Why Do People Cheat?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated May 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

It can be painful if your partner cheats, and you may find yourself wondering why they engaged in infidelity. There are many potential explanations and risk factors for why someone may cheat. Perhaps they were unhappy in their current relationship, or they found cheating exciting. It could be that their sexual needs were not being fulfilled, or that they have a sex addiction or trouble with commitment.

Sometimes cheating is the result of many factors that develop over time. It is also possible that the cheating was a one-time mistake. While there’s a negative stigma that most guys cheat or that people who cheat are mostly married men – that’s not the case.

While men report having cheated more frequently than women, it’s not just cheating men. Women cheat, too. A person of any gender can have the experience of, "I cheated on my boyfriend". Additionally, cheating can present in various forms – from extramarital affairs to emotional affairs to serial infidelity.

Regardless of the reason for cheating, you may benefit from the help of a licensed mental health professional in working through the resulting emotional pain. Infidelity can impact current and subsequent relationships or take a toll on a person’s self-esteem. Online therapy could be an effective way to begin your healing journey.

Getty/AnnaStills
Being cheated on can be a painful experience

Six reasons why someone might cheat

  1. They may not be happy in their primary relationship

People in relationships sometimes cheat because they aren't happy with their current situation. If the thought "She cheated on me and I don't know why" keeps disturbing your mind, there is a possibility that your partner is no longer happy. Sometimes, men and women use infidelity to exit a primary relationship when they do not wish to initiate a breakup. Some men cheat because they’re hoping their partner will break up with them; that way, they don’t have to go through the challenge of ending the relationship themselves.

Long-term relationships can require energy, effort, and even financial resources to maintain. Couples’ lives can change drastically with the addition of children or changes in jobs and routines, and these changes can sometimes get in the way of connection and communication. Though everyone has their own reasons for cheating, a lack of emotional intimacy may be one of the reasons behind infidelity.

  1. They may find emotional affairs or infidelity exciting

Some people who engage in infidelity find it exciting. Many women and men are excited by the thrill of cheating itself, or the potential of being caught. Doing something wrong can seem enticing, and can even become something they can't seem to get enough of. Chronic cheaters (people who cheat in relationships repeatedly) may fall into this category.

Conversely, there may also be people who can't seem to stop cheating, even if they feel deep shame about their own actions after the excitement is over. Their desire to cheat may override their morals regarding their relationship.

This type of behavior may stem from sexual addiction, narcissistic traits, traumatic childhood experiences, poor self-esteem or self-worth, or mental health struggles that lead them to seek satisfaction or feel valued in this way. This doesn’t necessarily mean the infidelity doesn’t hurt or that you should forgive the act of cheating, but it is something you may wish to keep in mind.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

  1. Their sexual desire may not be fulfilled

A close up of a couple’s feet, which are peeking out under a blanket, while they lay in bed.

Many people in relationships have varying levels of sexual desire. If those needs are not being met within their relationship, then they may seek sexual satisfaction elsewhere. This does not automatically mean that the person who has been betrayed is in the wrong, however.

Infidelity may be the result of unmet expectations or needs in an otherwise loving relationship. Regardless of the individual factors for unhappiness, it’s a possible reason why someone might cheat. In these situations, the partner feeling neglected can consider initiating a conversation around the topic to address the unresolved issues. If the couple still has an emotional connection, it’s possible they can work together to come up with a plan to have more sex.

  1. They may have a sex addiction

Another possibility could be that your partner has a sex addiction. Like other forms of addiction, sex addiction can lead to many negative consequences in a long-term relationship, not just for the person experiencing it, but also for others in their lives. Sex addiction may present with sexual behavior issues including multiple affairs, compulsive masturbation, or porn addiction.

This type of addiction can make it difficult for people to stop seeking sex, even if it means cheating on their partner. They may even feel a deep sense of shame because of this behavior, but despite feeling shame, they may still feel compelled to seek out sex wherever they can find it, even if they’re married men or women.

This can be a challenging addiction for someone to have, and it can potentially harm your committed relationship and self-esteem. Overcoming sex addiction can be difficult and cause emotional distress and often requires the help of a licensed mental health professional.

  1. They may struggle in a committed relationship 

Committing to one partner or to marriage can feel overwhelming. Committing to others is not always easy, and some people may see it as losing a part of themselves or giving up their freedom and individuality. You may have heard of people getting "cold feet" before a wedding, and this type of infidelity could be related to those types of feelings.

It's possible for many people to find staying faithful in monogamous relationships challenging.  Sometimes these feelings have to do with emotional immaturity or just not feeling ready to settle down. Some married men cheat because they struggle with monogamy.

However, even if someone is interested in transitioning to this type of lifestyle, it doesn't necessarily excuse cheating on their partner when it takes place in a committed relationship that was meant to be monogamous.

  1. They may have made a mistake

Finally, it could be the case that your significant other’s cheating was a mistake. It’s likely you’ve heard of situations in which someone got too drunk and did something that they later regretted when reality sets in.

While this type of infidelity may not have been premeditated or purposeful, it can still be hurtful. If your partner cheated once and deeply regrets their actions then it may be an isolated incident. A person who cheats once isn’t always a cheater.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Being cheated on can be a painful experience

Consider online couples therapy to heal from infidelity

Whether you’re dealing with online cheating, emotional affairs, or relationship challenges around sex, help is available to help you solve problems and address your own needs. If you wish to move forward in your relationship after infidelity, then couples counseling with relationship experts or a family therapist may be good options for you. 

If you and your partner have busy schedules, online therapy may be beneficial because it often allows you to schedule sessions at times that may not be available at a traditional therapist’s office. Also, if you have worries that your partner is cheating, these professionals can help you. They might be able to enlighten you in your stress about "Is he cheating or am I paranoid?" They can also educate you regarding what the current research shows about infidelity and how to move forward.

A growing body of research suggests that online therapy platforms can provide effective couples therapy for people coping with a variety of relationship issues, including infidelity. In this study, the effectiveness of several different forms of online couples therapy in helping distressed couples were examined.

The report concluded that online couples therapy could successfully treat symptoms of individual mental health challenges and increase overall relationship functioning and communication.

Takeaway

There are many potential reasons why a person may cheat. There are eight potential reasons and motivations for affairs, including low self-esteem, anger, low commitment, lack of love, neglect, sexual desire, need for variety, and circumstances. If you’re looking for some of the reasons why men cheat, consider the following potential reasons below.

  1. They may not be happy in their current relationship and are seeking external validation.
  2. They may find infidelity exciting.
  3. Their sexual needs may not be fulfilled.
  4. They may have a sex addiction.
  5. They may have trouble with commitment.
  6. They may have made a mistake.

However, note that it is never someone's "fault" if their partner cheats on them. If you’d like to heal after experiencing a betrayal of trust in your relationship, or work through infidelity as a pair, online therapy with a therapist who has previous experience working with couples can be a valuable resource.

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