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

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

Series: Why Did They Cheat?
  1. >The Role of Oxytocin
  2. Entrapped or Enchanted?
  3. Do They Have an Addiction?
  4. The Problem With Addictions

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.
I also don't believe that bad marriages cause infidelity.

That being said, the answer to "why" is important because it helps determine what needs to change in the future.

Without some understanding of "why" it is difficult to determine how to address what has happened, what you do to heal and what changes need to be made to keep this from happening again. In my own recovery I've been discovering answers to my why for thirty plus 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.

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 what can be done differently in the future to prevent this from happening again.

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 are the betrayed spouse and are struggling to find the reason they were unfaithful, I hope you'll consider participating in our Harboring Hope program. It will not only help you understand why the affair(s) happened, but it will also help you identify how to recover and heal from the infidelity. You'll find a comprehensive, process-oriented approach to recovery and restoration. Learn more here: https://www.affairrecovery.com/product/harboring-hope.

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Oxytocin

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.

Oxytocin

This is a good read but makes me as the betrayed feel awful, i am being truthful...

WHY

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.

Really?

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

Why

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.

recovery

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.

Recovery

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.

Light?

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?

Rick, thank you for this!

Rick, thank you for this!
I have been feeling stuck (many many months) in trying to explain THE WHY to my betrayed husband. I can explain a number for factors and put it all together as best as I can but it is not acceptable to my husband. He will still say he doesn't get it and it doesn't make sense. I totally agree! It rationally doesn't make sense at all. He will put his own ideas together on WHY and then I get frustrated because it isn't 100% true for me.
I appreciate what you shared about the why not taking the pain away. I am going to focus on that. I can't take the pain away for him either but I will do all I can to not make it worse and give him the time he needs to process it all and let go of the outcome.
Thank you for all you do to show people the way through.

Another excuse

I am a betrayed wife who found out about my husband's infidelity over a year ago. His affair was emotional and physical with someone I know, and I had warned him about his growing friendship with her. So when I hear explanations about hormones or how his childhood played a role in the affair, I take a deep breath and roll my eyes at yet another excuse. From my perspective, at the end of the day he made a choice to lie, betray his wife, and jeopardize his family. It was a choice that would undeniably hurt the person he is supposed to love and protect. So at the risk of sounding bitter, I can not accept this explanation. If there is a way to help me understand and forgive, I would welcome it.

I agree.

I agree.

Agreed

I am also a betrayed wife, and I agree with you, bottom line, there is NO excuse. I can believe they may not be able to say why they did it, but there is no reason or excuse that removes the blame from anyone but themselves. I am a year and a half since I found out, and things have improved and we've gotten help, but when it comes right down to it, this was a choice, period. Thankfully my husband has not tried to place the blame anywhere but on his own shoulders, otherwise I wouldn't have believed there was a chance to move on.
CV

The same here

I am in the same situation as KD. In fact, when I tried to ask for the why and try to learn from the experience to grow as person and couple, the answer has always been "I do not know, it just happened". Then he said that he believes in poligamy but will never practice it because of our comminmet. I asked him to move out, since he said before he will give me all the space I need it. When I did, he got very mad, moved out and asked for a divorce. I decided to wait, to let things cool down. After one year living apart, with no third person involved for any of us (I believe he is telling the truth), he says he is not sure if he wants to come back. He is afraid that since we are getting along well, we might go back to all the bitternes of last year. Both of us think we had a great 20 yrs marriage, both of us agreed that marriage is over. He is afraid of taking chances to try to work things out. As much as love this man, I have pulled myself together and decided to ask for divorce. He said that if that is what I want, then he is up for it. Really painful decision but I am now strong enough to love myself, realize that I am putting my future in the hands of someone who does not want he wants, when there is plenty of people who knows, as myself, what we want, a space to be vulnerable in a commited relationship.
Some people just are to afraid to look into their "demons", confront them and be free. I do not judge them, it takes courage, it is just the way it is.

Unfortunately, 5 years out,

Unfortunately, 5 years out, this is still my perspective.

I am truly sorry for all of

I am truly sorry for all of the betrayed who are in the spot you are in as the result of someone you loved and cared about. There is no excuse or reason that is acceptable. It is 100% wrong and unfair. I believe grace is the only answer and it is the most costly thing there is :(. Hoping for your healing ..

