into your life and expresses sexual interest in you.
You are obviously taken and in a relationship.
But still, you can’t help but to wonder what it would feel like to be touched by them. You can’t help but to imagine how good it would feel to experience their desire for you.
It is a profoundly powerful temptation, really… because what do we want more as humans than to be desired by attractive potential mates?
This is a pleasurable thing. It is a validating thing. It is something that has the potential to elicit incredible joy, and a profound boost to our self-esteem and ego.
In short… it has the potential to be WILDLY fun!
And so, we see that at least in part, the idea of cheating doesn’t always need to be based on some kind of ‘deficit’ being experienced in the person’s relationship.
We do not have to be deficient in anything to be attracted to the pleasurable idea of experiencing that kind of intoxicating attention, and the pleasure/validation that comes with it, from someone else.
And at that point, deciding to dip a toe into infidelity is almost as easy as… well, dipping a toe in!
Infidelity Has Roots In Our Evolutionary History
In the book The Evolution of Desire: Strategies Of Human Mating, David M. Buss says this about infidelity in the chapter Sexual Conflict.
He and fellow author Cindy M. Meston also go on to say this about female infidelity in their book Why Women Have Sex.
They then go on to say this on the subject of mate-poaching, and how women adapted to practice it to solve the adaptive problem of facing monogamous cultures where the most desirable men had already mated and been taken off of the ‘market.’
The reasons for why humans would cheat on other humans they love may seem complicated when we view it through the lens of our rose-colored romantic glasses.
But in the brutal, violent, dog-eat-dog, dangerous world of our primitive ancestors, successfully poaching a mate could mean the difference between life and death, success and failure, high and low status… or even whether or not you succeeded in bringing up children who survived into adulthood, thereby continuing your bloodline and strengthening your position within the tribe.
At The End Of The Day, People Cheat Because The Temptation Is High, And The Benefits Are Numerous
It is one thing to sit back and rationally tell ourselves I would never cheat.
But it is quite another thing to be offered a very attractive opportunity to cheat, and turn it down.
If this other person were able to make you feel very desired, valued, wanted, and tempted by the many benefits that such an adventure would pose to you… would you not at least consider deceiving your partner and sharing yourself sexually in the forbidden and taboo context of infidelity?
If the benefit payouts were high enough… you may be more likely to indulge than you would care to admit.
We are all sexual creatures, and our drive for intimate human connection has proven to be a powerful force to be reckoned with, to say the least.
Whether fulfilling an unfulfilled desire, meeting needs that are not being met at home, pursuing adventure, throwing caution to the wind for the exhilarating thrill of the moment, trying to secure a better future with a partner who is already taken, exacting revenge on someone for something they have done to you, or pursuing a totally different motivation entirely… cheating has always been, and will continue to be, a commonplace occurrence that isn’t going away anytime soon.
People cheat to feel good, to fulfill sexual desires, to experience the thrill of something new, to explore feelings for people other than their partner, to secure a new/better relationship, to move themselves ahead in life, because they have given up on their current relationship, and for many other reasons.
Cheating is a complex behavior that is every bit as individual and unique as the individual partaking in it.
The 8 Primary Reasons For Why People Cheat
In a post published on Psychology Today, written by Theresa E. DiDonato, a recent study was discussed, in which 8 main motives for why people cheat in their relationships were uncovered by a study where 500 heterosexual individuals were asked about their past cheating experiences.
And the motives were laid out as follows…
- Falling out of love
- For variety
- Feeling neglected
- Situational forces
- To boost self-esteem
- Out of anger
- Not feeling committed
- Sexual desire
Obviously, these motives span quite a wide range of situations… though even these 8 categories probably do not do justice to the incredibly wide variety of reasons for why humans choose to have affairs and cheat on their partners.
Understanding Human Mating Behavior, And Developing A Greater Understanding Of How Humans Conduct Themselves Sexually, Is Your Best Hope Of Avoiding A Cheating Situation
Here is my advice when it comes to partners who cheat.
As someone who sees infidelity among humans on a regular basis, who has also experienced infidelity first-hand, let me tell you that you cannot control other humans… nor should you want to or try to.
