Why Do People Cheat? Perspectives From A Relationship & Sex Therapist

May 15, 2023 | Communication, dating, partnerships, Relationships

When one partner cheats on their significant other, it can cause significant damage to the people involved. When people cheat, it often leads to the end of a relationship or a rocky road to recovery. So, why do people do it? There are many reasons why people cheat, and everyone has a unique situation. Understanding these reasons can help prevent cheating in the future. In this article, we will cover the various reasons why people commit infidelity and if there is anything that can be done (from either side) to prevent it.


Definition of cheating

First, what do we mean by “cheating?” Cheating can be defined as engaging in sexual activity or an emotional connection with someone other than one’s partner without their partner’s knowledge or consent. Cheating can hurt in other ways besides just the act of betrayal because it may also involve lying, hiding information, or breaking promises made to a partner.


Infidelity statistics

Let’s look at some statistics surrounding cheating (i.e., infidelity). Infidelity is more common than many people think. According to a survey conducted by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, 15% of women and 25% of men reported engaging in sex outside of their relationship. If you look at the number of people that participate in emotional connections without sex, that number jumps up 20% (that is, 35% of women and 45% of men). 


The possible reasons why people cheat

If it results in such a devastating outcome, then why do people do it? Well, everyone’s situation and experience are unique, but there are several common reasons why people end up cheating despite the consequences. Let’s discuss those below: 


Lack of emotional connection

One of the main reasons why people cheat is the lack of emotional connection with their partners. When couples experience emotional distance, they may begin to feel disconnected from each other and seek an emotional connection elsewhere. Emotional connection is a fundamental aspect of any relationship, and when it is lacking, it can cause significant damage.

What exactly is an emotional connection? Well, it involves feeling understood, supported, and valued by your partner. It requires open communication, empathy, and a willingness to work through difficult emotions and situations together. 

Why do people lose their emotional connection? In some cases, it could be from external factors such as work stress, financial difficulties, or health issues. In other cases, it may be the result of unresolved issues within the relationship, such as past betrayals or conflicts.


Sexual dissatisfaction

Sexual dissatisfaction can also lead to cheating. When people in relationships are not happy with their sex life, they may seek out a sexual connection with someone else. Sexual satisfaction is an important part of any romantic relationship, and when it is lacking, it can cause lots of problems for the relationship. 

What exactly is sexual dissatisfaction? It may involve couples struggling to connect physically and may feel unhappy or unfulfilled as a result. 

Why do people become sexually dissatisfied? It may be caused by a lack of effort on one or both partners’ ends, along with a lack of communication and prioritization surrounding their sexual activity.



As awful as it sounds, boredom can be another reason why someone may choose to cheat; they’re simply bored in their relationship. The result? They may seek out excitement and novelty with someone else.

What exactly do we mean by boredom in this context? It could involve feeling uninterested, unchallenged, or unfulfilled within the relationship. This may be brought on by a lack of variety or novelty, a lack of shared interests or hobbies, or a lack of meaningful communication and connection.


The “thrill of the chase”

You’ve probably heard the term “thrill of the chase” referring to someone cheating because they enjoy the excitement and secrecy of cheating. 

What exactly is the thrill of the chase? Some individuals like the adrenaline rush that comes from pursuing something new and forbidden, which can be addictive. 



Cheating can also be a form of revenge. When people feel hurt or betrayed by their partner, they may cheat as a way to get back at them.

What do we mean by revenge in this context? It’s basically when one partner “punishes” the other partner for whatever reason through cheating. It could be as a way to get back at them or gain control over the relationship after the other partner did something to them first. 


Low self-esteem

Low self-esteem can also contribute to cheating behavior. When people feel insecure about themselves, they may seek out validation through cheating and getting attention from someone else. 

What is low self-esteem? It can be a feeling of lack of self-worth, confidence, and self-respect. 

Why do people develop low self-esteem? It can be caused by numerous things, including past experiences of rejection or trauma, negative self-talk or beliefs, or external factors such as media and societal pressures.



When the opportunity presents itself, people may be more inclined to cheat. Opportunities like being away from their partner for an extended period of time or some other person openly expressing their desire to them. 

What exactly is opportunity in this context? It’s basically being in a situation where it is easy or convenient to engage in infidelity. This could simply being in close proximity to someone who is attractive or sexually appealing, being in a situation where alcohol or drugs are involved, or simply having the time and privacy to engage in secretive behavior (like an extended work trip).



People may cheat on their partners because they’re addicted to it. That’s right, some people become addicted to the adrenaline rush of cheating and engage in this behavior to get the feeling over and over. 

What exactly is addiction in this context? It can be a compulsive and often destructive pattern of behavior that is difficult to control. It can be caused by several different things, including genetic predisposition, environmental factors, past trauma, or prior abuse.

Why do people become addicted to cheating? When a person struggles with addiction in general, they may use infidelity as their way to satisfy the addictive urges. This may be through sexual encounters with different people that aren’t their partner, engaging in risky sexual behavior, or seeking out someone who enables their addictive behavior.


