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

Ever wonder why men cheat and why women cheat?

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Why did my spouse cheat?

why do men women cheat

Why men cheat and why women cheat may be the most common question we hear. After all, how do you reconcile the unfaithful spouse's behavior when it seems so contradictory to their past? How do you wrap your mind around such foreign, out-of-the-blue behavior?

If you're asking the above questions about a cheating spouse, you may also be asking countless other questions like:

  1. Why did they do it? How could they do that and still want to be with me and love me?
  2. What does the other person have that I don't?
  3. Why would they risk their married life here with me for cheap passion with someone who is so messed up and trashy? Can't they see how unrealistic this relationship really is?
  4. Why do men cheat or why do women cheat and then seemingly have no conscience about it?
  5. Did he or she ever really love me to begin with?
  6. How does a betrayer or a cheating spouse think? (i.e. WHAT were you THINKING?!)

I'll take a shot at trying to answer some of the questions below. Keep in mind the limited space here doesn't allow for an exhaustive answer. I'll do my best to speak to the issues in a concise and pointed manner. For more help though, please visit our free resources.

Why did they do it?
How could they do that and at the same time still want to be with me and love me?

For starters, a key principle in life—and certainly in understanding infidelity—is the concept that behavior does not equal motive. How often have you done something you didn't want to do? It happens all the time. And while infidelity is horrible and gut wrenching, it is certainly something that people can get into and then discover it's not what they really wanted.

All too frequently we follow our emotions, falsely believing we want something, only to discover once we have it that it's not what we want at all. In the moment of truth, when the mistake is discovered, it can seem like it's too late. Loyalty bonds have been broken, hearts crushed, vows shattered. I firmly believe lives can be healed, but many times, at the beginning, convincing the parties that their lives can be restored is the bigger challenge.

For the hurt spouse, the question to the cheating spouse remains, "How could you if you really cared?" The fact is that caring has little or nothing to do with what they've done. They behaved in spite of caring. A tragic yet poignant aspect of these situations is how they actually reveal to the unfaithful mate what they really wanted all along.

The larger issue is usually for the hurt spouse. It may be painful to believe that their mate really does care about them because then they might be compelled to consider re-entering the relationship. Time, expert help, and proper reconciliatory efforts are the only commodities which can reveal the truth. If you're what they really want, then they'll go the distance and give you the necessary space to heal.

What does the other person have that I don't?

There's no way to determine the why right now. A lifetime can be spent searching for the why. There are as many reasons why as there are stars in the sky. The complexity lies in the multitude of factors driving that choice for the cheating spouse.

For some, the infidelity is caused by unhealed and unresolved baggage brought into the marriage. At times, it's a maladaptive response to problems in the marriage. Rather than addressing issues head-on, someone may use some form of infidelity as the solution to their dilemma.

At times, it's about an addiction and, at times, it can even be situational, where someone does something careless in the moment and then feels trapped and unable to disentangle themselves. I'm certainly not minimizing harmful and hurtful behaviors, but it is very possible to end up where you don't want to be and then be absolutely lost on how to actually salvage the situation and the marriage.

Typically, people enjoy how the affair partner makes them feel. Affair partners tend to serve as a vanity mirror (casting an image of ourselves that we think looks pretty good) and the spouse as a makeup mirror (magnifying and highlighting our flaws). This is why the affair partner seems to be the preferred commodity, but, in the long run, it's just an illusion, and eventually, the negatives and baggage will show up once more.

Why would they risk their married life here with me for cheap passion with someone who is so messed up and trashy?
Can't they see how unrealistic this relationship really is?

In all honesty, there is a good chance the person who's acting out isn't even thinking about risking a life of calm and serenity for the excitement of being with someone else. The compartmentalization that most betrayers and even addicts utilize separates the two realities in their mind. The risk is part of what brings the adrenaline and excitement, but the reality of losing everything they hold dear doesn't really hold any weight in the moment. At one level they may be aware that they could lose everything, but the reality of that possibility doesn't really register in their mind. It seems literally incomprehensible to the betrayed spouse, however it's a very real mindset for the betrayer.

