Why Do People Cheat?


I was bummed to find out that one of my male friends has been cheating on his wife. The thing is, he had kind of a spiritual awakening, and he realized he couldn’t live a lie. So he confessed, and told his wife everything he’d done. He’d never had a “love affair” with anyone, but he’d fooled around quite a bit. He felt like he needed to come clean and tell her. Now, after therapy, they’re getting divorced. I can understand why many other people wouldn’t fess up to their cheating, for fear of suffering these consequences. But that doesn’t help the thousands of people I’ve met with who are struggling with understanding why their partners have cheated on them.

It’s such a common question that a typical clairvoyant image I’ll see for a serial cheater/player type is that he or she views dating as one would view a buffet at the Bellagio in Vegas: lots and lots of beautiful, delicious things to try – lots of options. So why settle for just one?

People cheat for all kinds of different reasons, but there are a few common themes I’ve seen over and over again:

1. He or she wants to feel like they can still get someone to like them.

This is true for the nerdy person (what one of my clients calls the “nerdy player”) as well as the attractive one. Doesn’t matter what age. He/she cheats because he/she wants to prove to him or herself that they can get a person to be interested in them. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been his wife of 20 years or her boyfriend of 2 months, they need to know they’ve still got it.

2. He/she doesn’t want to be tied down.

Some women and men will cheat because they want to feel young and free. If he/she doesn’t want to be tied down, it doesn’t matter if you’re the best man in the world who treats her like royalty; she will cheat and cheat and cheat just so that she doesn’t feel like you’re the old ball and chain (even if you are). It’s hard to say whether this cheater wants to be found out or not. Some do, and some don’t. Those that don’t want to be found out hide their indiscretions from you because they don’t want you to throw them out on the curb. They like the benefits you provide. So if they can get away with reaping your benefits as well as having some fun on the side, they will. That leads me to…

3. He or She wants to be naughty behind Mommy or Daddy’s back.

Ugh! But it’s true! Some men will put you right in that mommy role, whether you want to be “Mommy” or not. And then he’ll go and be naughty behind your back, just to prove that he can. One way to tell if your guy or girl has Mommy or Daddy issues is that he or she will make up little white lies about things – all the time. Another way is to just step back and be honest with yourself. Does he or she act like a child? Are you forced to be the grown up in the relationship? Has he or she cheated on you again and again? He or she is being passive-aggressive, and placing you in the role of the authority. By sneaking around behind your back, he/she is getting away with something. He/she pulls the wool over your eyes, and gets to do what he wants. There’s a little thrill in that.

4. His or Her Ego is out of control.

He/She feels like it’s their right to enjoy as many men or women as possible. My friend met a man on Match like this. She asked me what I thought of him, and I didn’t like his vibe. She’s gorgeous and intelligent, and he had a ponytail. He also had a lot of grammatical/spelling errors in the correspondence she forwarded to me. Regardless, she went ahead and dated him anyway. He slept with her, and then told her he didn’t see a relationship happening because he was planning to move to another country. Kept that profile up, though. He referred to himself as a “Renaissance Man.” Puh-leez.

5. He or She is a sociopath.

They exist. One client’s girlfriend professed her love for him again and again, and even fantasized about what life would be like if they were married. He later found out she was engaged to someone else. When he “outed” her, she said he was the bad guy, and threatened to blackmail him if he told anyone the truth. Another client’s boyfriend dated both men and women behind her back, but was the picture of innocence, and told her she was f*d up when she tried to end it. He won her back, and started doing the same things all over again. If you discover you’re dating a sociopath, end it immediately, and seek help. These people can ruin you, and there are support groups dedicated to helping you get through the devastating damage this type of relationship can cause you.

6. He or she fell in love with someone else but doesn’t want to end it with you.

I had to include the obvious, because this does happen. One woman who was in love with my client (and cheating on her husband) didn’t want to end it with him because he was supporting her. Others won’t end it because of their kids. Or because they made a promise to you, and they are afraid you’ll fall apart if they end it. Or because they’re afraid the other person might not be as great as you – so they keep seeing him or her, but won’t leave you. Ugh, what a mess!

7. He or she is not getting what they need from you.

This is a tough one, and not something people want to hear, but there’s truth to it. Are you being difficult to be around? Nagging him or her, overly dependent on him or her, not making an effort, or just being a total nightmare? There is no excuse for cheating, but maybe he or she feels so bad around you that they’re going to other people for love and support. Again, there’s NO EXCUSE, but if you feel like you could be a better partner, try having a heart-to heart to see what he or she says. If he makes an effort to change, and you do, too, there could be hope for the relationship, and the trust to be re-built.

Unless a person is really sneaky, you will be able to tell if he or she is cheating. In fact, I dedicated a whole blog post to finding the signs – check it out here. Listen to your intuition, which is ON YOUR SIDE and won’t lead you astray. If you have a nagging feeling, don’t shut it down. Explore it until you get the answers you need.

Can you think of any other reasons to add to this list of why people cheat? If so, please let me know.