Unhappy heterosexual couple sits at opposite ends of a couch
If cheating hurts so much and leads to such negative consequences, why do people do it?
Photo Credit: KatarzynaBialasiewicz / iStockPhoto.com

Why Do People Cheat?

When people enter a relationship, they usually do so with good intentions. They want to have fun. They want to find love. They want to be happy with someone for the rest of their lives. But over the course of the relationship, whether it is weeks, months, years, or decades, the situation can change.

What started as a successful, mutually beneficial relationship was damaged, and it was damaged because of cheating.

Even if you have not been the victim of infidelity, you know people who have been. You may even know a few cheaters, as affairs are fairly common.

In fact, infidelity is cited as a contributing factor for more than half of divorces in the U.S.

Cheating Defined

Perhaps years ago, cheating had a simpler definition based on the stereotypes you saw on TV or in the movies. The husband would come home with lipstick on his collar, and the wife would accuse him of having sex with another woman.

Now, cheating is more challenging to define. With various methods of communication and the ability to stream video from your phone to someone across the planet, cheating is not so black and white.

This is problematic because there is a chance your partner does not share your definition of cheating. To resolve this, couples should consider establishing a clear delineation between cheating and not cheating.

Is sexting a stranger cheating? What about sending explicit photos through email? What about affairs that are strictly emotional but not sexual? What if you only kissed in a parked car?

Unless clear boundaries are set before the infidelity occurs, there is a good chance the cheater may try to rationalize their behavior to avoid blame.

Cheating Damage

No matter the situation, cheating hurts in the moment, and it creates long-lasting effects for years to come. Ill effects of cheating include:

  • Lowered self-esteem and self-respect
  • Decreased trust in others
  • Reluctance to enter new relationships
  • Depression
  • Increased worry, suspicion, and paranoia

As you can imagine, these effects do not only impact you — they affect everyone you interact with.

For example, if you hear your sister has been cheated on, this could impact your relationship with each other. It could also influence the relationship you have with her partner, which can prove difficult if children are involved or if they decide to remain together.

There are many victims when it comes to infidelity.

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Cheating Explanations

So, if cheating hurts so much and leads to such negative consequences, why do people do it?

As you may have suspected, there is no one reason. Each person who cheats may have their unique perspective regarding the factors that motivated their infidelity. Common responses include:

  • The quality of the relationship was poor.
  • I made a bad decision in “the heat of the moment.”
  • I was experiencing a great deal of stress.
  • I was looking for a way to end my relationship.
  • My partner cheated on me/ hurt me, and I was looking for revenge.
  • I was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

All explanations and responses can fit into three general categories for cheating: personal failings, relationship failings, or situational temptations. No matter the excuse, infidelity is never an appropriate alternative or desirable solution.

Who Are the Cheaters?

When people begin relationships they promise to be faithful and true. They vow to be patient and kind until death parts them from their love.

No one enters a relationship declaring their intention to be unfaithful, but it happens. No one expects their feelings to change over time, but they do.

From your next-door neighbor to the person who cuts your hair to the local high school principal, many different types of people cheat, but there are clear characteristics that many cheaters possess.

The more characteristics one person has, the more likely they are to be a cheater at some point in their lives. The traits are:

  • Poor communication skills
  • Problems with impulse control
  • Selfishness
  • Unhappiness
  • Jealously
  • Need for instant gratification
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Anger and resentment
  • A lack of commitment
  • Mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and personality disorders like borderline personality and antisocial personality

Often, cheaters are liars and manipulators. They are skilled in rationalizing their behaviors while they make you question your own.

Cheaters will often work hard to deflect blame from themselves and onto another person, the situation, or their current life stressors. They may become overly angry and defensive or weepy and apologetic.

These responses may be genuine, but they may also be tools used to control you and maintain the existing relationship.

What Can You Do?

Think about infidelity in relationships the same way people think about substance abuse: prevention is key. Once the cheating has occurred, the relationship is forever changed.

There are two helpful options to prevent and recover from cheating. They are:


There is a reason why every relationship expert touts the benefits of effective communication: it works. When there is a lack of communication in a relationship, there is a good chance someone’s needs are going unfulfilled.

If your partner is pulling away, find new ways to engage them in a conversation about their views and needs. If you find yourself pulling away, ask why to learn what can be done.

A lack of communication can be a cause of poor relationships, but it can be an effect as well. A decline in communication could be a sign that something is impacting the relationship. It could also mean the relationship should end.


The word consequence has an undeserved, negative connotation. People who are engaging in positive, healthy, prosocial behaviors should be rewarded for their actions.

Find a new and appealing way to show your loved one you appreciate their fidelity. The things you take for granted can disappear without reinforcement.

Conversely, people who engage in negative, harmful, antisocial behavior, like cheating, should be punished. An unwanted behavior that goes unpunished will continue.

Certainly, no one is suggesting castration or other types of physical or emotional harm, but people that are too comfortable will not change.

Cheating on a spouse or romantic partner is a completely avoidable problem. It continues to happen, though.

By establishing clear guidelines and building your understanding of cheater characteristics, you can find increased prevention. Use communication and consequences appropriate to find the healthiest relationships. Always respect yourself even when disrespected by others.