It's a difficult concept to explain to someone who's not an addict. It's a bit like trying to describe light or color to a blind person. You can tell them what it's like, but unless you experience it, then it's hard to believe someone could actually think this way. However, please don't hear me saying this is an excuse for this type of behavior. It absolutely is NOT. The person who lives like this still does know that what they're doing is wrong and that there are ways to deal with their reality. But they have to make that choice on their own. We can help and create opportunities for them to come out of the haze of their choices, but it requires their own commitment to the process.

Why do men cheat or women cheat and have no conscience about it?

Asking the question why men cheat and why women cheat may really be asking the question why do people cheat and have no guilt regarding their actions? Only a very small percentage of the population experience little to no guilt when acting out. The vast majority feels the prick of conscience, but they use defense mechanisms to push that guilt away.

They can use defense mechanisms such as blaming, victim thinking, minimization, rationalization, or denial as a way to justify their actions and push the guilt away. If they have resentments toward their mate they may justify their actions by feeling their spouse deserves it for the lack of concern for their desires emotionally or sexually. If they've been engaging in the behavior for a longer period of time, their heart may have become hardened to the behavior and it no longer seems that bad, at least to them.

A lack of remorse doesn't mean they have no conscience. It can be an indication that somehow, in their mind, they have come up with a way to justify what they've done in order to avoid taking responsibility for their failure.

Did they ever really love me?

This one is hard to answer. It all depends on how you define love. One thing is for certain, if someone betrays their mate, I know what they've done is not loving. However, I believe every human being is capable of loving someone and, at the same time, in a moment of selfishness, act in ways that are contrary to love. Loving your mate in no way precludes you from being angry with them and saying something hurtful. I understand that saying something hurtful certainly isn't in the same league as a betrayal, but if your love for your mate isn't sufficient to keep you from acting in a way that's unloving toward them, then their love for you may not be sufficient to keep them from doing something hurtful to you.

On the other hand, I believe many people, including cheating spouses, have a very shallow understanding of love. They get married thinking they love their mate, but in reality they love how their mate makes them feel about themselves. If that's the case, they will continue in the relationship as long as the marriage continues to make them happy. But if, for whatever reason, the marriage ceases to make them happy, or if they find someone or something that makes them feel even better, then it won't be long until the allure of doing something else begins to draw them elsewhere.

If that occurs, does it mean they never loved you? Again, it's hard to know another's heart, but it is possible that their journey into the forbidden may have also opened their eyes and helped them realize that you're what they really cherish. At this point, their reality begins to shift and it's a teeter totter of guilt, despair, and confusion as to what to do next to try and save the marriage. At the very least, if they are choosing to work on the relationship, I believe their betrayal and your response may be the very thing that begins to teach them the true meaning of love and open up a door for true reconciliation. I know this type of restoration is possible. I've seen it with my own marriage as well as countless others who endeavor to give the marriage a chance to be restored.

How does a betrayer or cheating spouse think? (i.e. WHAT were you THINKING?!)

I'm sad to say, if they had really been thinking and considering the impact of their actions, there is a good chance they never would have done this. I can't tell you how many times I've heard both men and women state if they had known the consequences of their actions before they had acted, they would have never done it. I think very few people rightly consider all the costs when they act out. For your sake and theirs, I wish they had been thinking. I'd have less business, but the world would be a safer place.


Regardless of how you've arrived at this point in your attempts at reconciliation or healing, I want you to know there is hope today. The callousness of your spouse or the unrelenting hurt in your heart doesn't at any level disqualify you from being able to find hope, healing, and a restored love. It's not easy, and it's not overnight, but despite the need for a process, the end result is more than worth it. Relationships are at risk, and the rest of your lives are at risk. Such precious commodities need a proven approach that is rooted not in shaming or ‘guilting' you or your spouse into recovery but in leading you down a road of discovery and healing.

I hope and pray you'll reach out today for help. If you'd like to join us at our upcoming EMS Weekend, you'll want to hurry and register here: https://www.affairrecovery.com/product/ems-weekend.

