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

Why Do People Cheat? Part 2: Were They Predisposed to Cheat?

Why People Cheat: A Three Part Series

Part 1: The Fog of Self Desception
Part 2: Were They Predisposed to Cheat?
Part 3: Justifications of the Unfaithful

Someone recently posted a question in one of our Recovery Library Forums asking, "Why?". His unwillingness to agree with her on his motivations as a cheating spouse left her feeling unsettled, confused, and hopeless. If she believed his feelings and motives were one thing, and he said it was another (or gave no answer at all), then was he lying? And if he was lying about his feelings and motivations, was there any hope for their future and recovering from an affair? He claimed he didn't love the other woman. Even more, love wasn't what drove his actions. I certainly don't know enough about their situation to determine what was true, but I do know that until a couple comes to a common understanding of 'why', it's difficult for the marriage to move forward; they'll stay stuck recovering from an affair.

Today we'll explore which life experiences indicate a higher likelihood of marital unfaithfulness as it addresses the big question: "why people cheat". While these circumstances certainly don't predestine someone to become a cheating spouse, they may contribute to vulnerabilities that others from different circumstances don't share or understand. If you're the one who's been betrayed, you might want to consider the possibility that your mate is telling the truth when they share their experience. As inconceivable as it sounds, there may be some truth to their reality.

Please keep in mind; these are NOT in any way EXCUSES to cheat. They simply speak to possible motivations driven by past experiences.

We always have a choice whether or not we choose to cheat.

Here are some early life experiences that seem to indicate a higher propensity to cheat:

Why People Cheat #1: Unfaithful fathers

Research done by Jan Havlicek of Charles University in Prague1 indicates that cheating does seem to be a family trait as far as sons are concerned. Boys look to the world around them for what's appropriate and what they can get away with. Fathers are the primary example to follow for good or for bad. If the father (or some other influential authority figure) was a cheating spouse as the boy grew up, then they were more likely to stray.

This survey of 86 couples indicated that men's affairs are more motivated by sex than women's affairs, and that marital satisfaction was no indicator of whether or not a man would cheat. Bottom line, his research seemed to indicate that men had affairs because they wanted sex and a greater number of sexual partners, not because they are fed up with their wives. On the other hand, Havlicek also stated that women were more likely to stray if they were dissatisfied with their relationship.

Why People Cheat #2: Age of initial sexual experience and permissiveness prior to marriage

In the Redbook Report: A Study of Female Sexuality2 the results of a survey of 100,000 women revealed that extramarital sex was reported by 48 percent of women whose first sexual experience occurred at age fifteen or younger, in contrast with 16 percent of women whose first sexual experience occurred after age twenty-one.

This statistic could indicate several factors contributing to infidelity. It's possible that the earlier one participates in premarital sex, the more likely they are to become sexually permissive prior to marriage. For some, a high number of sexual partners before marrying could indicate a personal belief system that holds little value for sexual exclusivity. Participating with multiple partners prior to marriage makes monogamy seem more like an exception than a rule. Sexual permissiveness prior to marriage allows for both familiarity and skill development in the dance of courtship. Once married, these individuals have an existing way of relating to others outside the marriage that seems comfortable.

Another possible risk factor created by early sexual experience is what we call 'arrested relational development'. Learning to connect sexually at an early age short circuits the skill development necessary for relating to others in a healthy manner. When hooking up sexually becomes the primary way of connecting, other ways of relating, such as intellectual conversation, may never fully develop, leaving some individuals with a limited repertoire when it comes to interacting with others. Recovering from an affair can be particularly difficult when this pattern is in place.

Finally, early sexual experience and permissiveness may leave some with negative identity messages. If they come to believe their value is based in their sexuality, then they may crave constant validation from others. For this type of personality a single person could never provide all the needed validation. They need a never-ending supply of attention to affirm their worthiness. In their mind, an affair partner provides this validation.

Why People Cheat #3: Sexual abuse

Another early life experience which might predispose someone to infidelity is sexual abuse. There are multiple ways abuse can impact the individual, but needless to say it can create issues for that person to work through. For example, it's possible that bad sex seems really good, but good sex seems really bad. They may find sex confusing and difficult in marriage, and only feel comfortable sexually if it feels wrong. Let me be clear-it does not create problems in every situation, but it can be a contributing factor for some.

Patrick Carnes reported that 81 percent of 600 sex addicts he surveyed had been sexually abused, 73 percent had been physically abused, and 97 percent had been emotionally abused. 3

Why People Cheat #4: Parental messaging

At times, messages given by parents create attitudes and beliefs in children, which may make them vulnerable to infidelity. Two extremes of these types of messages are those where a child is given an over inflated sense of self or a lack of value is communicated.

Examples of parental messaging:

The "Golden Child":

These indulged individuals are raised to feel privileged as a result of their gender, birth order, family name, etc. They are pampered from birth with little or no expectations except to make the family look good. Being catered to is their perceived birthright, leaving this person with a belief that they are entitled to do whatever they like without reciprocity. A person from this background can view infidelity as an entitlement, but at the same time hold their mate to a totally different standard of faithfulness.

The Neglected Child:

When parents are under-involved, causing their children to fend for themselves, it can leave children feeling neglected. While they may enjoy the freedom their parent's lifestyle affords them, the lack of parental involvement leaves them feeling unwanted and unimportant. This type of individual may misperceive their mate's unfaltering trust as a sign of neglect, triggering old feelings of being unwanted and unimportant.

