We typically talk about the most obvious reasons that people are unfaithful to their partners, such as lack of sex, lack of emotional support, revenge, among plenty others. This time around, we want to highlight another reason that people cheat according to psychotherapist and sexuality and relationships expert, Esther Perel.
At a recent TED Conference, Perel noted a much deeper explanation (not a one-size-fits-all explanation, by any means) for stepping out on your marriage. She said that, “people who cheat often believe in monogamy, but they find their values and behavior in conflict when they actually have an affair. That’s because cheating isn’t necessarily about sex or even a person’s partner — it’s about a more complex desire. When we seek the gaze of another, it isn’t always our partner that we are turning away from, but the person that we have ourselves become.” Interesting.
The cheater’s focus seems to not be on finding another partner, but another identity, perhaps?
Perel adds, “And it isn’t so much as we are looking for another person as much as we are looking for another self.”
Learning of medical issues, experiencing a death in the family, even unexpected career changes or job loss can be huge blows and often traumatic experiences as we navigate through life. Perel notes that these situations often led her clients to cheat and not necessarily problems in their relationships. They are looking for something more to life, because they’re having a hard time with the realization that “This is it.”
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According to an article by Carolyn Gregoire on Huffington Post, research shows that both men and women are more likely to cheat on their spouse if they are financially dependent on them.
Christin Munsch, one of the study’s authors and a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, notes the findings of the study that includes 10 years of data of 2,750 married people:
• There’s a 5% chance that financially dependent women will cheat on their spouse
• There’s a 15% chance that financially dependent men will cheat on their spouse
• The people who were most likely to cheat were men who were 100% financially dependent on their partners
• Women who are responsible for 100% of the earnings in the marriage are the least likely to have affairs
• When men make more than 70% of the household income, they become more likely to cheat
The study sheds light on a man’s struggle with financial dependency. It may make him feel less masculine, or less of a man, if he is not contributing financially to the relationship.
According to Munsch, “There is something about masculinity and cultural norms about breadwinning that make men especially unhappy in these kinds of financial situations.” This, in turn, may lead to infidelity in order to make up for the lost masculinity.
Either way, researchers agree that a marriages are more stable with both partners financially contribute.
According to an article on www.inquisitr.com, scientists have discovered a connection between women’s cheating susceptibility and a specific gene.
The lead researcher in the study, Brendan Zietsch from the University of Queensland in Australia notes that, “Isolating specific genes is more difficult because thousands of genes influence any behavior and the effect of any individual gene is tiny. But we did find tentative evidence for a specific gene influencing infidelity in women.”
Many factors and emotions, such as empathy, trust, and sexual bonding, contribute to having an affair. Women have a specific gene that allows them to feel these emotions, which are identical to the emotions felt when experiencing “love.” It only makes sense that the same gene allowing women to feel these emotions is also the gene that would effect sexual behavior; the vasopressin receptor gene.
According to researchers, “When vasopressin gets involved with other ‘feel good’ hormones like dopamine and oxytocin, women are helpless and easily succumb to cheating. Interestingly, the very same phenomenon was observed between two closely related, but genetically different species of rodents, one of which was monogamous, while the other was highly sexually promiscuous.”
Studies such as the one mentioned above also demonstrate that sex is not only for the sole purpose of procreation, but reward and pleasure (which may also produce serial cheaters after they’ve experienced an affair).
An article by Brittany Wong for Huffington Post features 9 real-life confessions explaining what led women to cheat on their husbands.
1. “He stopped saying ‘I love you.'”
“I married the wrong man and made the ‘easier’ choice in life by being with him. It didn’t become clear to me how wrong he was for me until we had a child. I turned to the right man for comfort for many years and hid it because I wanted my family to remain under the same roof. The biggest reason I strayed was the complete lack of attention I was shown. No birthday or Christmas cards, no gifts. He stopped saying ‘I love you.’ We went from having sex once a week before the baby to every couple months after the baby, to eventually once a year. It’s really easy to fall out of love when you feel like your spouse is a roommate you co-parent with.” -Krista R.
