Psychology of Cheating

Cheating is breaking a promise – a promise to remain faithful to one’s romantic partner. No matter how unthinkable the notion of breaking such a promise may be, infidelity isn’t that uncommon, which may lead one to ask questions like,

What Goes On In The Cheater’s Head?

Can They Be Trusted Again?

Should I Stay, Or Should I Go?

In this article, we’ll try to explore the psychology of cheating in relationships and how it affects both parties.

What Is the Psychology of Cheating Spouses?

Infidelity can have several reasons, none of which can be easily excused. Here are some psychological facts about cheating when it comes to the reasons behind it.

boy and girl in makeup

Cheating Can Function as a Revenge

Revenge is the main psychological reason for cheating.

A person may seek revenge on their partner for various reasons, and they may try to exercise their vengeance through infidelity.

For example, suppose one of the partners cheats on the other or causes them harm in any way (physical, psychological, financial, etc.). In that case, the other partner might cheat as a passive-aggressive way to manifest their anger without having to deal with confrontation.

Cheating as a Form of Partner Control

It’s a known fact that many people suffer from the need to have control and power over others. In the psychology lingo, it’s known as the controlling behavior. A person who needs to have a say in other people’s lives is commonly known as a control freak.

When someone with such a personality finds themselves under an authoritative figure, or even at the same level as another person, such as their partner, they may cheat to get that feeling of having power and control.

Signs of a controlling personality include:

  • They always insist on having things their way
  • They never accept blame
  • They constantly seek validation and attention
  • They’re unpredictable

Cheating Can Be a Means of Satisfying Sexual Needs

When someone feels like their sexual desires aren’t being met in their current relationship, they may resort to cheating to fulfill their needs. For those people, cheating is nothing but a way to rekindle their passion and get what they desire, whether it’s related to the frequency of sex, style of sex, or sexual behaviors they want to experience.

Cheating Due to Lack of Communication in a Relationship

If a couple isn’t communicating their needs, desires, wants, and expectations properly, one of the partners may end up cheating on the other.

Cheating As a Provocation to Break Up

Not all couples communicate well, and when one of the partners has a passive-aggressive approach to life, they may resort to cheating to tell their partner that their relationship is over and there’s nothing to do to save it. It’s basically a cowardly way to force the partner to handle the burden of the breakup.

Cheating Because Of Low Self-Esteem

According to PsychologyToday, low self-esteem is one of the main reasons for cheating. When someone realizes that their partner can’t boost their self-esteem, they might seek validation through sexual activities with other people.

Of course, this is counterintuitive since infidelity tends to end up with severe personal consequences.

Partner Has Narcissistic Tendencies

Some people have narcissistic tendencies, meaning that they’re constantly looking for validation and attention from others to feed their unstable egos. Furthermore, narcissists don’t feel empathy, think they’re better than their spouse in every way, and believe that the world revolves around them.

Once someone with such tendencies gets what they need from one person, they might start looking for another to fulfill their never-ending need for validation without giving much thought to their partner’s feelings.

Psychological Facts About Cheating in Relationships

When it comes to the psychology behind cheating and lying, men and women can differ. In this section, we’ll explore some interesting facts about the cheating mentality in men and women.

Relationships man and woman

Psychological Facts About Cheating Women

Here are some interesting psychological facts about cheating women:

  • Women are more likely to cheat because of emotional reasons, as opposed to sexual desires and gratification.
  • Consequently, women are more likely to commit adultery if they feel emotionally deprived in their relationships.
  • Revenge and thrill-seeking are two of the main reasons women cheat.

Psychological Facts About Cheating Men

Here are some interesting facts about cheating husband psychology:

  • According to a study led by Rutgers University, 56% of married men who cheat are happy with their marriages. They aren’t looking for a way to get of their marriages. Instead, they regard adultery as a way to fulfill their sexual urges while living happily with their wives.
  • Studies suggest that men are more likely to admit that they’ve cheated than women. That said, while the rates of infidelity among men have stayed stagnant over time, they’ve increased by 40% among women over the last half-century. That may be due to the fact that women are more comfortable admitting to cheating than they were in the past.
  • Women are less likely to cheat if they feel like they’re in a healthy or happy relationship. A man who wishes to have an affair, on the other hand, may do it regardless of the level of happiness in his relationship.