I have to agree, and find

I have to agree, and find myself as the betrayed as you mentioned, rolling my eyes at the long list of excuses I here. In my situation, I have been hearing the excuses or "explanations" as he insists they are for years now, but he hasn't stopped cheating. It's as though he thinks because he has latched on to an excuse he can keep cheating and lying. In the end I'm not very interested in the inner workings that gave him an excuse. He has a long list of those. What I want to know is why string me along with "I'm madly and deeply love with you," knowing full well he was chasing other women around and has no intention of stopping. At the core of this is why didn't I matter when you claimed I did? If a person chooses to be a sexual philanderer then own it and stop hurting people with lies about love and pretending that I matter when your behavior clearly displays the contrary. He can never answer the question about where I in his thoughts literally hundreds of times while cheating, but wants me to believe he loves me, and either just ignores the obvious implication of infidelity (that he didn't care about me), or make an excuse that usually includes some version of his being a victim himself. I'm just over it with the excuses and his feeling sorry for himself. Just like during the infidelity, his entire focus seems to be on his own needs (including sob story excuses) and mine don't even earn a side note.

Another excuse

I agree with KD. It is a moral choice, nothing else. He chose to heighten his oxytocin from another woman, if you want to use science. It doesn’t change a thing.

There is no straight answer

I agree that this is not an excuse and I think Rick makes it clear that this is NOT an excuse. It remains a decision. I am a betrayed husband and I have stopped trying to find out why my wife had her affair. Initially she said things like I was not supportive when her AP was. I did not show emotion for losses we had etc. She changed her answers often, so I believe she does not know either and probably never will. She told me the one day that her life feels like a dream because she cannot understand how she managed or allowed this to happen. I hope not knowing why exactly does not have a negative effect on our marriage, because I don't think I will EVER know (let alone understand) why she did what she did...

Agree with KD

I totally agree. I believe that an affair is100 percent on the shoulders of the husband and the other woman who was too weak to say no. Healing only begins when the excuses end. My husband told me from day 2 that I was the innocent victim, that it was wrong and that he would do anything to make it up to me. Having said all of that I am convinced that excuses still linger in his heart.

Ditto

On behalf of my Betrayed Wife and myself, I agree with KD. I made very horrible choices, and there was no gun held to my head at any time. We’ve spoken about how hormones can impact common sense, but she only sees that choices were made, and deep down I completely agree...I won’t use hormones as an excuse. I own what I did. I made voluntarily choices and I regret every one. We plan on attending the EMS weekend and I hope with all my heart that it helps. We’ve made small progress since she found out a year and a half ago that I hade multiple APs during our 21 years of marriage, and the pain has not subsided in her heart in those many months. It crushes me that I could have caused so much pain. I was never looking to see if the grass was greener elsewhere and I never wanted to end our marriage. I just made horrible horrible choices and hormones had nothing to do with those choices.

WHY?

For me the reason why was important because we had discussed being totally honest with each other and what to if cheating occurred, before we ever married. He didn't stick to ANY of the agreements concerning this when he cheated the first time or any of the other times that followed. I had no delusions of the things guys do - cheat, lie etc. My mistake was believing I had met a guy that could and would be honest - that's the only place I went wrong. To me the Why was very important regarding whether or not I would stay with him. Every recovery program I have gone through has said the first thing that needs to happen is total honesty. So the first thing my CS had to do was something he had promised to do before we married. Since in his confessions at that point concerned 20+ years of infidelity and lies I needed to get some explanation for cheating AND lying for so long. I never got what I consider satisfactory answers for either as " I don't know" is unacceptable. Finding out how mindful this individual was and is part of my process. Common sense had already told me he wasn't husband material, unless someone just wants to be able to say they're married. Mostly I like to have all of the facts before making life altering decisions so he was given the opportunity for 1-1/2 yrs to explain and change. He said he'd do ANYTHING I asked. Sounds good, but as with all of our agreements and promises, he couldn't/wouldn't deliver, it didn't appear he was even trying. He had excuse after excuse why he was failing every time he messed up again. I had to face the facts that he is not or was not capable or just didn't care. So, at 1-1/2 yrs after D-Day #1, I filed for divorce. He couldn't believe it. I really don't care what his problem is at this point, I'm just glad I made the decision to end it and get away from him. I enjoy having an authentic life, with no lies or betrayals from someone who was supposed to be a partner and look out for me as I did him.

