Far too often, I’ve been faced with clients who have been absolutely blindsided by cheating in their relationships. What they thought was a happy, carefree romance was suddenly destroyed by infidelity, and to make things even worse, the guilty party doesn’t seem to know why it happened. Why cheat when you have everything? Why hurt someone you love over something you’re only going to feel guilty about? The sad truth is that often we don’t understand ourselves and our psychology nearly as well as we need to, which leads us to be shocked by our own irrational behaviors and decisions. It takes a lot of work, but especially when it comes to infidelity, it’s worth learning how it happens so that we can do our best to avoid it. That’s why I’ve decided to lay down some of the psychological facts about cheating that I’ve learned during my time as a love and relationship coach here at Happily Committed.
In this article, I’m going to put together some of the key reasons people cheat, framed from the psychological perspective that explains the behavior. You’ll see that, although there are many specific and personal reasons that people end up cheating, there are some common roots that have their explanations in the workings of our brains. Understanding the psychology of cheating is one of the most effective ways to pinpoint what causes the behavior, either so that you can rebuild after infidelity, ensure that it never becomes a problem in your relationship, or even spot and avoid habitual cheaters altogether.
Psychological Facts about Cheating
Before we go any further, it’s worth being clear about something: discussing and explaining why people cheat is not the same as justifying it. In my experience as a love and relationship coach, a lot of cheaters like to hide behind the rationale for their infidelity, since they feel like it explains and therefore defends their actions. This is particularly tricky because being open and honest about why cheating happens is an important step towards learning how to overcome the desire to cheat, and a lot of people can fall into this trap without going farther towards actually changing themselves or their behavior. The truth is that everyone, even a chronic cheater, is capable of staying faithful and committed. It just takes maintenance and self care, which is an effort that some people are simply unwilling to make. With that being said, anybody willing to fight the temptation needs to understand some core things about the psychology of cheating:
Why Do People Cheat?
At first, it may seem like everyone has their own unique reasons and rationale for being unfaithful to their partner. After all, no two people are alike, and no two relationships are the same. However, underneath the specifics, there are some common threads running through most situations where infidelity is involved. Let’s take a look at some of the most prevalent ones:
People Who Cheat Are Often Acting Upon Insecurities
The more time we spend in a relationship, the more we cut ourselves off from the romantic marketplace. We take ourselves off the market, and instead of having our confidence boosted by dating and impressing strangers, we begin to get deeper validation from our partners. This type of validation is a lot more fulfilling and complex than the kind we used to get from casual dating, and it’s one of the many ways that a good couple can build up each other’s sense of self-worth. However, when you’re struggling with insecurity, this process can get derailed: your partner’s validation may simply not address the root causes of your insecurity.
This is one of the most common psychological causes of cheating: your brain is acting upon deep inner insecurities. After all, a casual hookup or even an affair is a lot easier to manage than the hard work of introspection needed to address a buried sense of shortcoming or failure. The attention you get from someone else provides a short-term boost to your self confidence, just like a painkiller dulls the pain after an injury without actually treating it. Chasing the “high” of infidelity is one of the things that turns people into habitual cheaters: no matter how much damage they’re causing, it’s still easier and less frightening than working through their inner lack of self-love. The brain seek this short-term relief at the expense of it’s long-term health, much like it does when it’s addicted to drugs or alcohol. The problem, of course, is that the feeling is fleeting, and the harm caused by cheating eventually undermines those parts of their lives that could have genuinely helped in overcoming those insecurities in the first place.
As always, it’s important to try to overcome insecurities before they harm the people around you. You also owe it to yourself, because it’s exhausting living with a diminished sense of self! If you’re suffering from insecurity, consider checking out our specially-designed course on overcoming it by clicking here!
Why Men Cheat More: The Primal Brain
One of the key elements of the psychology of cheating is this: at the end of the day, we’re still animals. However, this absolutely isn’t a dismissive, “all men cheat, all men are animals” kind of statement! The truth is that every animal, including humans, has certain built-in physical and mental functions meant to ensure that its genes get passed on to the next generation. This is the biological foundation of life on earth: we need to procreate, make sure that our offspring survives! However, this same biological function can also cause problems.
When it comes to mammals, there’s a difference in this drive between males and females: females have to invest a tremendous amount of time and effort being pregnant, which can often put them in a weakened position in nature as the nutrients in their food go to their babies. They also can’t reproduce that frequently, meaning they have to take special care to ensure their offspring’s health and safety if they want to pass down their genes. This is the reason most female mammals are so picky about their mates: they want to find one that will provide for them and their offspring during this difficult period, in order to help ensure their own survival. For males, it’s a different story: there’s no limit to how much they can reproduce, other than finding willing partners! Their safest bet is to have as many offspring as possible, on the principle that safety in numbers means that at least some of them will survive and carry their genetic material on to the next generation. Their basic instincts drive them to try as much as they can.
