Although relationships come in various forms these days, in traditional marriages, there’s an understood vow between partners to be monogamous physically and emotionally with one another. Yet, data suggest infidelity is pretty common — a 2015 survey by YouGov found one in five Americans admitted to being unfaithful to their partners.
But why, really, do people cheat?
1. They were conditioned to think cheating is OK.
It’s unclear whether there’s a so-called cheating gene, but some research suggests having a parent who had an affair leaves you at a greater risk of cheating on your spouse too. It is found that people who had at least one parent cheat on the other were twice as likely to commit infidelity compared to people whose parents remained faithful throughout their marriage.
Armatage said she’s seen similar evidence anecdotally. “A cheating belief system runs along the thought patterns [of] ‘It is ok to cheat.’”
Prevent it: If you’ve had a parent who cheated, you have to stay committed to changing this possible inherited behavior. “To dismantle a cheating habit, a whole new thinking and behavioral system needs to be installed into the subconscious of the individual,” Armatage said. “The emotional rewards and habits associated with consistency, integrity, faithfulness, truth and monogamy are to be trained in over time, so that the person loses any urge for their old ways of being.”
2. They have low self-esteem.
This trait is a known risk factor for cheating, and often for these people, cheating can be a coping mechanism and an attempted means to feel validated, desired and needed.
“If the partner gets to a place in the relationship whereby they are unable to fulfill that void any longer, the cheating individual continues to stay in the relationship (because they fear being alone) but gets the validation that is now missing from an extra-marital affair,” Armatage said.
Prevent it: It’s impossible to have a completely healthy relationship with someone who has low self-esteem, so that person will need to do the necessary work on him or herself before the relationship can get back on track. “As there is minimal happiness from within, all happiness and validation and worth is extracted energetically from whomever they are ‘with,’” Armatage said. “The solution is to a) deal with their fears of being alone b) by raising their self-esteem through filling up their inner void with their own generated feelings of love and wholeness.”
3. They’re sexually dissatisfied.
After being in a long-term relationship, it isn’t uncommon to feel your sexual desire for your partner fade and, for some people, the same goes for emotional connection. Unsurprisingly, dissatisfaction in the bedroom or a waning desire to be sexually intimate with your partner may be a risk factor for cheating.
“Instead of dealing with these issues inside of their relationship, [cheaters] are tempted to go outside,” Armatage said. “Researchers find that partnerships characterized by dissatisfaction, unfulfilling sex, and high conflict are at a higher risk for infidelity.”
Prevent it: Instead of going outside of the relationship, the partner who feels sexually dissatisfied should look inside the relationship instead of going outside of it to fulfill his or her desires. “Looking at ways to increase the emotional and sexual connection will ward off any possible cheating,” Armatage said. “As both partners work on overcoming any obstacles, the initial sexual and emotional highs that were experienced in the beginning can be re-sparked.”
4. They have a wandering eye.
When it comes to cheating, much of it is situational, Armatage said. “Spending time in settings with many attractive people can make cheating more likely. Also, those going through a mid-life crisis may start thinking, ‘I am getting old, I want to feel young again, I want to have an affair.’” But typically, this factor goes hand in hand with No. 1 — the belief that cheating is acceptable. But again, this will only kick in if a belief system of “it is ok to cheat” is in place.”
Prevent it: People with these temptations should try to have a heightened sense of self-awareness about them and take the necessary steps to prevent cheating from happening. For those individuals, Armatage suggested “looking for ways to counteract any office or midlife crisis affairs before they can occur by talking through your feelings and urges with your partner.
“Prevention is better than cure,” she explained, “and the emotional payoff of staying true to your vow outweighs any temporary highs of infidelity long term.”
5. They want revenge.
Unfortunately, if you have cheated on your partner for any reason, you may be more likely to be cheated on if your partner hints that he or she isn’t over it and wants to get even. In fact, Armatage said, these individuals may feel entitled and that they’ll less guilt as a result of you having been unfaithful to them. However, the reality is the opposite: Studies suggest that people who had a so-called revenge affair felt just as much shame and guilt as their partner did, Armatage explained.
Prevent it: Couples battling resentment may want to consider couples therapy, Armatage said. “This will create more trust and stability for the partner who did not initially cheat,” she explained. “The fact that you have both cheated can provide an even ground for a new and healthier relationship foundation, provided all past reasons for cheating have been healed and forgiven on both sides.”