Why People Cheat #5: Addiction

Frequently people come into marriages with pre-existing addictions or develop addictions after marriage. Addictions tend to be a bit like 'whack a mole" at a kids arcade. If you stop one addiction there's always the risk that they'll cross addict to another addictive behavior. The causes of addictions can range from brain injury, genetics, or a developed coping mechanism. The behaviors of addictions such as prostitution, pornography, strip clubs, affairs, and/or anonymous sex are every bit as traumatizing as a lengthy affair. For the person who has been betrayed, it's as bad as it gets. While none of the above mentioned circumstances directly cause someone to be unfaithful, they can create personal baggage contributing to vulnerability. In the quest of understanding 'why,' I hope these factors will help guide the way towards the answer.

If you're trying to move beyond betrayal, having the answer or many answers to 'why' unfortunately isn't all that's needed.

It's not time that heals the wound-it's how you spend that time.

I would graciously encourage you to commit to being proactive in your recovery. Please take the necessary steps to heal both yourself and maybe even your marriage. If you're ready to stabilize the chaos in your marriage, I hope you'll sign up for our EMS Online. Registration opens today at 12:00 PM CST. Get the help you need to move forward. Click here to learn more: https://www.affairrecovery.com/product/ems-online

  1. Levin, Robert J, and Amy Levin. The Redbook Report, New York: Redbook Publishing Company, 1975.
  2. Havlicek, Jan Barbara Husarova, Veronika Rezacova, Katerina Klapilova, Correlates of Extra-Dyadic Sex in Czech Heterosexual Couples: Does Sexual Behavior of Parents Matter?, Archives of Sexual Behavior. Vol 40 Issue 6, pp 1153-1163. Netherlands: Springer Science+Business Media, 2011.
  3. Carnes, Patrick. Don't Call it Love: Recovery from sexual addiction.New York: Bantam Books, 1991



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So my husband has all 5 of these factors. His real father he never knew so there is a level of neglect there, then his adopted father continually cheated on his mother and his wives after her. He was sexually abused by his adoptive aunt from the time he was 5 until he turned 8 and his parents got divorced. His whole life his mother praised him for being do smart or so awesome at anything he ever did so he thinks he can do anything he wants. He cheated on me with multiple hookers 9 that I know of. He had sex when he was 13(that's when he says he lost his virginity) and had sex with many other girls after that. Only had three REAL girlfriends before me and he cheated on them all. I don't think he is narcissistic per say but I do believe he has a slightly higher confidence when it comes to his intelligence and his athleticism. He thinks he is smarter than everybody else and the way he explains himself to.me is, oh you would never understand. We just aren't on the same wave length. He talks to strippers about me as if they are on the same wave length as him. He will find any excuse for his addiction. So I guess my question is would it even be worth trying to fix our marriage if he has all five of these factors?

It is possible

I have a commonality to some degree with 4 of the 5 experiences listed. My wife and I are still together and pushing forward 2 years after Discovery. We are only able to do it because I want to change; she still loves me, and I think she believes that she will still want me after I have changed.

If any of those 3 conditions didn't exist I think our relationship would fail and my wife would be better off without me.


If this research is correct I should be the cheater. EVERY SINGLE statistic relates to me. The difference is I have chosen to be faithful. I picked to stick to my vows. I chose to be trustworthy. I saw the hurt, pain, dysfunction, the destruction, and damage that affairs cause. I have seen several of these type articles and it is amazing to me how many people use these as their crutch to cheat. It is just another way of justifying their behavior and offering excuses instead of digging down deep with in themselves to change the pattern and rise above. I am not saying I have been the perfect spouse, but I could not live with myself knowing I inflicted the type pain that infidelity causes to the faithful spouse.

Why People Chrat

Great logical arrival. I have thought about these contributing factors for a very long time without reading anything. It's just me Christian belief system that points to these reasons+ logic.
But, most parents don't believe in any of these factors, therefore inadvertantly fertilizing divorce. Our society has gotten off course by illogical thinking die to " anything goes" without logical thought being utilized. There is such a thing as truth, but with truth out the window, logic flew out with it.

Why people cheat

I just read the new article looking into predisposition to cheating and am curious if the "talk, or lack thereof" received by a parent during puberty can be an influence? I feel as if I had an unrealistic idea of the difference between love and sex because my Mother never "talked" to me about it. Everything I "learned" was from my first partner (I was seventeen) who later became my husband (at 21) and looking back I can say I had no idea what to expect. I do know now we were too young and I was terribly naive!!! We've now been married for almost 45 years but my infidelity (which happened almost 30 years ago) still haunts us!!!

I agree

In my opinion you are correct that lack of discussion can contribute to the infidelity occurring. My husband had two emotional affairs that I know of and there was no discussion of sex in his childhood home. He was also taken advantage of as a 14 yr old boy by a 21 yr old woman with dire consequences that he was emotionally scarred by. These among other issues are what I’ve come to understand the “why” as but I agree that when there is no discussion of sex, what it is and what it means it can have consequences later on.


My spouse grew up in a family where values were often sacrificed for money. Affairs were common by one of the men in his world and he was abused as a teenager by a person he worked for ------so I guess he fits the profile.
That does not make it easier but it does help with the "why".

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