Why Do People Cheat?

Did your partner cheat on you?  Have you been thinking of cheating? Before making any decisions in either situation, consider what may be going on at the root of the desire to step out.

In 2012, a few psychologists were interested in learning the motivations that led those involved in extramarital relationships (men and women) to start having an affair. The participants were located on an internet discussion board aimed at people who were actively pursuing or involved in extramarital affairs. Results from this study reflected the following to be the top 3 reasons for beginning an affair; sexual needs, emotional needs, and desiring the experience of falling in love. Both men and women were equally likely to cite sexual or emotional motivations if their primary relationship was not satisfying in either of these areas.

This study’s results are mostly consistent with what I see at my practice in relationships where one partner is having an affair. While it is important for the individual who was cheated on to have answers about what caused the affair, how long it went on for, how they met, etc., it is even more imperative for the relationship to work through the underlying motivations that led to the affair in the first place.

If both you and your partner are aware of why the affair took place, or why you are considering cheating, then what do you do? Usually, the underlying motivations are tied to difficulty with communicating needs, difficulty with emotional vulnerability (allowing emotional closeness), and/or other factors that could potentially be more deeply rooted issues. No matter how remorseful the person may be who had the affair (or for considering an affair), if these core issues are not addressed, problems are likely to continue in the relationship in the future. Communication problems can lead to many other issues in addition to an affair.

*Omarzu, J., Miller, A., Schultz, C., & Timmerman, A. (2012). Motivations and Emotional Consequences Related to Engaging in Extramarital Relationships. International Journal of Sexual Health, 24, 154-162.