Psychological Effects of Cheating in a Relationship

The psychological effects of a cheating partner aren’t a “one-size-fits-all” kind of thing. Every person handles cheating differently. How you cope with infidelity depends on how resilient you are and which coping mechanisms you have in place as you live your life.

A man is sitting in a lake, he is upset about his wife's infidelity.

Some of the psychological effects and problems you may experience because of a cheating partner include:

Self-blame

This is a common after-effect of cheating. When you get cheated on, you may start asking yourself, “did I cause my partner to cheat on me? Was I good enough for them? Should I have been more loving or invested in our relationship?”

Well, the questions are endless, but they all have the same answer: it doesn’t matter.

No matter how hard you try, you can’t change the past; you can only keep going forward. So, if you catch yourself loathing or blaming yourself, allow yourself to stop and reverse the self-talk in your mind to something more positive, like “I’m worthy. I deserve love. I deserve respect.”

Anxiety

It’s natural to feel anxious or edgy after discovering that your partner has been cheating on you. After all, you are in an unstable situation, and your entire life hangs in the balance.

That said, if the anxiety persists long after you’ve settled back down, consider checking in with a professional.

Low Self-Esteem

When dealing with a cheating partner, the first thing that comes to mind is that the person you truly loved, respected, and trusted has chosen someone else over you. You’ll find yourself wondering if you should be curvier, thinner, taller, or shorter and whether you should have done this or that.

Of course, as explained above, cheating isn’t always about you. In fact, in most cases, it’s about something totally out of your control, so try not to beat yourself over it.

Paranoid

Paranoia is a destructive emotion, and it will hamper your productivity and efficiency.

Have you just discovered that your spouse has been cheating on you? If so, then you would be normal to be feeling paranoid about your relationship. You may be worried that this is a sign of things to come and you are worried that your partner may be interested in leaving you for their new found lover or someone else.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition which causes extreme mood swings. This can affect your partner’s behavior and personality, as well as their thinking, energy levels, and ability to make decisions. While you might be shocked by your partner’s Bipolar (and BPD) symptoms at first, there are ways to cope with the condition.

Peculiarities of the Mentality of Cheating Partners

For this section, we’ll be using cheating partners to refer to those who cheat several times, also known as serial cheaters.

sculpture - the peculiarities of the mentality of cheaters to their spouses

Research in the field of infidelity suggests that there are mainly three personality types that are correlated with a higher chance of cheating, which are:

Narcissists

As explained above, narcissism is all about grandiosity and conceit. A narcissist believes that they’re the center of the world, and they seek validation and attention all the time to feed their ego. Moreover, they feel like they’re better-looking, fitter, smarter, and worthier than their spouse.

That affects not only the partner from the established relationship but also the affair partner since the narcissist might believe that they’re entitled to use them entirely for their sexual pleasure and satisfaction.

From a psychological standpoint, narcissists tend to be neurotic, with a deep-rooted lack of confidence stemming from an insecure attachment to their primary caregivers when they were children.

Psychopaths

Psychopathy is the tendency to act on one’s behalf with no regard to the moral code of society or the feelings of others. Psychopaths also tend to feel no remorse or guilt.

According to several studies, psychopathy is strongly correlated with infidelity. Furthermore, psychopaths usually have a higher number of lifetime sexual partners, can easily separate love from sexual activity, and are more willing to engage in behaviors that are involved in infidelity, such as lying all the time.

Interestingly, while narcissism and psychopathy may result in the same social behaviors, such as adultery, they stem from different childhood experiences.

While a narcissist tends to be somewhat neurotic, a psychopath tends to be smooth-operating, deceitful, and detached, which usually stems from an avoidant attachment to their primary caregiver (if they had one, that is).

An avoidant attachment style usually results from having a distracted or dismissive authoritarian parent who failed to meet their child’s needs. As a result, when the child grows up, they seek comfort from people who require less intimacy and commitment in their partnerships. In other words, they mainly look for less emotionally-demanding relationships. Since an affair can perfectly devoid a relationship of intimacy (not in all cases, of course), psychopaths may find them to be the best kind of social behavior to satisfy their needs.

