Most people agree that infidelity – whether emotional or physical – is inherently wrong. No one likes to have their trust violated, and it’s safe to assume that no one wants to be cheated on – so why do people do it?
Studies show that while 90% or more of people disapprove of infidelity, 30-40% of people cheat at some point in their relationship! If so many people think it’s wrong, why does it happen?
The answer to that question is actually quite complicated, and is rooted in biology, psychology, and a whole range of human behaviors. In fact, there’s some contention in various scientific communities about why people participate in a behavior that is almost universally condemned by conventional society.
From a biological standpoint, abundant testosterone plays a role in driving men (and women) to cheat. Our animal brains are still hardwired, in some sense, for the survival of our genes and – again from a purely biological perspective – men have a better chance of passing on their DNA by pursuing multiple partners.
Now, this is NOT a clear-cut reason for men to cheat. It is, however a little bit of insight into why men are more prone to infidelity, particularly of the physical/sexual variety.
Women have an equal (but opposite) biological predisposition for seeking a provider and protector – again for the sake of the survival of offspring – and may be more prone to commit emotional infidelity to meet this instinctual need.
With this in mind, it makes sense that men report feeling more hurt by their wives’ sexual infidelity, and women report being more hurt by their husbands’ emotional infidelity. Both men and women recognize their predispositions (in some unconscious way), and take particular offense when confronted with them.
Of course, this deep-seated, biologically driven stuff is overpowered by our ability to make conscious, rational decisions. It may drive some of our desires, but it doesn’t drive our actions.
The real reasons behind cheating are almost always emotional and psychological.
In a 2009 study by Gary Neuman, 92% of cheating men reported that unmet emotional needs, feeling underappreciated, and not feeling desirable were the reasons that drove them to cheat.
This is not to say that men don’t sometimes cheat for sexual reasons, but there is likely an undercurrent of emotional dissatisfaction driving them along.
For women, a survey by an affair/dating website found that 73% of women said they cheated because of a sense of annoyance or anger at their husbands’ behavior.
Two of the largest offenders are feeling neglected and feeling controlled.
Women sometimes cite sexual desire as a reason for cheating, but again, most of these cases have an underlying emotional component. Women also report seeking affairs as a way to claim independence from overly controlling husbands.
Everyone’s situation is unique, but it’s pretty clear to see that the largest driver of infidelity – for both men and women – is a sense of dissatisfaction and disconnection in the marriage, prompting people to seek those missing pieces of feeling wanted, respected, and independent in the arms of another person.
All of the evidence suggests that as our connection to our spouse becomes weaker (whatever the specific reason may be), we become more and more likely to seek solace from someone else – even when we know it’s wrong.
Feeling distressed can make people act erratically, and when we wear away our ability to make rational decisions, those biological desires for connection are more likely to take over.
It should also be noted that affairs, secrecy, and the knowledge of doing “something bad” can also provide a thrill for people feeling stagnant in their relationships. Seeking this kind of “excitement” is also a symptom of dissatisfaction, feeling underappreciated, and feeling stuck in an unhappy relationship.
So, with all of these psychological, physical, and emotional factors that can drive people to cheat, what can you actually do about it?
Because so many of the problems stem from feelings of disconnection and under-appreciation, talk to your spouse before these problems get out of control!
If you are feeling neglected, speak up! If you think your spouse may be struggling with such feelings, ask them about it directly and do everything in your power to change the behavior that’s making them feel that way.
You can do regular “check-ins” on the state of your marriage – you should be generally aware of how your spouse is feeling about the relationship anyway, but it’s a good idea to stop from time to time to make sure you’re both on the same page.
For both husbands and wives, it’s important to also view your own behavior with as much objectivity as possible. Are you pushing your spouse away? Ignoring them? Being too controlling? Overlooking time spent together?
We can safely assume that the vast majority of all affairs stem from unmet emotional needs, and that means we know exactly where to start to prevent them from happening.