2. “I wanted my husband to feel the same pain he’d introduced to me.”
“I cheated on my husband because he cheated on me. That’s the sad and simple truth. After spending six years with a man who couldn’t stop cheating on me I was emotionally exhausted, depleted and lingering at rock bottom. I cheated out of an overwhelming desire to have someone give me back some of the love and attention I’d been giving my husband with nothing in return. I cheated because I was desperate for someone to love me with the same ferocious first-love intensity that I’d given my husband. I cheated with my high school boyfriend because I was angry, hurt and wanted my husband to feel the same pain he’d introduced to me six years ago and had never tried to work on, despite knowing that it was breaking me down. I cheated because I no longer loved myself and hoped that someone, anyone could hand me some self-worth, a little bit of love and help me begin again.” -Lindsay T.
3. “It just happened.”
“I truly believe that most people who have affairs, or even zipless sex, are doing so because they are seeking something that is fundamentally lacking in their relationship. As for me, cheating on my spouse wasn’t a specific, conscious, considered act. I didn’t wake up one day and think, ‘Hey, I think I’d like to have an affair.’ It just happened — which is probably very hard to comprehend if you haven’t actually been in the situation. A professional relationship became a friendship, became a flirtation, became an infatuation, became an affair, became a demise. It’s much like drinking a great bottle of wine with dinner. You don’t set out to get drunk but the taste, combined with the other flavors on the plate, the sounds and smells of the room, the soothing, warm feeling of relaxing into the entire sensory environment, allows you to take a sip, then another, then another, then refill your glass, and then at some point you look around and realize that you have a buzz, but your senses are so ripe that you keep sipping, even though you know you should stop because you’re going to get drunk and be hungover the next day.” -Sara Cornell
4. “It’s easy for harmless friendships to progress into something more when you’re unhappy at home.”
“I think it’s important for people to realize that an affair can be the last thing on your mind but that it’s easy for harmless friendships to progress into something more when you’re unhappy at home. I was with my husband nearly 11 years. I had been primarily supporting us financially and emotionally for seven years and as the sole breadwinner of four. I met a man in one of my continuing education classes and what followed was eight months of conflicted feelings, marriage counseling, ultimatums and anything else I could think of to save our marriage before I gave into an affair. Three months later, I was so exhausted and torn I left my husband even though he had forgiven me for cheating. About a month later, I started exclusively dating the other man I was involved with and asked my husband for a divorce. I still feel terrible about it. The affair wasn’t the reason I left but I wonder if I would have had the strength to realize how unhappy I was without it happening. I still love my husband but I knew he’d never change so I had to walk away.” -Melissa C.
5. “I allowed myself to become infatuated with another man.”
“Cheating on my ex-husband isn’t something I’m proud of and I would never do it again. The question I get asked a lot is why? Why did I cheat? Back then I would have given you a whole list of reasons: there was a communication breakdown, he had vices, he didn’t take care of himself. But in retrospect, the one reason that stands out is how confused I was about how life and relationships work. I thought once my husband changed, everything would be OK. I couldn’t see that my feelings of frustration over our relationship weren’t about his behavior, it was about me: I created the the negative mood through my negative thoughts. Then I allowed myself to become infatuated with another man. Things would have been very different if I had adjusted my way of thinking.” -Marina Pearson
6. “My husband encouraged it.”
“I didn’t have an affair like most people do. There was no sneaking around or lying to my husband. Actually, it was all in plain sight right until the very end. I was best friends with a guy for 17 years. He was the person I confided in when I was sad, when something amazing happened, honestly, anytime anything of note happened. The surprising thing is my husband encouraged it. If I came to my spouse with some big problem, he would tell me to go have lunch with my friend and tell him about it. So I did. At first I thought I was doing what was best for my husband because he worked so much and didn’t need my problems. But after a while, I pulled further away from him. On our five year anniversary I told him he had one year to get his act together and become the man our children and I needed him to be. Ten months later, I was in marriage counseling with my soon-to-be ex-husband, begging for a divorce, sleeping with my best friend and watching my whole world fall apart.” -Corrina S.
