Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Why Did They Cheat? Part 1:The Role of Oxytocin

why did they cheat part 1

Series: Why Did They Cheat?

Part 1: The Role of Oxytocin


Out of all the questions asked regarding infidelity, none are as elusive as why. What someone did, where they did it and how they did it are simply facts. These questions are about what happened, and while one may not believe the given report, the answers to these questions are definite and comprehendible. The answer to the question of why, however, is as complex as human nature itself. There are no black and white answers. Why people cheat can have roots in psychosocial development, sexual abuse, addictions, justifications and rationalizations, personality type, family history, bad company, environment, marital life cycle, moral development, opportunity, spirituality, brain chemistry and a plethora of other reasons.

I believe there is NEVER an excuse for cheating on your spouse,

and that bad marriages DO NOT cause infidelity.

That being said, discovering “why” someone cheated is so important because it often determines whether there is hope for the future.

Without some understanding of "why", it is difficult to determine how to address what has happened, how do you heal, and what changes need to be made to keep this from happening again. In my own recovery I’ve been discovering answers to why for thirty years. In the beginning stages of recovery, Stephanie and I were able to find enough answers to help determine what to do to keep this from happening in the future.

Without at least some understanding of why the betrayal occurred, it’s almost impossible to determine if there’s hope for the future.

In the past I’ve written other articles on why, such as the 6 part series on moral justifications, but no single perspective can fully explain why. Once again let me be very clear that while brain chemistry is a factor, it does NOT provide an excuse for infidelity. I am not offering additional justifications. If I am hungry that doesn’t give me the right to steal your food. I have a choice in how to respond.

How do we begin?

Thirty-seven years ago, I met Stephanie for the first time on a church retreat. She was living in Amarillo, Texas and I was two hours away in Lubbock. Having gone to Texas Tech she had many friends in Lubbock and came to the retreat to spend time with them.

In the beginning I was so infatuated nothing else mattered but her. I lost contact with my friends because I only wanted to spend time with her. I went broke because our phone bills skyrocketed. My job performance plummeted because I couldn’t focus on anything but Stephanie. Had we not gotten married and moved on to the next phase of our relationship my life would have become a hopeless wreck.

At the risk of shattering the commonly-held beliefs about romance and love at first sight, let me explain the chemical realities of my attraction and the experience many of you may have had. At the core we humans have a profound need to be attached to another.

We want to know that we matter to someone special, that they care for us, and that they will be there for us. We want to share our life with someone, have children, and live happily ever after.

When did you first begin to feel that attraction to your mate? When did you sense that first desire to touch them, to hold their hand, to be near them? Two hormones, testosterone and estrogen, are at the root of these biological urges. Hormones are our body’s chemical messengers, stimulating certain cells or organs into action. Testosterone and estrogen are the two most significant hormones when it comes to a desire to connect and sexual attraction. For men testosterone not only creates an ongoing drive for connection, but also plays a role in muscle development, aggressiveness and drive. For women estrogen plays a significant role in the development of the female body as well as controlling times of fertility. When our hormones are triggered, the initial interest in our mate explodes and much of it is a desire to be with them sexually.

It might seem more romantic if the story line was about finding your soul mate, but biology says it was actually more about finding your mating partner. In most cases, we are intrigued by or attracted to our mate long before we know whether they will be right for us long-term. Some of you may have obsessed as I did, always wondering if they felt the same about you. For most couples this is the beginning point, but the hormonally driven infatuation isn’t the ending point.

If we were to stay in that state of infatuation very little would get done. Not until we commit to each other and settle down does stability and routine reenter our lives. At that time oxytocin enters the scene and changes the nature of the relationship.

Oxytocin is a hormone that serves multiple functions. Oxytocin is responsible for parents bonding with their babies and it’s what helps bond a husband and wife. As humans, any time we connect with a high-oxytocin person, an increased sense of closeness and connection occurs.

All humans have oxytocin and we were meant to bond with others in our community. As we move from the high arousal phase of infatuation to the next phase of mature love, the oxytocin levels begin to rise. Women naturally have higher levels of oxytocin, but physical touch and intercourse boost a man’s oxytocin levels and cause him to feel more secure and connected.

It’s when life gets in the way of our continual chemical bonding with our spouse that we become vulnerable.

Vulnerability, as we’ve discussed at length, does not justify nor explain in totality why an affair happens.

However, we must take this in-depth journey in hopes of understanding the bigger picture of why we’ve arrived in this place. Without an understanding which seeks to help the unfaithful spouse identify trigger points and opportunities for relapse, they will never have a steady recovery.

Along those same lines, without the betrayed spouse having a deeper comprehension into the mind of the unfaithful spouse, they remain forever paralyzed at the inability to understand what drew their mate away and how their mate became entranced with the affair partner. Recovery and restoration for both husband and wife demands deeper exploration into the chemical bonds within the mind of an unfaithful spouse.

As I mentioned in the beginning, there is never just one reason for infidelity, but hopefully understanding what’s normal and what’s not may help you see your reality in a different way. If you’d like help discovering why infidelity has occurred, consider attending our upcoming EMS Weekend June 10th - 12th. It will not only help you understand why the affair(s) happened, it will help you identify how to recover and heal from what seems like only a nightmare. You’ll find a comprehensive, process-oriented approach to recovery and restoration.




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Good read.. I would say, and I understand more is to come to further understand the "whys" but the initial things you discussed about the incredible hormone driven desire when we first meet our proposed spouses is difficult to stomach when you contemplate that all that passion and longing now has also been lavished on another.


Today is two years from the date I received an explicit text from my husband that was not meant for me! I actually feel worse today than before. I (we) have been through three therapists. But I still cannot figure out WHY! I feel paralyzed. I just can't move forward.

