Why men cheat, really

Over time affairs have become more commonplace. Sometimes the couple is unmarried and in a committed relationship; or they may be living together and engaged, seemingly happy as they plan a future life together. Then there are those who are married, some still in their honeymoon phase; or they may have been together for a number of years, many of them with one or more children.

The reasons behind infidelity can be as different as the relationships in which it occurs. This is because behavior is influenced by personal traits and characteristics, deeply held values and beliefs, by the dynamics that happen between two people in an intimate relationship, by the role models someone grew up with and the culture they come from, and by chance opportunity and circumstance. It is these many contributing factors that make it impossible to name one reason or set of reasons that someone would cheat. If you want to know why this happened to your relationship, reflect on the above influencing factors, then carefully considering how the following possible reasons for cheating might apply to your partner, relationship, and circumstances.

This was normal behavior in the world he/she grew up in

I want to emphasize that just because your partner may come from a family in which divorce was common and therefore, not frowned upon- does not mean that they will fall prey to continuing this dysfunction. Many people learn from their parent's mistakes and vow not to repeat them, but a certain percentage do repeat what is familiar and destructive in their relationships. It is this latter group that are more vulnerable to rationalizing their behavior, and writing it off to stress or something outside of their control. They may blame their partner for driving them to it due to what they have done or not done. They tend to expect their partner to understand why they did it and just get over it.

Your partner is an adrenaline junkie

By this I literally mean they are addicted to the rush that can come from risky behavior, and/or the thrill of a new experience. When you hear the term "sexual addiction," this is what is being talked about. These folks describe a need that drives them--not unlike that of a drug addict. There are many theories out there and one that is often pointed to is a problem with the neurotransmitter dopamine--which mediates pleasure in the brain. When it isn't regulating properly, an individual will continue to seek out more and more of something to get that elusive feeling of satisfaction and pleasure. Certainly when someone has a history of cheating, there is a stronger likelihood of an imbalance in this important chemical. This would be especially true if the consequences they have had due to their past behavior have not led them to attempt any real change that would help them avoid the future fallout and pain that has resulted from their poor decisions and actions.

You or your partner have problems with intimacy

It's not uncommon for an individual who has cheated on their partner to offer a need for intimacy as the reason for their behavior. For some, there is more of a focus on a lack of sexual intimacy in their relationship. For others, it is more an emotional connection that is missing, and for others, it is both. What they tell their therapist is that their relationship is like one of roommates. They share living space, finances, household responsibilities--but little more. They no longer talk about deep feelings, have meaningful conversations, touch in intimate and affectionate ways--and sometimes their sexual relationship is nonexistent. It could be that some of these were not strong at the beginning of the relationship, but over time, all intimacy has gone away and it is no longer something they want to live with. Women often accuse their partners of cheating just for sex, but men often report that they were really drawn in by someone who offered friendship, was a good listener, and who offered support and looked up to them.

Your partner has low self-esteem, is overly needy, and attention-seeking

Some people are like black holes--no matter how much you pour into them, they never seem to fill up. Needy people are much like this. They derive much of their self-worth from what they can get from others. They seek out praise, attention, and compliments to reassure themselves that they are worthwhile and desirable. Their self-esteem is almost nonexistent--and no matter how much a partner gives, it will never be enough. When someone suffers from low self-esteem they often reach out to others in their environment for attention and praise--especially when their partner is distracted by a new baby, stress at work, issues with kids, and/or a health condition. These are the men who cheat when their wife is in a late stage of pregnancy, is dealing with cancer, or is away from home due to work, extended family demands or other circumstances. Often people are shocked when someone is unfaithful at a time like that--but it is exactly those circumstances that can lead someone with that issue to cheat.

Your partner is narcissistic

People who fall into this group tend to have very poor insight into their behavior and its impact on those around them. Their narcissism leads to self-centeredness and a single focus on how they feel and what they need and want. On a very primitive level they may be unable to consider the needs and feelings of others when making decisions. The theory is that those who have an actual narcissistic disorder developed this way due to their circumstances as children and the environment in which they were raised--and that through a lot of work they can learn to consider others, but will always be somewhat remote and disconnected from caring about how their behavior impacts those close to them. It is important to note that there is a clear distinction between having narcissistic traits and a narcissistic personality disorder. Many people have features of a disorder such as this one, but do not meet the criteria for the disorder itself. Therefore you should be careful of labeling someone or jumping to an extreme conclusion based on a trait they might possess. Only a licensed mental health professional is qualified to do this. Instead use those traits to better understand why they behave the way they do.

Your partner feels resentment and anger towards you, your relationship, and/or your life circumstances

Some people act out their anger and negative feelings on those they blame for causing them. It is a way of striking back and hurting the person they believe hurt or wronged them in some way. It is a very dysfunctional way of dealing with their feelings, but sadly it happens all too frequently. What better way to get back at a partner you feel has rejected, dismissed, ignored or minimized your feelings and needs then to cheat on them? In doing so, they know it will send a message that they are desirable and valued by someone else and don't care if it hurts their partner that they get their needs met elsewhere. Regardless of whether or not there is any real validity to their belief that their partner has wronged them, this is a dysfunctional way of addressing their hurt. Until and unless they learn to effectively and appropriately address and communicate their issues, they are at risk of continuing to make bad choices like this one.

Some men don't do monogamy

This is the hardest reason to explain, probably because there really isn't a reasonable or logical explanation for it. Yet as a therapist I have met both men and women who have a history of affairs, who have slept with her three best friends, who have had relationships with a couple of men in the neighborhood--and when we work to uncover why, they can't identify any problem or issue in their relationship that explains it. In fact, many say they love their spouses and would never want a separation or divorce. Yet, they cheat without hesitation, and are often more concerned about the consequences of getting caught than feeling remorse for having betrayed a good partner. If you are with one of these partners--run, for they won't change.

Relationship betrayals are all too common these days and they often leave a wake of pain and destruction in their path. The personal, emotional, financial and family toll can be staggering--especially if once the affair is uncovered, poor decision making continues. This is why it is so important to avoid focusing on stereotypical reasons, to make and then act on assumptions, to impulsively decide what you will do next, and/or to act out in retaliation. All of these are short-sighted and can cause additional harm not just to the cheater, but also to you, the one who has been cheated on. Think about what you have invested, what you have to lose as well as to gain and then ask yourself "Am I better off with or without ____?"

Want to read other articles on this subject?

"You have been cheated on: What should you do?"
List of more "Emotional and Physical Affairs" articles

"Part 1--Is it true that "once a cheater, always a cheater?""


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


Copyright 2008 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.

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