7. “I was lonely and unhappy for years.”
“After telling my husband I was lonely and unhappy for years, he continued to travel for months at a time until I finally found someone else. Having that fling forced me to admit I wanted a divorce and to tell him in no uncertain terms that I was done.” -Andrea H.
8. “I wanted someone who would sleep with me. He seemed disinterested.”
“After eight years, it was a relationship that had lost all romantic love. I wanted to travel, he wanted to stay at home. I wanted children, he did not. I wanted someone who would sleep with me, he seemed disinterested. I wanted to take on opportunities and be challenged, he wanted to be comfortable. I went to work in the West Bank for three months, he stayed at home. While I knew I was not happy in my relationship, I thought that maybe that was just how it was going to be. One night while in the West Bank I went out to a bar with friends and across the room I saw the most beautiful man I have ever laid eyes on. We met, we danced, we talked, we swapped phone numbers. It was the beginning of the most intense and wild romantic relationship I have ever been in. When I returned home, I told my ex-husband I wanted to separate but I never told him about the other man, who I continued to see for a year before we ended things. Today I’m engaged to a man who wants to travel, be challenged, have children and sleep with me. While I will always feel terrible that I was unfaithful, it showed me what I wanted and needed and forced me to get out of a relationship that was not right for me.” -Rose M.
9. “Sex had become like showing up for an army physical.”
“My marriage lasted over 10 years. I couldn’t make him happy and he couldn’t make me happy. Sex had become like showing up for an army physical. I just did it and told him it was great. Did I make a mistake in not telling him my desires? Of course, but you have to trust your partner to do that. That was one of the core issues with us. He seemed to have a distrust of women in general that seemed almost pathological. If I took too long running errands I got quizzed on my whereabouts. It felt like I was being accused of an affair. I would joke with my girlfriends that I should be allowed a free pass to cheat since I had been accused so many times. Eventually I just wanted more: more positive communication, more kindness, more desire, just more. So I cheated. I actively looked for a man to fit the bill of what I wanted. I found one and the sex was spectacular. It had been years since I had that kind of desire for someone. It was a foreign feeling. I realized I wasn’t dead inside like I was afraid I had become. That’s when I knew I needed to get a divorce. I finally gathered the courage to get one. There are never good reasons for why people cheat but I learned a while back not to throw stones at people for their decisions because ultimately, you’re only responsible for your life, not theirs.” -Susan M.
Author, blogger, and entrepreneur, Mark Manson, blogged a most interesting interpretation of why people cheat in relationships. We would never have been able to articulate his ideas quite like he had, so we are citing a small portion of this great read as a simplified explanation.
Manson explains the following algorithm:
SELF-GRATIFICATION > INTIMACY = CHEATING
- As humans, we all have a natural desire for self-gratification. Good food. Good sex. Little work. Lots of sleep. Porn and video games and corn flakes.
- As humans, we also all have a natural desire for intimacy and to feel loved by somebody else, to feel as though we are sharing our lives with somebody.
- Unfortunately, these two needs are often contradictory. To achieve that intimacy and love, you have to sacrifice your own self-gratification at times. And to achieve self-gratification, you often have to sacrifice some love and intimacy.
This can be as simple as watching a movie you don’t really like or attending some boring work party you don’t care about. But it can also be deep and complex, like being open about your fears and insecurities to your partner or making a conscious commitment to be monogamous with that person for an indefinite amount of time.
- If a person values self-gratification more than the intimacy they gain from a relationship, then they will stop sacrificing for the relationship and are likely to end up cheating. If a person values the intimacy they gain from a relationship more than self-gratification, then they will willingly sacrifice some of their self-gratification to remain faithful.
- Think of it like a scale. On one side you have self-gratification and on the other you have intimacy. If at any point the self-gratification side outweighs the intimacy side, well, then you get a cheater.
- There are two ways this can happen. The first way is that a person is just shallow and selfish and needs to be gratified constantly. The second reason is that the relationship is failing to provide sufficient intimacy and desire.4
We highly recommend reading the full article here! You’ll thank us later.
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