If we need to control someone to keep them faithful to us, we should probably pack up our bags and exit that relationship!
We should also overcome our own unhealthy desires to control other people, and stop labeling our insecurities as ‘understandable fears.’
We cannot live in healthy relationships where we are constantly afraid of being cheated on. This is not a healthy way to live. We live in a modern world where all humans have the right to live freely, as they see fit.
And so, resorting to tactics like tracking a partner’s phone, checking their messages, spying on them, etc, is just unreasonable and doesn’t really have a place within healthy relationships.
The best solution to a relationship that isn’t meeting our needs or desires is to walk away from it and pursue something else.
But I will also say this.
Cultivating a truly non-judgemental environment with your partner, where real honesty is rewarded and celebrated, is probably your best chance for figuring out if your relationship is truly at risk.
In my relationship, my girlfriend knows that she can talk to me about anything. She can tell me if she is attracted to someone, if she wants to sleep with someone, if she has fantasies or desires that are not being fulfilled… and she can tell me all of this without fearing that there will be some kind of negative repercussion.
Quite the opposite, actually. I reward her and praise her for being honest with me… and then we calmly discuss the things she is feeling.
With that being said, make no mistake. I am always aware that cheating could happen. And I live with that knowledge by being smart, keeping an eye out for suspicious activity (without being controlling), and always being ready in my life to walk away and move my life somewhere else.
I do trust my girlfriend. I consciously choose to do this. And I do the best I can to keep our relationship healthy.
I don’t try to keep tabs on her. I don’t check her phone. I do not act jealous or possessive… and since we have an open relationship, the two of us are pretty much free to do whatever we want anyway!
So we trust each other to follow the rules we have agreed upon in our relationship, and life goes on.
Don’t Be So Afraid Of Cheating That It Shuts You Down
Some people are so paralyzed by the fear of cheating that it actually causes a lot of issues in their lives.
I know people who are constantly checking their partner’s phone, always wanting to know exactly where they are going to be, getting jealous of friends, jumping through hoops to keep their partner from hanging out with people, etc.
I even know people who constantly accuse each other of cheating… all based on their own insecurities!
This is certainly not a productive or healthy way to live. And if you can’t find a way to live in peace, without constantly worrying about whether or not your partner is cheating, you probably need to get some therapy and work through that fear.
If you feel the need to go through your partner’s phone, or you feel like you are sure that they are lying to you… you just need to walk away.
Or, you need to accept that you have a trust problem, and that you have unresolved fears and triggers that you have not healed from.
Or, you need to do both.
And the fact of the matter is that your partner does not owe it to you to work through those triggers with you.
Those things are YOUR responsibility. And if you can’t get them sorted out, your partner will probably leave or cheat on you anyway. It is almost like self-fulfilling prophecy at that point!
We Need To Be Alphas – Strong And Independent Enough To Withstand The Potential Of The Storm That Infidelity Could Bring Into Our Lives
Cheating may happen to you… just like an earthquake or a flat tire may happen to you.
Are you prepared for it? Is your life set up so that you could walk away from it with minimal damage?
Do you have your own money? Do you have a plan? Do you have the strength of will within you to deal with that situation if it ever arises?
Can you set firm, healthy boundaries, and enforce them?
Can you walk away if you figure out that your partner isn’t good for you?
These are all very good questions that we all need to make sure that we are asking ourselves.
Blindly trusting our partners is not just risky… it is unwise.
We need to trust… but we also need to be self-sufficient.
There is a difference between blind trust, and legitimate relationship trust.
I trust my girlfriend because she has never given me a reason not to, and because I do not get triggered over nothing. I have worked through my insecurities, and am not in a position where I am constantly afraid of, or threatened by, infidelity.
If I ‘blindly’ trusted my girlfriend, I would rule out the possibility altogether and ignore any problems because I would consider it an impossibility that anything like cheating could ever happen to me.
Do you see the subtle difference?
If you need to talk through any of these things, please feel free to message me.
I am always available to talk and help!
Go with grace, my friends. And never give up your power.
Until next time…
Joshua K. Sigafus