Why do people cheat in relationships? A recent study suggests it’s not as simple as we may think.

In today’s world, dating and maintaining a relationship it definitely not simple – it’s becoming more and more complicated. In a lot of relationships, feeling secure, loved, comfortable and happy are often the ultimate goal. Realizing or thinking that your partner is cheating on you can in one bold swipe cause all the above feelings to disintegrate leaving behind a trail of anxiety, upset, confusion and often, frustration and anger.

Cheating is something that’s very present in society, however with the aim of the cheating game being to not get caught and to do it behind someone’s back, studying cheating and the reasons behind it has been almost impossible. Often people come up with their own conclusions and assumptions as to why someone’s cheated, however a recent study suggests that the reasons underpinning why someone cheats are far from simple.

Why do people cheat?

The study looked at around 500 individuals, the majority of whom identified as heterosexual, who all admitted to cheating in their relationships. In order for the researchers to try and get an understanding as to why cheating occurs, men and women were asked what, in their eyes, was the reason they cheated. When their answers were analysed, 8 key reasons emerged:

  1.  Anger or revenge; Sometimes people will cheat as a reaction to something that their partner has done, the mindset behind this is typically of a “you hurt me, so I’ll hurt you” nature.
  2. Self-esteem: If someone has low self-esteem then this can act as a motive to cheat as having relations with someone else, whether emotional or sexual, can lead to increased feelings of confidence, attractiveness and can often lead to the individual feeling more empowered.
  3. Need for variety; Within a relationship the need for variety is often linked to sex and one individual potentially wanting to try things that their partner isn’t open or comfortable with. However, a need for variety can also occur in an emotional sense.
  4. Unmet needs, feeling neglected; If someone feels that their needs are being unmet, whether that’s their emotional or sexual needs, then whilst they may stay in the relationship with the hope that things will improve, feelings of frustration may lead them to get their needs met elsewhere.
  5. Sexual desire: This could refer to an overall, general desire to have sex but could also reflect the feeling of unmet sexual needs in their primary relationship.
  6. Situational factors: If the situation creates the opportunity to cheat this can increase the changes infidelity occurring. For example, if you’re not feeling very confident in your appearance and a flirty co-worker compliments you, or if you’ve been on a night out and had too much to drink.
  7. Lack of love or the feeling of falling out of love; When you initially fall in love with someone, this is often accompanied by the feelings of butterflies. However, over time these butterflies and the feeling of excitement that comes with the initial stages of a relationship often start to fade as things stabilize. Some may crave those feelings of butterflies and excitement.
  8. Commitment issues: Individuals who have a hard time committing to a partner may be more likely to cheat.

Emotional affairs are as prevalent among cheaters

Interestingly, the perceived reason behind why an individual cheated went on to impact how long they cheated for, their sexual enjoyment, their emotional investment in the affair and whether their primary relationship ended as a result. Whilst sex is often thought of as the primary motive for having an affair, it’s often about more than sex – particularly for individuals who felt neglected or a lack of love in their primary relationship.

Only half of the people involved in the study reported having sex with their affair partner. Individuals who said they felt a lack of emotional intimacy in their primary relationship reported experiencing more emotional intimacy in their affair – perhaps being their way of fulfilling the emotional need.

Sex is not always the main motivator

The reason for cheating also impacted the length of the affair, with individuals who stated the reason underpinning their cheating to be due to anger, lack of love or need for variety going on to have longer affairs, possibly because they wanted a longer and deeper connection. If due to situational factors, then the affair ended a lot earlier. Overall, women had, on average, longer affairs than men.

Confessions and their outcomes

When it came to admitting cheating to their primary partner, a third of the individuals in the study admitted to cheating, and women were more likely to admit it than men. Individuals who had cheated due to anger or neglect were more likely to admit that they had cheated but this seemed to be done as a form of revenge rather than as an apology.

Overall cheating didn’t always end the relationship, but the relationship was more likely to end if cheating occurred due to lack of love, anger, neglect, or low commitment. Primary relationships were less likely to end if the affair relationship was situational, potentially linking to the affairs being shorter than those who cheated due to other reasons. It was also found that only 1 in 10 of the affairs turned into a primary relationship.

Can we rebuild a relationship after cheating?

Ultimately yes, cheating doesn’t have to equal the end of a relationship, but, moving on from cheating does involve a lot of work.

If you’re both willing to make the relationship work, there are ways to save the relationship, but it will take work from both sides. Things that are often useful to do when trying to work through cheating include having open and honest communication, setting boundaries in place to prevent cheating happening again in the future and creating a common goal for the relationship; commit to rebuilding trust and communication.

If you feel like this blog resonates with you, we’re here to help and support you. Get in touch today for a complimentary consultation with one of our relationship coaches.