If you're the betrayed spouse, I want to invite you to our previous Hope Rising conferences now available On Demand. We have an annual one-day conference in Austin, TX where speakers will speak into your specific situation of infidelity and help guide you through the recovery process. It's not as hopeless as you think.

Hope Rising 2020 On Demand
Hope Rising 2019 On Demand
Hope Rising 2018 On Demand

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Why does a Spouse Cheat?

Rick,

This is an excellent article and I plan to share it with my men (and hopefully --- with their wives)

God bless,

Jerry

Complexity of why's and still struggling after 18 months

This is a long comment, just a warning to everyone. As the betrayer in a 26+ year marriage, I have found almost all of Rick's articles, and the website in general, to be of immense help. However, despite a spouse full of grace, a very qualified pro-marriage counselor, this website and the understanding of others in my family, we are still struggling with recovery and it's been 19+ months post d-day (rather, disclosure day as I told my wife about the affair before it became physical). After a month of insanity where I put my wife and family through sheer hell, I broke off the affair completely of my own volition after coming to my senses (my wife did not ask me to stay with her); it was almost like I was hit with a sledge hammer out of nowhere or struck by lightning, and suddenly I was standing in a driveway with my AP, not believing where I was or what I had done, and having such a foreboding feeling and longing for my wife that I fled immediately and never looked back (except to tell the AP a few days later via phone to never contact me again and to leave my family alone). I have taken full responsibility for my actions/choices, for the destruction that I have wrought and for the heartstrings that my betrayal has shattered. My wife found the grace and kindness to give me (us) a second chance, but to say that this has been tough on her is the understatement of the century. My greatest hope is that we can build a new foundation from the rubble, one based on mutual love, respect, honesty and friendship. I have strived so far, and will always strive, to provide her with answers to any questions that she may have, and my life has been an open book since we decided to travel the path of reconciliation. I have made some of the "classic" recovery mistakes that are made by so many betraying spouses, and I struggled in early times to provide answers to some of her questions - questions like, "How could you be so mean? Why could you do this? Why could you not simply be honest with me? Why did you have to destroy everything that I held so dear?" I have come to find through counseling that my behaviors were influenced in part, from an upbringing in a very neglectful environment, with parents who were extremely bitter an unloving with one another. I also acknowledge that I have exhibited highly narcissistic tendencies and an addictive personality over the years, which is something that I am actively working on curbing (with success according to my wife). But these are not excuses for my poor choices, my cowardice and my hurtful actions. My actions were born in large part out of fear - a fear that I was failing in my marriage (something my wife had told me over the years), but to admit fear openly to her and not be "stoic" in the public eye would be a failure in-and-of-itself in my mind...and I am pretty certain that this fear of failure is at least partially responsible for me disconnecting from my wife over years, and ultimately falling into the quagmire of betrayal so rapidly. I see now that I became very good at compartmentalizing my affair from my marriage and from my impending 25th anniversary (which in the end I ruined, of course), as well as very good at rationalizing my crazed behavior and actions.

I have come to terms that it felt good to have someone else (AP) who praised me, who told me I was "OK" despite what I was doing, who shared things in common with my interests, and reinforced my rationalization that what I was doing was "in the best interests of all" because I was a no-good husband anyway. After all, my wife had asked me for a divorce on several prior occasions due to my narcissistic tendencies...so what I was doing was just giving her what she had always wanted, right? Or so went my twisted thought process.

There were so many contributing factors that go into why I did what I did - but none of them justifies what I did, nor will there ever be any reason that justifies that which is unjustifiable. I am wondering if this may be part of why my wife is still struggling so mightily, why she wants to run away each day, why she says that at times she regrets giving me/us a second chance - it feels to me like she is looking for answers to "why" that will help her understand my thought process completely, answers that in her eyes are "good enough" to justify what I did...but like Rick's example of explaining light to a blind person, I am not sure that I can adequately explain my twisted thought process in a way that will ever help her understand it completely, because she has never experienced it. I try my best to give her answers to her "why" questions, and I feel that I've been consistent and forthcoming, but she dismisses my explanations as insufficient or says she still cannot understand it, and our conversations always returns back to her "re-living" the pain and agony of my betrayal, what I did wrong, how I was so hateful, how I was such a coward, how I hurt her, etc. We still stay up all night at least once every two weeks discussing my affair and how she feels, to the point where I've had 40+ hour sleepless stretches during the workweek. Afterwards, she will come to me and tell me that she's not trying to be mean or vindictive or make me feel shame, that she just wants answers.

