As written by someone who used to be a cheater.
There have probably been a million articles written about why people cheat, but they’re almost never written by the right people.
Sure, there are some written by people who’ve been cheated on. And there are a bunch written by people who continue cheating in unhappy relationships and marriages, offering excuses for their infidelity.
But I don’t think I’ve ever read an article about why cheaters cheat written by someone like me — someone who was a cheating spouse and who was unfaithful most of her life, but has finally broken the cycle for good.
People like me are the best ones to answer the question, “Why do men and women cheat?”
See, I get it better than most.
Just so you know, I haven’t cheated in years and I’m still with my husband.
I don’t believe I will ever cheat again, and that’s something I’ve never been able to say before.
And yes, my husband knows everything … or at least anything he wanted to know, and everything that mattered.
So as a person who has done the hard work — and believe me, it was hard — to heal from a life of infidelity and come out the other side with a deeply happy marriage, I want to bust five popular myths about why people cheat in relationships.
Because if we keep believing these lies, we will just keep cheating.
There are real reasons why people cheat, but we have to understand how the truth about cheating has been twisted before we can understand the motivations before we can understand infidelity.
1. Cheaters don’t really love their partners
Cheating has nothing to do with love. At least not in most cases.
I loved the people I cheated on more than I could explain, particularly my husband, and I still cheated.
Why? Because cheating and love are totally unrelated.
So, what’s the reality? Most chronic cheaters I know are actually more likely to cheat when they care a lot for someone.
Because loving someone that much is actually terrifying. Cheating is a way of establishing a self-sabotaging boundary around their hearts, or setting up a backup plan in case the person they love dumps them.
2. Cheaters are all narcissists or psychopaths
Some cheaters might be narcissists. But you don’t have to be a narcissist or a sociopath to cheat.
The “all cheaters are narcissists” theory is based in the lie that you have to have little to no empathy for others in order to cheat.
If you could empathize with the hurt you’d cause your partner, you wouldn’t cheat, right?
So, what’s the reality? We all do things that hurt our partners, even knowingly. For instance, we might spend money on things that don’t matter, knowing it takes money away from important family expenses.
We may say something cruel in the heat of the moment, something we know will hurt the person we love. We might tell a lie to get something we want or conceal bad news, only to be found out later.
You don’t have to be a sociopath to do those things. Just like you don’t have to lack a conscience to cheat.
They’re bad choices you knowingly make, not because you are cruel, but because you are human and probably have some issues you need to work out.
3. Cheaters are sex addicts
Again, possibly. Some people don’t believe sex addiction is real, and that’s fine. Others feel that claiming you’re a sex addict when caught cheating is just a way to shirk responsibility.
If sex addiction is real, it’s probably different type of addiction like other process addictions — more of a compulsion. Shopping addicts, gambling addicts, and even plastic surgery addicts have a compulsive need to perform a behavior.
But are all cheaters sex or love addicts? No way.
So, what’s the reality? Cheating is a bad choice most likely rooted in a deeper issue, just like every other bad choice we make.
We can figure out how to stop cheating if we get to the root of why we keep making the same bad choice over and over again. It requires brutal honesty with yourself, and a willingness to accept that you are broken, in some part of yourself.
Your cheating is not the boss of you. You just need to grow up and realize it. As “high” as you might feel with your side-piece, you are not actually addicted to them.
4. People cheat because they aren’t getting what they need from their partners.
This is victim-blaming BS.
Yes, it’s likely that cheaters are in imperfect relationships. But get this — everyone is in an imperfect relationship.
Everyone is disappointed by their spouse sometimes. Everyone feels isolated and lonely from time to time. And in the course of a lifetime together, you’re going to have sex issues at some point.
I used the excuse of my husband’s sometimes cruel behavior for why I cheated on him. But the truth is, it was always me who chose to cheat. I never needed to.
I could’ve relied upon myself to get through our hard times. And more importantly, if I’d been truly present in my marriage, we might have been able to get help earlier.
So, what’s the reality? We’ve been told this lie for so long, now we use it as an excuse to cheat, even if subconsciously.
The brutal truth? I cheated because I was afraid to truly love my husband without a backup plan.
I also sought out the “high” of having someone care about me and lust after me. That gave me a sense of worth, long after I was grown enough to know better.
A guy who cheated on me explained (many years later) that he used cheating to “treat” his depression.
Keeping his life in chaos by juggling four or five partners at once, trying to keep track of all the lies, and having so many women feed his ego kept him from having to truly feel his despair.
Sure, I was an imperfect partner to him, but he cheated because he chose to. A million couples have imperfect relationships and never choose to cheat.
5. Cheaters will always be cheaters, it’s simply their nature
There may be cheaters who always cheat, but that’s not because it’s in their DNA (though there is evidence a gene may influence who is most likely to cheat) or because cheaters can never change.
A report by ABC News explains this so-called “thrill-seeking” gene like this:
In what is being called a first of its kind study, researchers at Binghamton University, State University of New York (SUNY) have discovered that about half of all people have a gene that makes them more vulnerable to promiscuity and cheating.
Those with a certain variant of the dopamine receptor D4 polymorphism — or DRD4 gene — “were more likely to have a history of uncommitted sex, including one-night stands and acts of infidelity,” according to lead investigator Justin Garcia.
But that still doesn’t mean cheaters are plagued to cause misery the rest of their lives.
“Cheetahs never change their spots”? Tell that to the millions of cheaters who stopped cheating, and to the millions of families over the course of modernity who managed to stay together after infidelity.
So, what’s the reality? Trust needs to be rebuilt, and that takes time. A lot of time. And a lot of work.
Both partners need to figure out how they contributed to making a cruddy marriage, but the cheater needs to figure out how not to cheat, and for every cheater, that answer is going to be different.
Therapy, counseling, a healthier lifestyle, or something along the lines of finding meaning in religion or a higher purpose in life are all options.
Some couples even open up their relationships or become polyamorous as a solution, though that does not mean a cheater should make sex with outside partners a condition of staying together.
It is rare that marriages are happier when open, but it happens. I’m just saying that the possibility may exist for you, if you both feel that polyamory is more natural for you.
Believing these cheating myths only serves to keep us in unhealthy relationships.
Worse, they prevent us from fighting for relationships that are worth saving.
So let’s all grow up and leave these lies behind.