Why Do People Cheat in Relationships?

When someone’s cheated on by their partner, they’re often left asking: why? How could someone they trusted, loved and who they thought loved them back betray them in such a shocking and hurtful way? There’s usually not only a sense of anger and upset, but also total disbelief.

The reasons people cheat are varied, but there are a number that crop up time and again in the counselling room. If you’re currently struggling to understand why this has happened to you, you may find it useful to think about some of the following.

Disconnection

One of the most common reasons for infidelity is the feeling that you and your partner have drifted apart. In this case, cheating can feel like a way of finding something new and exciting when your relationship has become predictable and familiar. A sense of disconnection from one’s partner can happen for a variety of reasons. There may be a lack of proper communication in the relationship. Or life may have become dominated by work or looking after kids, so time together has become more functional than loving.

Feeling unloved

Some partners communicate more verbally by saying nice things, whereas others might prefer to express affection physically by cuddling or kissing. If your love language is different to your partners, that can leave you feeling unloved – and potentially more open to the affections of someone who seems to understand you better.

Imbalance

If there’s a lack of balance in a relationship, one partner can begin to feel a bit like a parent and the other like a child. For example, one partner may feel like they have to be the responsible one, making all the decisions, organizing the home, managing the finances and so on, while their partner doesn’t pull their weight. An affair might then be tempting in order to feel appreciated and equal. Equally, the partner in the ‘child’ position may feel criticised and as if nothing they do seems to be enough, meaning an affair might feel like a way of reclaiming some sense of independence and authority.

Fear of commitment

Sometimes, affairs occur at times when you might assume people would be the most secure in their relationship, such as after getting engaged or when someone is pregnant. But worries over commitment can be very destabilizing. Sometimes, people can sabotage what they have, consciously or unconsciously, as a way of rejecting feelings of responsibility.

Issues related to self-esteem

Affairs can also arise from personal insecurities. Low self-esteem can cause people to be very dependent on the attentions of others—and in some cases; the attention of just one person isn’t enough. It may also cause someone to feel insecure in their own relationship, so much so that they might cheat as a way of rejecting rather than being rejected.

Sexually addictive behavior

Affairs can commonly be linked to problems with sexually addictive behaviors. This is where someone habitually engages in sexual activity as a way of satisfying desires and relieving negative feelings they find hard to control. These desires can be compulsive in the way that a drug or alcohol addiction might be.

If your partner has cheated

If you’ve been cheated on, you may still be reeling from the discovery. You might want to do whatever it takes to repair the relationship. Or, maybe you’re not interested in staying in the relationship. If you aren’t sure how to handle the situation, start here:

  • Talk to your partner about what happened. Consider involving a couples counselor or neutral third party for the discussion. Finding out your partner’s motivations may help you make your decision, but it’s generally recommended to avoid the nitty-gritty details of the encounter.
  • Ask if your partner wants to continue the relationship. Some people do cheat because they want to end the relationship, so it’s important to find out how they feel.
  • Ask yourself if you can trust your partner again. It might take time to rebuild trust, and your partner is probably aware of this fact. But if you know you can never trust them again, you probably won’t be able to repair the relationship.
  • Ask yourself if you still want the relationship. Do you really love your partner and want to work on any underlying issues? Or are you afraid of starting out with someone new? Do you think the relationship is worth fixing?
  • Talk to a counselor. Couples counselling is highly recommended if you’re going to work on a relationship after infidelity, but individual therapy can also help you sort through your feelings and emotions about the situation.

If you’ve cheated on your partner

If you’ve cheated, it’s important to consider your motivations carefully and have an honest conversation with your partner. Your partner may or may not want to repair the relationship, and you need to respect their decision, even if you want to stay together. Take some time to consider the following:

  • Do you still want the relationship? If your cheating was driven by a desire to get out of the relationship, it’s best to be honest with your partner about that fact right away. Not sure about your motivation? Consider working with a therapist to gain some perspective.
  • Can you work through the reasons for the infidelity? Individual therapy, couples therapy, and better communication can all help improve a relationship and make future infidelity less likely. But if you cheated because your partner wasn’t interested in a specific type of sex or because they were never home, what might happen if the same situation comes up again? Could you talk to them about wanting to cheat instead of actually doing it?
  • Do you see yourself cheating again? Infidelity can cause pain, heartbreak, and emotional distress. If you think you might cheat again, don’t promise to be faithful. Instead, tell your partner you don’t think you can commit.
  • Can you commit to therapy? If you’ve cheated on a partner, individual therapy can help you understand more about the reasons behind what happened. Couples therapy can also help you and your partner rebuild the relationship together. Both are highly recommended after infidelity if you’re serious about getting things back on track.

Working through infidelity can often strengthen a relationship. But it’s essential for both you and your partner to be honest about what you can and can’t commit to in your relationship and maintain open communication going forward.

An affair doesn’t have to mean the end of your relationship. If your partner truly regrets what has happened, is willing to end the affair and you’re both prepared to put the work into finding your way back, there’s no reason why you can’t save your relationship. Of course, many couples come to the conclusion that their relationship has run its course with the affair being a symptom of what was wrong, rather than the cause.

Whatever the case, trying to examine the issues together is your best chance to make sense of things. The person who has cheated will need to take responsibility for their own their behavior as wrong and not make excuses and although it can be very difficult for the person who has been cheated on both partners will need to acknowledge their responsibility for what was wrong with the relationship prior to this happening.

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