I really don't know how to progress from here; we seem to be "stuck", she doesn't want to find another counselor to help augment the one we are now seeing, she tells me every day that, "...everyone else always runs away from their problems, why can't I run away from my problems?" She is hurting very badly; I will never tell her to just get over it, but I need some help in getting both of us past this. I feel like a jeep that is stuck in the mud. Any advice?

Great video. Thank you

At almost four years to d-day I still struggle as the BW. Full disclosure I was very late to doing my own healing work. I thought that I’d be fixed himself my heart would follow and if I made the choice to stay that also my heart would catchup and fall in line.
I still fight the comparisons and the not understanding why he stayed with me. I find that the more I allow myself to love him in the present my mind is bombarded with past memories that derail me. Even though I understand the logic of everything you say in the video. Do you see in your practice betrayed spouses who still struggle with the mental battles even four years out? I feel now that if our marriage ends it will actually fall on me because I won’t let it go. I don’t want my marriage over, but the past is still very much in my head and it makes me more disconnected from my spouse, and I push him away. I’m afraid we are on a slow fade to divorce. I manage to ruin most of our good moments. Even things I totally enjoy and find special now. Is this typical in some cases?

happy girl 2018 I feel the

happy girl 2018 I feel the same way, reading what you wrote this and this is my life now. Your not alone.

I am 3 yrs out and have many

I am 3 yrs out and have many of the same feelings. I understand it all intellectually but my heart often feels something very different. The disconnect often still causes me great suffering. If I decide that divorce is what I need to thrive, even after 35 years together, I refuse to believe in my head, my heart or what is left of my soul, that it is my fault for ending our marriage or fracturing our family. It is because of his breaking of our sacred vows, his infidelity, his betrayal, his lies, his selfish choices and immoral behavior. That I believe with all my being regardless of the messages I get to the contrary.
Good luck and don’t give up. We are both normal.

Thanks so much for that 🥰

Thanks so much for that 🥰 best wishes to
You and your marriage as well. And many prayers for you heart and head to heal, whatever that may mean

Fault

Coming from a WH, you absolutely are not to blame. His choices, his consequences. I have accepted that my selfish behavior put me in the situation I'm in, and clearly not my betrayed wife. Hope you find healing

3 years stronger!!!!

Imposter1717, I am sooo sorry we share a common sisterhood—infidelity club. We did everything within our power to do things right and the best we could in light of the situation we were/are in (never asked for, dreamed for, or knew was happening). What he did was/is unconscionable, totally selfish/ narcissistic, not loving or caring, and certainly not husband-like. It really stinks that we carry around all this shame, guilt, and blame from his choices and actions. One of the things this article didn’t say is that the cheater is immature, unable to think beyond their thoughts, needs and desires—in other words it all about HIM, HIM, HIM! I too struggle to live in the present without knowing my/our past (a past history I never would choose or imagine possible) is not what I saw it to be. My past lives with me daily. It’s right there in my thoughts, nightmares, old photos, old bills, dates, times, songs, places and faces. They have stolen our past. What we believed was our past wasn’t really our past. That kind of thought could make a person crazy—like a scary horror film about alternat universes. My point isn’t to live in the victim mode, but I’m trying to say that your thoughts, fears, and feelings are legitimate. My therapist told me once that it was okay for me to feel that what my sexually addicted husband did to me and my family is too much for me to handle. It’s okay to feel what you feel and to accept that you have the power to do whatever you need to be the best you! It’s always been about them. It’s time for it to be about you, your family, and what’s best/what you can live with because it sounds like you are pushing through just to make it—not living life to the fullest and being the best you! He may have stolen your past, but he doesn’t deserve to steal your future!! Take charge of your destiny and take back the power you deserve!

reply to happygirl2018

I'm 6 years out and could have written your exact words. Although you can heal, I think a betrayal will always color your view and interactions with your spouse. In my case, I can love and respect him, but there is a limit because of what he did. Even though he has done much to make me feel appreciated and valued, there will never be 100% trust again, so that serves as a limit on what my heart can give.

just had 3 year anniversary of discovering....