I’m sure you see where I’m going with this: we still have plenty of vestiges of our primal past left in our brains, and this is one of them. A common fantasy and desire for men is having as many sexual partners as possible, which is fueled by the same primal urge that drives other animals to try to procreate! Of course, most men don’t fantasize about impregnating many partners, their brains simply make them feel physically attracted to a wide range of people. That’s why, on average, men are far more likely to try to wiggle out of monogamy than women, and the answer to several of my clients who have asked “Why do I want to cheat, even though I’m in love?”
This is not to say that every man will cheat, or even that cheating is an excusable behavior! Ultimately, most people don’t cheat, because they’re stronger than their most basic urges. Human beings are infinitely more complex than our hard-wired evolutionary purposes. However, the evolutionary angle goes a long way towards understanding the psychology of cheating!
Why People Cheat on People They Love: Unstable Foundations
Time and time again, clients ask me, “do cheaters feel guilty?” The fact that, yes, most of the time they do! Often, that information comes as a surprise for people. After all, if you feel so bad about it, then what led you to do it in the first place? As always, the truth is complicated, but to explain why people cheat it helps to kind of compartmentalize various parts of the relationship. Everything that supports your sense of self, from fulfilled inner goals all the way to sexual validation, is what you must bring to the table in order to make your relationship healthy. That’s part of our philosophy here at Happily Committed: a healthy relationship is a ‘fortress of well-being’. So, it’s very possible that the things that make you love your partner are perfectly in order, while other parts of your sense of self are undernourished! That’s exactly when these kinds of problems can arise, and why cheaters may be perfectly in love with their partners but still feel tempted to cheat. They’re trying to ease the pain of insecurities created by some inner unmet need. These kinds of unstable foundations in a relationship can lead to problems beyond infidelity as well, which is why it’s so important that we’re open and honest with our partners about our emotions and desires. More importantly, this is precisely why it’s our responsibility to look inwards and be in tune with our emotions, so that we can spot problems before they lead us to harm someone else.
What Does Cheating Say About a Person
Ultimately, no one is perfect, and all of us have our own moments of weakness throughout our lives. During my time as a love and relationship expert, I’ve seen plenty of honest and good people who have simply made a mistake: they had too much to drink one night, they let something go much further than it should have, or they simply weren’t strong enough to resist the attention of someone other than their partner. The fact is that we’re only human, and cheating doesn’t have to define us. What does, however, define us is our ability to recognize our own mistakes, and what we do when we realize that we’ve hurt someone else. It’s possible to rebuild a relationship after infidelity, but only if the person who cheated has the willingness to address the root causes of the behavior, and if the person who was cheated on has the desire to forgive. For many of us, cheating is a red line, and more often than not revelations of cheating brings about the end of a relationship. Most of the time, it’s for the best. But, as long as you’re willing to put the hard work into self improvement, that doesn’t mean cheating has to be the end-all.
So, with that being said, let’s recap some of the psychological facts about cheating, which can serve as a roadmap to either bounce back after infidelity, or to prevent it in the first place.
1. People who cheat are often acting upon insecurities. Romantic attention from someone other than your partner can give you a short-term boost of self confidence, which is tempting when that self-confidence is lacking in some part of your life. However, it doesn’t last, and ultimately cheating only erodes the things in your life that can give you a deeper sense of self worth.
2. Men tend to cheat more than women because of a primal instinct to procreate, which we have in common with almost all other animals. However, what sets us apart is our ability to decide whether or not to act upon our most basic urges! The temptation will always be there, but at our best, we can shrug it off in pursuit of something far more fulfilling.
3. Why do people cheat on the people they love? Basically, love and lust don’t always overlap. It’s possible that a cheater loves his partner very much, and is still drawn towards a non-committed fling or even an affair because of some inner unmet need in their life or their relationship. Addressing those weak foundations, personally and together, is the surest way to prevent cheating.
Lastly, I want to remind you that here at Happily Committed I work with couples every day who are working to overcome infidelity, or to strengthen the bonds of their relationship in order to prevent cheating and stay happily together. If you need personalized, tailor-made action plans towards solving the problems in your romantic life, feel free to reach out to me or any of the other coaches by clicking here. We’re professionals, and if you’re grappling with infidelity in your relationship, we know how to help.
I hope that this article has illuminated some of the root causes of cheating, and I sincerely wish you all the best in love and life.
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