Understanding the 3 Reasons for Infidelity
Over 90% of Americans believe infidelity is unacceptable, yet 30-40% of people engage in it. Infidelity is associated with adverse outcomes such as depression, violence, divorce, and homicide. Considering these negative effects, why do people cheat? Is the phrase, “once a cheater, always a cheater” true? Here, I answer these questions and outline the three reasons for cheating.
1. Individual reasons. The phrase “once a cheater, always a cheater” refers to individual reasons for cheating or qualities about the person that make them more prone to commit infidelity. Researchers have identified a variety of individual risk factors including gender, personality, religiosity and political orientation. Regarding gender, men are more likely than women to commit infidelity. This is largely because men have more testosterone, which is responsible for the strong desire to have sex. For personality, those who have less conscientious and less agreeable personalities are more likely than people high on these traits to commit infidelity. If you’re wondering about your own personality, take this assessment: personality test. Very religious people and those who have a conservative political orientation are less likely than non-religious and liberal people to commit infidelity because they have more rigid values.
2. Relationship reasons. The second reason people cheat is for relationship reasons or characteristics about the relationship itself that are unsatisfying. For these people, becoming involved in a more well-matched partnership diminishes or eliminates their desire to cheat. So, the phrase “once a cheater, always a cheater” does not hold true for these people. Instead, factors about the relationship itself must be examined. Researchers find that partnerships characterized by dissatisfaction, unfulfilling sex, and high conflict are at risk for infidelity.
Partner dissimilarity is also associated with infidelity. The more dissimilar partners are in terms of factors like personality and education level, the more likely they are to experience infidelity.
3. Situational reasons. The third reason people cheat is because of the situation. In such cases, a person might not have a cheating personality and might be in a perfectly happy relationship, but something about their environmentputs them at risk for infidelity. Some situations are more tempting than others. For example, spending time in settings with many attractive people makes cheating more likely. The nature of a person’s employment is also related to infidelity. Individuals whose work involves touching other people, personal discussions, and one-on-one time are more likely to have an affair. When the sex ratio is imbalanced (i.e., an overabundance of men or women in the population), people are also more likely to experience infidelity. Finally, in terms of geographic region, people who live in urban areas, as opposed to rural, less populated regions, are at greater risk. This is because people in metropolitan locations generally have more liberal attitudes about extramarital sex and because cities have more people, which creates an environment of anonymity and an abundance of partners with whom to have sex.
So now that you know all this information, how can you protect your relationship from infidelity? First, talk to your partner about their definition of infidelity. People have different ideas about what constitutes cheating and partners need to develop consensus. It is easier to understand where the boundaries are and what will hurt your partner if you have had an open discussion about it. Most people agree that having sex with another person would constitute infidelity but other behaviors are more nuanced. For example, does infidelity include going out for lunch with an attractive coworker? What about sexy chat sessions with strangers online? Open discussions about such questions will help set boundaries and ideally avoid hurt feelings down the line.
If you are a person who struggles with infidelity, as a victim or participant, it is important to get help. Therapists can be located through Psychology Today or if you can’t afford counseling, pick up a self-help book written by a professional with an advanced degree in psychology. These are available in local libraries and bookstores across the country. In the end, the phrase “once a cheater, always a cheater” does not have to ring true for you.