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Nine Most Common Psychological Reasons for Infidelity

  • I am a cheater. Meaning, I am someone who cheated while in a committed relationship. And in this blog I am going to cover the 9 most common reasons people commit infidelity. 

    The COVID19 lockdown has given me a lot of time to reflect. Something that came to mind was the time I cheated on a woman who was extremely tolerant, extremely good to me and extremely good for me.  

    I thought I had a good understanding of what drove me to cheat on her, but my knowledge and perspective at the age of 28-29 pales in comparison to my understanding of life at the ripe age of 51. So, I decided to take a deeper look into myself and that situation. 

    I even looked into some of the world’s top relationship psychologists to figure out the reasons people commit infidelity in the first place. What I found was so surprising that I had to share. 

    So let’s begin. 

    Infidelity is such a complex and persistent phenomenon in today’s relationships. Some see it as an act of betrayal often carried out in secret. Once out in the open, infidelity can cause immense pain, obliteration of trust and a complete loss of respect. Not to mention the psychological impact it can have on the person being cheated on. 

    Whether for novelty, independence, freedom, or even just to relieve tension, many reasons drive a person to commit infidelity. No two incidents are the same.

    Psychology circles around the world s have investigated infidelity in an attempt to understand the core reasons so many people engage in this “taboo behavior.” 

    To get a deeper understanding here are the nine most common psychological reasons for infidelity.

    1. Loss of Desire

    Many relationships and marriages start with the “honeymoon” phase. The “newness” of the relationship brings out the best in both partners, as relate to each other with best feet forward. Couples may say a lot of romantically charged vows and advances, creating an idealized image of their own fairy tale story.

    Couples hold on to these unrealistic standards. They soon see how their partners fall short of the lofty expectations they’ve set. This feeds into a loop of frustration and disillusionment that can lead to a breakdown of the relationship. A fairy tale story no more.

    “Once we strayed because marriage was not supposed to deliver love and passion. Today we stray because marriage fails to deliver the love, passion, and undivided attention it promised.” -Esther Perel, The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity

    2. Neglect

    When the channels of communication shut down and the initial spark has died, many feel a powerful sense of loss and neglect inside a relationship. Women are more likely to play into this, when their partners no longer give them the same level of doting attention and care.

    Women want to be desired. To bridge this gap, women look for this elsewhere, in the form of an affair. When asked the reasons they committed an affair, women answer that it is the validation that they can still be desirable for others.

    3. Exacting revenge

    Infidelity breeds further infidelity. Individuals with a strong moral standard are not likely to cheat on their partners. However, if a person finds herself on the receiving end of her partner’s extra-marital affairs, that may just be the tipping point for her to exact revenge in anger.

    This is a behavior Lauren Dummit of the Triune Therapy Group pointed out as an unhealthy and indirect way to handle the main issue. She suggests that a cheater justifies an act of infidelity as a means of “evening the score”, short of ending a relationship. Two wrongs don’t make it right.

    4. Acting on fantasies

    Desire is a tenacious phenomenon as old as monogamous relationships itself. Over 90% of men fantasize of people they meet in life. Often the desire to be with another person is much more powerful than an actual touch or kiss itself.

    Man is often fascinated with the lure of the power of the forbidden. People who cultivate such strong fantasies and then find themselves with the opportunity to cheat may just end up doing it. Often, these are opportunities for these individuals to feel ‘alive’ that doing what you’re not supposed to do ends up feeling like they are doing what they want.

    5. Seeking a different version of oneself

    Often, we like to paint infidelity as personalities in conflict with one another and rarely as something borne out of an inner conflict. Most individuals in long-term relationships attest to a strong love and intimacy connection for their partners, painting a profile of a faithful relationship. It’s not in their nature to cheat.

    This is not a sure-fire formula for success, however. It is not so much a problem with the partner but a desire to be a different, more adventurous person. In seeking these novelties, it may lead a person to unfaithful encounters outside their current relationship.