Explicit text

Vickie, I am a man and I understand it. The thrill of pursuit runs deeply in men. One of the hardest things in the marriage vows for a man is "forsaking all others"; it should probably actually read "forsaking the pursuit of all others". We mean it at the time but turning off that (God given) part of us when we say "I do" is a huge challenge. But it's why and how we catch a mate; we pursue like lions. Cold, hard facts, but there it is. And when the least little hiccup occurs in our marriage, like an out of town business trip, sickness, or just plain unwillingness on the part of our wives (unfortunately, often caused by a hurt from us) that, like Rick said, lowers our oxytocin, we tend to lose our sense of bonding and resume pursuit mode.

Explicit text

Please do not generalize all men into that category. I consider myself a fierce competitor, a type A male and I have been faithful to my wife. It come down to choice, not just opportunity. We are all responsible for our own decisions and how we act in the face of temptation determines who we are. Our creator has promised us that he will never put on us more than we can handle and that he will always provide us a way out when temptation arises. If God said it, it is true.

I agree I have stronger

I agree I have stronger sexual desires then many people I believe, but have never once put myself in a position or thought about having an affair. I'm not saying I'm not susceptible, but it is a choice.

Stronger Desires

I feel like this about myself... my desires are strong... even open minded... WITHIN my relationship. Even while I adjusted to a sexless life believing my husband health concerns were "restricting us" I did my best to express to him that I continued to want him anyway without trying to seem like I was needing to much so not to make him feel bad when he couldn't, also tiring to believe it wasn't about his lack of desire for me, I stayed faithful to him mind, body, and spirt 24 years. I had "chances" but because I chose to stay commented to the monogamous relationship I believed I was in I chose not to take those opportunities and take myself out of the situation. Yet he actually CHOSE to put himself in them for 20+ years and several hundreds of people later here I am.


My heart breaks for you. Kudos and a monument to you and your integrity. Your strength is a tribute to you.


I totally agree And I am sorry you are in so much pain. Time doesn't always heal wounds. It is what you do in that time that will matter.

Two affairs and years later I still can't seem to get over it

I am in a really panicked place in my marriage. I have lived through two of my husbands affairs. First one 10 years ago and was trying to get over that one and was on my way or so I thought and then I discovered an emotional affair. I was devasted The second one hurt more than the first because it was out of no where where the first I guess I could make excuses for because life had been hard for us both. Now I'm sitting here angry that my husband isn't able to make me feel loved. I stayed the first time because I loved him and for our little kids. The second time I guess I was just in shock and didn't want to think my marriage could be over. I also just was desperate for it to work. But my deep, deep hurt has turned to anger and my husband who has changed things like transparency and responding to my calls still can't seem to feel or show love for me. Up until this weekend he said he had made his decision and he was staying because he was hopeful I could work past my anger and and we could get to a place of happiness but after this weekend where I've expressed my hurt and frustration with his inability to show me he loves me he has said he can't do this anymore. He says I'll never get over it. It's not my fault it's just who I am. That if I could stop being angry at him he could start giving me what I need. The problem is that I feel Like he's been telling me if I could just be different all along he could give me what I need... He's spent our marriage saying I irritate him and I'm difficult. How am I supposed to pick myself up after years of him telling me I irritate him and that if I could just stop being that way he could love me? Am I supposed to put myself out there first to see if he can show me he loves me? All of our fights revolve and end up back at the affairs. I don't feel like he loves me and yet my biggest fear is that he doesn't and is going to leave me. I don't know how to prepare for him leaving me and crushing my soul again. I don't know how or if this is fixable.


To all those just beginning this journey. Please know that by reading this and using the tools you can recover from the pain of infidelity. I was the reason for us becoming a member of this group and we are now almost five years since a total collapse of our marriage. We have through difficult work and additional counselling continued our marriage and celebrated 30 years of marriage recently. I had a wife that i totally destroyed and hurt to a point that i could have never comprehended. I am so grateful to AR for getting us started on the road to recovery. Trust me when I say that if we made it through such a dark time so can you. Please keep reading these posts, hopefully it will help you as it did us.


I am the one that was betrayed and destroyed beyond. I hope I can make it through.

Keep hope.

I was the one betrayed. My life was over, I was destroyed. Through this site, it has been 4 years now since discovery. When it happens to you, I know you feel like the nightmare will never end. But with you both going through these programs or courses, you will learn to forgive. (If he is truly sorry and wants to make the marriage work.). Someday you will feel safe again to love again. And you will celebrate a "new normal" marriage.
Please get started in one of these programs, It helps you to know how to stop the bad thoughts coming into your head and being able to move on.
Good luck.

Thank you for posting. It

Thank you for posting. It feels as if there's no way out but it's nice to hear of yet another couple who got through it.

Getting over it is hard

It's been 4 years since I found out. My wife came home and wanted to try to work it out. Her "choice" of the vile thing over me still haunts me. He was married and had a fetish for bigger girls. It was only after she found out she wasn't the only one that she stopped sleeping around, although they would exchange texts for 5 more months. The guy has a wife with cancer and 2 other girlfriends. Why would any woman choose that over a happy marriage? We had that. She admits it. She left our kids with me. I'm having a very hard time because she refuses to discuss it. I'm finding my love and forgiveness I had at first turning to disgust. I was so happy before. But now......The only thing that makes sense was being in some kind of adventure. It sucks because it seems like she is very sorry, but I want to know more about why she made such a terrible decision.


I see the light but am unsure if I will ever reach it. My husband and his affair partner created a baby. How am I suppose to move forward with a constant reminder of his infidelity?

What type of affair was it?

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