Commitment issues

Commitment issues can also lead to infidelity. When people have difficulty committing to a relationship, they may seek out connections with multiple partners.

What are commitment issues in this context? They are generally feeling anxious or uneasy about being in a long-term, committed relationship. 

Why do people develop commitment issues? This can be caused by numerous things, such as past relationship trauma, fear of abandonment, or simply reluctance to give up their personal freedom and independence.


Fear of intimacy

Fear of intimacy can also contribute to the reason why someone chooses to cheat on their partner. When people are afraid of getting too close to their partner, they may seek out intimacy with someone else without the fear of being vulnerable.

What exactly does the fear of intimacy mean in this context? It can be a reluctance to become physically close to someone else because it makes them anxious. In other words, the cheating partner becomes afraid of the intimacy they have with their current partner and seeks out physical connections with someone else.

Why do people fear intimacy? It may be from past relationship issues, fear of vulnerability, or belief that intimacy always leads to disappointment. 


unhappy couple sitting on a sofa after cheating


Signs of cheating

Now that we’ve covered why people cheat let’s talk about what the signs of cheating are. Here are some things you can look out for if you suspect that your partner is cheating:

  • Changes in behavior or routine
  • Being secretive about their phone or computer
  • Being emotionally distant
  • Decreased intimacy or sexual activity
  • Unexplained expenses
  • Spending more time away from home
  • Becoming defensive or angry when questioned about their behavior

Don’t freak out right away if your partner is exhibiting some of these behaviors. It doesn’t automatically mean your partner is cheating. The best thing you can do is talk openly and honestly with your partner if you have concerns about any of these signs.


Consequences of cheating

Although it’s fairly obvious what the results of cheating can be for someone (spoiler alert: it’s devastating), it’s important to understand the full breadth of issues cheating can cause:

  • Emotional pain and trauma
  • The breakdown of the relationship
  • Health risks (contracting STDs)
  • Loss of trust between partners and even outside of the relationship, such as friends or family losing trust
  • Damage to self-esteem to either party
  • Social consequences, such as damaged reputation and/or loss of support from family/friends
  • Legal or financial consequences if the partners are married or own property together


Prevention of cheating

What are some ways both partners can work together to make sure the relationship stays intact and neither partner is tempted to cheat for whatever reason? Well, the main ways to do this would be through open communication, honesty, and willingness to put in the work. Here are some more tips for reducing the likelihood of infidelity:

  • Speak openly and honestly with your partner about your needs and feelings 
  • Include an infidelity clause in your prenup (if allowed in your state)
  • Make an effort to maintain an emotional and physical connection with your partner
  • Avoid putting yourself in situations where cheating is more likely to occur (i.e., avoiding opportunity)
  • If you feel unhappy in your relationship, tell your partner, don’t hide it 
  • Seek professional help or therapy if you need help with working through relationship issues 


How an infidelity clause in a prenup may help

Disclaimer: not every state will enforce an infidelity clause. However, if you’re in a state where infidelity clauses are more likely to be enforced, you can include one in your prenup. Not only does an infidelity clause put a price on cheating, but it also lays out explicit expectations for each person. The conversation around infidelity when crafting a prenup can help facilitate open communication around this touchy subject. 


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about cheating 

Let’s look at some commonly asked questions around the topic of “Why do people cheat?”

Q: Is cheating always the end of a relationship?

A: No, not necessarily! Sure, it can cause significant heartbreak to the partner being cheated on, but some couples may be able to work through it and rebuild their relationship. This is typically made more likely with the help of a professional, like a therapist.  


Q: Why do some people cheat repeatedly?

A: This could be for a multitude of reasons. Maybe the person cheating has an addiction to cheating; maybe they have a fear of intimacy, and cheating helps with that fear; maybe they have low self-esteem and constantly seek validation, and so on, so forth. 


Q: Can cheating ever be justified?

A: While cheating is never an ideal solution, some people may feel that it is justified in certain circumstances, such as being in an abusive or unsatisfying relationship. However, this does not mean it is an actual justification. If possible (and not restricted by domestic violence or other abuse), the cheating partner should probably communicate and/or end the relationship before seeking out another relationship.


Q: What happens if I have an infidelity clause in my prenup and my partner cheats? 

A: For starters, it’s important to understand that infidelity clauses typically have a monetary penalty (i.e., if you cheat, you pay me $10,000). How you go about enforcing this clause depends on the circumstances of your situation and your state’s laws. There could be a situation where your cheating partner abides by the prenup without arguing the clause, and they pay you what is required by the prenup terms. On the other hand, if the cheating partner wants to fight the clause, then it will be up to the court to decide.


Q: How can I rebuild trust after my partner has cheated?

A: Rebuilding trust takes time and effort, and it requires a commitment to being honest and transparent. Couples therapy can be a really useful way to work towards reforming the foundation of the relationship. 


You are writing your life story. Get on the same page with a prenup. For love that lasts a lifetime, preparation is key. Safeguard your shared tomorrows, starting today.
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