    "They didn't cheat because of who you are. They chose to cheat because of who they are not." — Charles J. Orlando

    6. Narcissistic Tendencies

    Some individuals will find themselves in the unfortunate situation of being in a relationship with a narcissist. These individuals are egotistic, arrogant, attention seeking, and they lack any empathy for others. As a result, they are frequent offenders in terms of physical and even emotional infidelity.

    In 2006, psychologist Joshua Foster looked into how narcissists operate in intimate relationships. People with narcissistic personalities practice what they call “unrestricted sociosexuality”. Meaning, they do not associate the sexual act as an exclusive, shared intimacy, but it is a means for individual gratification. Therefore, these individuals feel entitled to the gratification of their desires, even outside of socially accepted boundaries.

    7. Challenging the Institution

    For some couples, a power struggle occurs between a person and the status quo. In a stifling relationship, some individuals may act out in infidelity as a way of saying “I am in control”.

    Cheating then takes the form of an empowering action. This expression of rebellion against the rules of a monogamous relationship establishes the offender as a free and autonomous individual. It’s not so much a conflict with the relationship per se, but a conflict with the institution and the self-perceived restrictions.

    8. Skirting boundaries

    Being open to various forms of infidelity is a manifestation of people testing the boundaries of a relationship. Sexual infidelity is probably the most mainstream form, but the simple act of flirting on dating apps or having dinner with an ex can be equally grave acts of cheating. We must distinguish between sexual infidelity and emotional infidelity.

    In a study conducted at the University of Wisconsin in 2008, researchers found the stark difference in what men and women view as infidelity. More men are likely to be more upset over sexual infidelity than women. In comparison, over 70% of women were more likely to be upset if their partners engaged in emotional infidelity.

    9. Sexual gratification

    At a base level, people just want to have sex. Individuals are more likely to cheat on their partners when they don’t feel sexually gratified in their current relationship.

    A large survey comprising over 500 men and 400 women looked into the different factors that come into causes of infidelity. Women who believed they were less happy and less sexually compatible were more likely to cheat on their partners.

    It starts with the heart: Success against infidelity

    Now that we have a clearer picture of the most common reasons for infidelity, the question is “How do we avoid the pitfalls of infidelity? How do we become more emotionally stable with the looming threat of us committing the hurtful act of cheating?

    Many experts have come forward to propose several strategies to overcome the stumbling block of infidelity. Esther Perel is a couple’s psychotherapist based in New York who has achieved much success with counseling hundreds of couples struggling with infidelity.

    She roots the heart of the issue in a conflict with love and desire. Striking a perfect balance with the security of love and the novelty of desire with your partner produces a recipe for staying power in a relationship. 

    A relationship that nurtures love and provides security is something we naturally strive for. It’s a goal we subconsciously look for in our potential partners and it’s a two-way street. Our ability to provide a safe place in us for our partners to come home to is a proactive way to keep the relationship together.

    The need to cultivate desire runs opposite to this. Humans by nature seek novelty and excitement. If not left in check, this can be a hotbed for infidelity to occur. Reflecting on the reasons you desired your partner in the first place is a good starting point.

    The famous French novelist Marcel Proust said that “Mystery is not about finding new places, but about looking with new eyes.” Adopting this paradigm can earn your dividends in keeping the spark alive.

    Final Thoughts

    Infidelity is a complex and pervasive problem affecting millions of people and relationships. 

    The variety of psychological reasons speaks of just how multifaceted the motivations are behind this behavior.

    A solid understanding of these common reasons may help us get to the core of the problem and address it during the early stage of a relationship. At the heart of the problem are failures in communication, lofty expectations, and a lack of commitment to one another.

    Achieving emotional stability in a relationship is a two-way street. Having clear lines of communication with your partner and realistic goals will help you grow in love and desire with one another. If you stick to these tips, you have the perfect recipe for staying faithful to one another.


    Kinsey, A. C., W. B. Pomeroy, C. E. Martin, and P. H. Gobhard. 1953. Sexual behaviour in the human female

    Foster, J. D., Shrira, I., & Campbell, W. K. (2006). Theoretical models of narcissism, sexuality, and relationship commitment. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 23(3), 367-386. doi:10.1177/0265407506064204

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