Here’s the No. 1 Reason Why People Cheat – and it’s NOT sex!

It’s difficult to understand why someone in a relationship would cheat. It’s one of life’s most painful acts of betrayal and one that often leaves a trail of destruction in its wake. There are of course many reasons why someone might be motivated to do this and scientists have delved into these dynamics to provide fresh insights. 

In this article we’ll outline the top eight reasons why people cheat, and as an experienced relationship coach myself, I’ll be offering some insight into how we minimise the risk.

The reason this topic is so interesting to explore is because understanding the reasons behind cheating can really empower us to make better and more informed decisions in our relationships in the future. Helping us to reduce the pain and suffering that comes with being either the perpetrator or the victim of such acts.

In generic terms it could be said that how someone models the relationship of their parents will shape their view on monogamy later in life. This may be true but it does of course depend on how they frame the patterns of behaviour they recognise in their parents and whether they choose to emulate or rebel against those. Regardless of your upbringing, you have a choice to pick values which best represent who you are and who you want to become.

If you’re looking for clarity on this sensitive subject, then this article should help to shed some light.

Understanding WHY people cheat – Eight Primary Motivations

In a 2019 study conducted by Selterman, Garcia & Tsapelas, 500 individuals who had previously cheated on their partners were questioned and it highlighted some intriguing findings. The overwhelming majority of participants associated cheating with sexual or physical infidelity, revealing eight main motives.

These participants openly acknowledged engaging in cheating within their relationships, addressing the pivotal question: WHY did they do it? 

An in-depth analysis unveiled eight primary motivations (in no particular order): 

1️⃣ Sexual desire

2️⃣ Anger

3️⃣ Self-esteem 

4️⃣ Lack of love

5️⃣ Low commitment

6️⃣ The need for variety 

7️⃣ Neglect

8️⃣ And situational circumstances

It’s Not All About Sex

I can reveal that sexual desire didn’t come out on top. In fact, it came out eighth! 

As highlighted by these research findings, the act of cheating is rarely straightforward. The reasons are often overlapping and it’s difficult to come up with simplistic explanations.

However, by unravelling these underlying motives, we can gain valuable insights.

While the act of cheating often involves a sexual component, it’s far more than just physical. Most participants in the study expressed some degree of emotional connection with their affair partner, with this connection being notably more prevalent among those who reported feelings of neglect or a lack of love in their primary relationship. 

These motivations not only influenced the reasons behind infidelity but also played a role in determining its duration, the level of sexual satisfaction, emotional investment in the affair, and whether the primary relationship ultimately ended.

62.8% of participants admitted to displaying affection toward their new partner

61.2% engaged in sexually explicit dialogue

37.6% had intimate conversations

11.1% uttered the words, “I love you.” 

Those who reported feeling less connected to their primary partner experienced heightened emotional intimacy in the affair, possibly as a means of fulfilling that unmet need. Moreover, when infidelity was linked to a lack of love, individuals found the experience more intellectually and emotionally satisfying.

2019 Infidelity Study Results

Participants included 259 women, 213 men, and 23 people who did not state their gender.

They were mostly heterosexual (87.9%), mostly young adults (average age was 20 years old) and not necessarily in a relationship.

In 8th – Sexual Desire (32%): Approximately one-third of participants reported being driven to have an affair due to unmet sexual desires. Men were more likely than women to attribute their infidelity to sex.

7th Place – Not Feeling Committed (41%): These participants indicated that lacking commitment motivated their cheating.

In 6th – Out of Anger (43%): Nearly half admitted that anger played a role. Treating the act more as a form of punishment or revenge towards a partner.

5th – Boosting Self-esteem (57%): It’s really interesting that more than half of the participants felt that having an affair boosted their self-esteem. This demonstrates the importance of the ego and the damaging role it can play in relationships.

4th – Situational Forces (70%): It turns out that infidelity is often not premeditated. A drunken kiss, a misjudgement in the moment or an unexpected opportunity were key reasons for cheating, with men acknowledging this motive more frequently than women.

Now for the top three reasons…

In 3rd – Feeling Neglected (70%): Nearly three quarters of the participants described a feeling of neglect by their partner which led them to seek this attention elsewhere. This motive was more prevalent among women.

The 2nd most popular reason was a Desire for Variety (74%): Boredom clearly plays a key role for the people questioned in this study and this was a driving force behind their unfaithful actions. Men were more driven by this need than the women who were questioned.

And No. 1 was Falling out of Love, defined as a loss of emotional connection (77%): This could be impacted by any number of factors but it was cited as the No.1 reason. Simply the loss of connection and love they now felt for their partners and the way in which this need was better fulfilled outside of their relationship. 

How DO we minimise the risk?

We know from this study and other large studies such as the 2020 research on relationship satisfaction by Joel and Eastwick, where they questioned 11,000 couples from across the world, that there are consistent themes that keep showing up.

Ultimately people need to feel emotionally connected to their partners. This translates to feeling heard and understood and that their needs are being met. They want to feel confident that their partner is committed to them, that they feel satisfied both personally and sexually with each other, that the level of conflict is manageable and that as a result, they feel content and happy most of the time.

There is a need for a level of certainty in the relationship yet also a pull for variety and excitement. John Gottman’s overwhelming research, which is discussed more in this article, confirms that a 5:1 positive to negative weighting is critical for overall happiness and long term success.

So what can you do to help?

Don’t put yourself in a position where you might be tempted to cheat. That includes flirting with colleagues, having drunken conversations that can lead astray and generally actively engaging your mind in the act of betrayal.

Early intervention is key. If you recognise that certain patterns are forming between you and your partner, then you have the best chance of correcting their course if you open up early on. 

Be honest and ask them to sit down to discuss how you are feeling. Don’t approach this with a list of complaints or criticisms. Instead, be curious as to how they are feeling whilst also letting them know how you feel. How can you help each other feel better about the situation that you’re in?

Remember you are trying to encourage a feeling of certainty in your partner that you are fully committed to the relationship. With this in mind, be mindful of what you are saying and how you are saying it. 

Your relationship needs regular focus and energy for you to remain emotionally connected. Life is busy, but your relationship must remain a priority. 

If you are repeating the same cycles of behaviour over and over again and can’t seem to get out of them, reach out for professional support. You don’t want to be in the same position three years down the line when it’s harder for things to be undone. There are some really simple strategies you can implement which can transform your relationship so reach out sooner rather than later. 

If you would like additional support, our programs offer couples a safe, secure space whilst focusing on the 3 relationship pillars of Identity, Behaviour and Connection.

Please do drop me a message here if you’d like to chat.

Have a great week!