Good for you! I look forward

Good for you! I look forward to finding the same clarity and strength! Your honesty and the time you took evaluating your experience provide perspective and your courage to act after giving the decision ample time is inspirational.

Why

I have béen dealing with the lies and betrayal for almost a year. The AP is a mother of 4 who is 20 years younger than my husband. She has made a habit of pursuing older, married men. It started out as an emotional affair. I found out soon after it started. My husband ended it. She pursued him again 7 mos. later. I found out and he ended it. Two mos. later she found another way to get in touch with him and they started a short term sexual affair. I found out about that one too. He says it's over, but I don't trust him to do the right thing. We are in counseling and he has stopped drinking. (So he says.) I just want to know why he would risk everything for some crazy woman who has no morals. I thought we had a great marriage. Cheating was the last thing I ever thought I would have to worry about. He says he can't explain why. It's like a drug to him. I'm having a very hard time accepting this as a valid reason. If he really loved me and respected me and our family, this would never happened. I'm not sure what to do next.

Why

Well, found out last week that my husband is still in contact with AP. They were planning to meet last weekend until I found out. He assures me it won't happen again. I don't think this will ever end. We are in counseling, but he has been lying about so many things. Guess I need ideas about where to go from here.

Testosterone Therapy

I noticed my husband change, found out he had started testosterone therapy b/c other guys, mid 40s, were talking about how great it was. It increase energy, wt loss, muscle, sex drive, like they were in their 20s again... The clinics are like a drive-thru for guys getting their weekly hit of hormones. Then the forgetfulness, careless, reckless, aggressive, lies & cheating. He run around like an arrogant, smartass teenager trying to find somewhere to stick his penis. Became so self centered & refuses to admit to any of this. He did finially admit to cheating, doesn't know why, tried to blame me but was told if it was my fault he wouldn't hide, lie or be ashamed & that If I had anything to do with or involved with his cheating it would not have happened. It's like he's addicted to testosterone & then clinic added HCG shots?? Some side affects have leveled out or I'm just use to it or he's learned to hide better. He had 2 totally different personalities. He'll lie about the weather, crazy! It's destroying him but he feels great. It's devastating, confusing, so sad & hard to watch. Times I have called him out on stuff he denies it then changes how he's doing it. I can't say anything because I'm teaching him how to hide it better. I had told him if it happens again I'm done. I told him I'm staying, he's gonna be accountable & make it right, whatever that means. I'm not leaving with so much anger & hate to just continue carrying it on my own or end up affecting another persons life. I'm learning about myself, my deal breakers, my limits are tested & reality is Not what I thought. leave now I will lose, struggle & the pain will still be there. If I tell him I want divorce "everything" we own will come up missing & bank accts empty, it happens. The only thing leaving/divorce at this time will do is prevent it from happening again, the damage is done. He doesn't want divorce, loves me, etc... At this time he is more loving, caring & treats me very well but he's still taking hormones, probably cheated again or will. So I just don't know, hate not knowing. For now I plan financially, emotionally to put myself in a better situation. It's hard & not the way marriage is suppose to be. I did not ask for this nor given an option. I'm committed & invested. My strengths are also my weakness. I know if I leave I tried, I did right, I learned. A wealthy educated man once told me his dad cheated, destroyed everything, divorce- she lost, he watched his mom struggle in every way while his dad continued his great life. If only she had taken care of herself & planned for reality while she could. Last days of marriage was hell, divorce was hell. I can't get this out if my thoughts.
I'm kinda in the crazy for staying, think positive, stupid if I leave now situation praying he wakes up soon or testosterone becomes unavailable. Trade one heartache & stress for another, not ready to give up. This really truly sucks & I hate hormones. However this goes I will be wiser, stronger, better & he will be very aware.

Why?

I found out about my husband's adultery with my sister 9 months ago. He has been living out of the house since the day I found out. We have been in counseling separately and together since and are now close to him moving back home. "Why" has been the question I have asked a million times. Not so much why did you do it, but why didn't you take one minute to think about all the pain you would cause and why didn't you walk away? Why were you willing to risk everything for sex? I now believe that I will never have a satisfactory answer to the "why" so it is a matter of deciding how to move forward together without it.