Lonely Hearts

A romantic study conducted in 2011 found that out of 100,000 male participants, 71% of unfaithful men reported that boredom was the reason they had an affair. Additionally, people who have fewer positive sexual interactions in their relationships, as well as those who report low sexual satisfaction, are more likely to commit adultery, especially when other factors come into play, such as having a family member who cheats, having access to alternative sex partners, and watching porn all the time.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that any lonely heart or sexually unsatisfied partner will cheat. That’s because, in some couples, communication skills can make up for the lack of sexual satisfaction, create a sense of belonging within the relationship, and present an area of emotional availability that impacts the chances of infidelity.

What Psychological Traumas Are Most Often Cheated On?

Granted, having a tough childhood doesn’t necessarily mean that someone will grow up to be unfaithful, but it may make a partner more likely to cheat on their spouse. After all, what we witness as children, as well as the lifestyles of our parents, affect how we end up as adults.

Psychological Traumas

Here are some psychological traumas that can make someone more likely to cheat:

Witnessing Cheating

It’s a known fact that kids learn about relationships and their dynamics from the adults in their lives. If someone grows up in an environment where cheating isn’t considered a big deal, it can make them more likely to emulate that behavior when they grow up.

Witnessing a Divorce

A divorce can have a devastating, lasting impact on some kids, especially if it wasn’t handled properly by their parents. According to Dr. Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., divorced parents can cause children to lose trust in relationships, which may lead them to commit adultery.

Being Told That Their Feelings Don’t Matter

An unhealthy amount of attention by one’s parents doesn’t guarantee that they’ll grow up to be a cheater, but it does increase the chances.

If a child grows up with controlling parents, or, on the contrary, highly-emotional ones, they may grow up feeling like their feelings don’t matter. Once they get in a relationship, they may end up avoiding conflict at all costs and feeling deprived to keep their partner happy. That, as explained above, can lead to cheating.

Abuse

Any type of abuse, whether it be physical, psychological, or sexual, can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, which can lead to a desire to cheat in some people. That’s because one of the common side effects of PTSD is avoidance symptoms, which lead the abuse survivor to focus on states of hyperarousal, such as high-risk sexual encounters.

If you’ve experienced abuse as a child or even as an adult, don’t hesitate to seek help and treatment. In doing so, you’re more likely to have healthier relationships as an adult.

Do Cheaters Feel Guilty?

Research suggests that, among men who have had an affair, 68% feel guilty after cheating on their partner. Even if they haven’t confessed their infidelity, most cheating husbands will feel remorse. The same goes for women.

A girl is sad after an affair

On the flip side, that still leaves around one-third that don’t feel guilt after cheating on their partner.

So, the answer to whether cheaters feel guilty is, it depends.

FAQ

Is Cheating a Mental Illness?

Cheating in and of itself isn’t classified as a mental illness. Furthermore, there isn’t a mental illness that can push a person to commit adultery. Sure, some psychological disorders may cause problems with impulse control, self-esteem, libido, or compulsiveness, all of which can predispose one to infidelity, but, at the end of the day, cheating on one’s spouse is still a personal choice.

What Are the Three Main Causes of Cheating?

As mentioned above, cheating can have a multitude of reasons behind it, but the main ones are:
– Anger or revenge, as explained before.
– Falling out of love, which is self-explanatory.
– Situational forces, such as overdrinking or drug abuse.

What Personality Traits Do Cheaters Have?

Research suggests that there is a spectrum of personality traits and behavior patterns that sets serial cheaters from their philandering counterparts. These traits include (which double as signs of cheating girlfriend or boyfriend psychology):
1. Narcissism
2. Jealousy
3. Attention-seeking
4. Deception
5. Insecurity
6. Distorted view of reality

Are Cheaters Insecure?

Not always. Many cheaters are highly insecure, forcing them to seek attention and approval constantly. So, if you don’t give them the attention they think they deserve in spaces and buckets, they resort to cheating as a way to get validation.
That said, not all cheaters are insecure, and infidelity can be caused by a plethora of reasons that have nothing to do with insecurities.

What Does Cheating Do to the Brain?

Getting cheated on is one of the most devastating experiences in life; there’s no denying that. It leads to emotional distress, depression, anxiety, and physical pain. It can even alter brain chemistry.
There are some cases of something called hysterical bonding after cheating, which describes what happens when someone gets cheated on and wants to do anything to win their ex-partner’s affection back.

Cheating Buster Authors

Experts in the psychology of cheating in relationships.

Author Holly Smith
Holly Smith
Author/Coach

Professional relationship coach.

Author Sergius Gardner
Sergius Gardner
Author/Psychologist

Expert on infidelity in relationships.