...and it is just as painful as the day i plugged in his phone so he wouldn’t wake with a dead phone and the text messages popped up....i’m really tired of the roller coaster emotions...i’ve tried being loving and caring but it is with an unbelievable rage simmering underneath. After 34 years, I have no interest in starting over and definitely no interest in another relationship- so at this point i try to find things that bring me joy and i pretty much wrestle with my sadness the rest of the time. He says he’s going to spend the rest of his life ‘making it up to me’ but he has no clue what that means.
Thank you all for sharing. i needed to see that three years out is not such a long time.

I'm in the same boat. I can

I'm in the same boat. I can honestly say I hate him some days. I can't get over that he rejected me for unattractive & some just repulsive strangers. I'm so offended by this personnally. I hate that I feel insucure & unattractive now & he goes about his day like nothing negative ever happens. How can he be over this? Why doesn't he feel like a pile of garbage in my presence?
I replay the past in my head so much. its rotting my soul.

I made the mistake of forcing

I made the mistake of forcing myself to "be ok" 15 years ago after I discovered his affair. The PTSD I still refuse to acknowledge at times has created triggers and conditioned responses in me that I am only now realizing have contributed to a decade of resentment and contempt. I treated him like crap most of the time. Not dealing with the affair properly the first time messed us both up royally. He cheated again recently so I'm becoming intimately familiar with all the anxiety, racing thoughts, anger, and depression AGAIN. I can't decide if I'm strong for staying with him and taking responsibility, trying to heal for real this time... or if I'm a weak idiot with battered wife syndrome. The root belief that stops me and has me "ruining our moments" is: he doesn't deserve to see me happy. I'm not sure how to fix it, but it's definitely getting talked about in therapy this week. I feel like it's going to be my fault if I can't heal too. You're not alone. No one with PTSD really gets over it... you cope. We will never be who we once were and we have to accept that our faith filled, dewey-eyed person is gone. Mourn the loss and adapt. I currently feel like I am doing a horrible job of it. Sending you love and support.

Reply to happygirl2018

Happygirl2018 your comment could have literally come from my experience in recovery from my wife’s infidelity. I’m even 2 years further yet the feelings you describe haven’t lessened for me. In fact the whole feeling as if the marriage fails now after all this it will be my own fault for not being strong enough to overcome this hurdle. After 20 years and 3 children with somebody the mere thought of somehow tearing this thing you’ve built over a lifetime apart seems next to impossible. I can say for certain my biggest regret to this day is thinking we could fix this without professional guidance. In fact the more I researched the subject the more it became clear how many mistakes I made during the first year or so. At this point it feels futile to initiate that sort of help. 6 years of steadily growing into different people has made it feel so impossible to even desire desiring the relationship we once had. It’s not like we fight or even argue about anything, even that would at least have some passion about something. I feel as if all our life we worked hard to get to the point both financially and intimately that we would finally have a chance to slow down and enjoy our fifty’s onward. The thought of planning anything for the future has been a struggle for me. I can honestly say what ultimately led me to stay and try and work it out was the kids weren’t all grown and out of the house yet. Now that that has happened it’s harder to not feel as if I was robbed of half my life which has definitely caused some resentment. I’m sorry to say at least in my experience if you haven’t repaired things after 4 years then 6 years makes it apparent you’ve been avoiding the inevitable at the cost of your ability to enjoy life. I wish you a better tome in the future with your process and apologize for my long rambling as something about your comment really triggered all this to pour out.

Did I hear correctly?

Did you actually just say the cheater did not know what the consequences would be?

Oh I think they know

Oh I think they know theoretically! They just think they are slicker than reality, think no way will they get caught and so
Over time it really isn’t something they dwell on. They wouldn’t lie, over cover their tracks if they didn’t know the consequences. It’s just wanting the cheating stuff is more important

What type of affair was it?

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