Although perspectives around cheating seem to be very black and white, the reasons why people cheat are really not so clear.
Many cheaters are seen as horrible people, people who are willing to destroy their relationship so that they can have sex with someone else. They are commonly seen as degenerates, lacking morals and ethics.
While straying from a relationship is often a mistake, people who cheat aren’t always people of low moral character. They are people whose life experience has set them up for straying.
Understanding the 5 surprising reasons why people cheat might help you understand why your partner might have cheated and why cheating is so prevalent in our culture.
#1 – Their parents did it.
One of my clients went into her marriage with her eyes wide open. Both of her parents cheated and it had destroyed their family. She remembers vividly the yelling and the screaming, the sneaking around, the knowing glances at family parties, the general feeling of anger and distress that existed in their household.
She was determined to not have that happen in her marriage.
10 years into her marriage, she found herself miserable. She was trying to accept that her love and sex life was over and she was really struggling with it. And then, one day, she met a man at the bulk-food section in the local natural food store and everything changed.
Within months, my client was having an affair with her bulk-food guy. They were spending as much time together as they could, talking about things that they cared about and having the most amazing sex they had ever had.
One day, my client paused and realized that she was doing exactly what her parents had done. And she was mortified. History had repeated itself without her even noticing.
#2 – They are trying to sabotage their relationship.
Many people are stuck in relationships that they hate, relationships that started out so well and devolved into chaos.
Perhaps the relationship lacks respect and is full of contempt. Perhaps the sex has dried up. Perhaps there is nothing but fighting. Perhaps they hate each other to the extent they can’t even spend a moment with each other.
For many people, these kind of toxic relationships are untenable but they are also relationships that they just can’t get out of. Whether it’s because they are scared to leave or because they are being controlled by the other person, escaping from this relationship seems impossible.
As a result, they see having an affair as an excellent way to sabotage their relationship.
They know that, when their person discovers their cheating, they will either kick them out or leave. They know that their person will no longer want to look at them, knowing they have had sex with someone else. They know that there is no way their relationship will ever survive infidelity.
So, instead of facing the issues in their relationship and trying to get out of it in a healthy way, one of the reasons why people cheat is because they think it will help them get out of the toxicity that they are forced to live with every day.
#3 – They are trying to save their relationship.
I had a client once whose therapist told her that her affair had actually saved her marriage.
For years, my client did not get the emotional support that she needed from her husband. They were excellent managers of their household, very good parents, their finances were strong, and, generally, they were happy. But my client was dissatisfied. She knew that something was missing in her marriage, something that her husband just wasn’t able to provide.
When she started having an affair, those emotional needs started to be satisfied. While she thought she would never be able to love or have sex again, suddenly she was having tremendous amounts of both, and while this did fill her with guilt, it also allowed her to get what she needed in her life without leaving her marriage and destroying her family.
Another way that people see cheating as a way to save a relationship is because they see it as a wake-up call, that if their partner knows that they cheated they will see all they have to lose and step up to improve the relationship. I know it seems counter-intuitive but I have sometimes seen just that happen.
So, instead of directly addressing the issues in their relationship, people sometimes cheat hoping it will fix things!
#4 – They are depressed.
For many people who are depressed, nothing can make them happy.
Whether they are chemically depressed, which means that their brain chemistry is off balance, or they are situationally depressed, which means things in their life are causing the mood change, people who struggle with depression will go to great lengths to find things that will help them feel better.
A client of mine has spent the past year taking care of her dying mother. One day, one of the fathers of her son’s friend started talking to her at a hockey game. They started talking at every game, and then they met for coffee, and then they started going for hikes together and, before they knew it, they were having an affair.
For the first time since her mother got sick, my client found herself not depressed. Of course, her mother dying was a horrible thing, but the time she spent with her guy allowed her to get out of her depression, even for a short period of time, which helped her keep herself afloat while watching her mother die.
Understanding that depression is one of the reasons why people cheat can help explain the unexplainable.
#5 – They have impulse control issues.
I bet right now you are thinking “Yeah, right! Impulse control is no excuse for cheating. I mean, everybody has some sort of impulse control and not everybody cheats.’
And while this might be the case, many people do have impulse control issues and those issues can prevent them from being able to resist a situation that might give them pleasure.
Do you know how some people can’t stop eating sugar, can’t stop drinking coffee, can’t resist spending thousands on eBay? Who, if presented with a bowl of ice cream or a delicious latte or a hand bag on Ebay, just can’t resist indulging. This is caused by a lack of impulse control. It is the same as people who cheat. Put a situation in front of them where they might cheat, they will find it hard to resist.
Of course, in our society, cheating is worse than alcohol, chocolate, or shopping but the situation is very similar. Often looking to self-medicate, people with impulse control issues will seek anything that they can to fill the hole that they are trying to fill.
There are many surprising reasons why people cheat.
Of course, there is the standard belief that cheating is all about the sex, all about betrayal of the partner, all about moral depravity. But, in fact, the reasons for cheating are way more complicated than that.
It can be hard to break the patterns that your parents taught you. Relationships are complicated and fixing them or leaving them can be difficult. Depression is a very hard thing to manage, as is impulse control.
None of these things are EXCUSES for cheating but they are CAUSES. And if you can understand the cause of something, you have the opportunity to come up with a fix.