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

Why do people Cheat?

Why People Cheat - A 3 Part Series:

  1. Why Do People Cheat?
  2. Were They Predisposed to Cheat?
  3. Why People Cheat: Justifications of the Unfaithful

A while back, a couple from another state attended our Emergency Marital Seminar weekend (EMSW). To travel as they did to get help was noteworthy, but the unfaithful mate had yet to comprehend what he had done and why. To say he was defensive would be putting it mildly. During a session, while discussing taking personal responsibility, he cried out with indignation, "Doggone it Rick she came out of the barn buck naked. What was I supposed to do?" I turned to the women in the group and asked, "Ladies, what would you do if a guy came out of the barn 'buck naked'?" "Call 911,” they all replied in unison.

It's tragic, but the bounds of self-deception seem to have no end when it comes to justifying marital infidelity. Do we see what we do? Do we recognize what it must be like to live on the other side of us? Can we even begin to comprehend the consequences of our actions? That we would betray those to whom we've committed is horrifying; but that we would fail to comprehend our own self betrayal is inconceivable, or is it?

Lest you feel judged, I'm preaching to myself. I am astounded by how distorted my thinking became as I plummeted into my affair. I deceived myself into thinking I was a good guy for "helping" my affair partner. That I was giving her what she needed. That obviously I had married the wrong person, therefore, having an affair was justified. That I was powerless over my feelings, therefore, there was nothing I could do. I deserved to be happy so didn’t the means justify the end? It's tragic, but I could go on and on about the silly fabrications I used to justify my devastating choices.

Why do we have affairs? Why is it that some cheat while others do not? Why did you do it? If there is any one question that baffles those affected by infidelity, it’s this one. Even worse, the difficulty of answering this question exceeds all others. To say the least, the answers are complex.

With no answer to “why?”, how does one keep this from happening again? How would you know the right course of action? Or if the answer to the “why” question is incorrect, will you address the proper problem? How do you ever determine what made you or your relationship vulnerable to betrayal. Failure to uncover the proper answer to “why” puts a couple at risk of simply sweeping cobwebs rather than killing the spider.

In the early stages of discovery, raging emotions inhibit rational thought and cloud the judgement of both spouses. Initially, answers to the “why” question are typically blame or victim based in an attempt to push away guilt and shame. Somehow it wasn’t their fault. At best, the unfaithful spouse takes personal responsibility and agrees to explore why they chose as they did. If this isn’t their first rodeo, they may have already discovered answers to the mystery, but apart from that scenario, it takes time to uncover the answer. Excuses and justifications litter the roadside of recovery.

Complicating matters is the injured spouse, who all too often works from the mistaken notion of “assumed similarities” to supply their own answer to the “why” question. They assume their mate’s motives would be similar to their own if they were in the same situation. The answers supplied by their mate just don’t make sense and they certainly don’t seem severe enough to justify the devastation created by their choices. They think surely there must be some dark secret in their background for them to have acted in such a way. At other times, they supply answers that are commiserate with the negative lens through which they now view their mate or they assign answers to the question which allow them to justify their responses.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll explore some of the reasons people cheat and why others don’t. Hopefully, it can be of some use to those struggling to discover the answer to “Why”.

If you’re the unfaithful spouse, you might also find that a group would be helpful in finding answers. Chatting with others like you can help reveal the blind spots created by self-deception. Hope for Healing offers a group format along with extensive exploration into why. If that’s a question you’re seeking to answer, I hope you’ll check it out.



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This is the toughest and most

This is the toughest and most painful part for me to grasp....it's happened twice to me. I really struggle with this.... The sad part I am realizing is I feel like its my fault for being so trusting, blind and vulnerable to love...why?


"they supply answers that are commiserate with the negative lens through which they now view their mate " I think I do this because I am tired of trying to figure out the WHY. The WHY feels like an excuse. The WHY feels like me trying to figure out how I can blame myself for his affairs.

i would say ...

the whys....can only be about insecurity, shallowness, greed, selfishness and narcisism on the part of the betrayer.  I don't believe there is any justifiable why, when you have an honest relationship.  certainly, two parties contribute to why the marriage was dysfunctional.  betrayed and betrayer have responsiblity for that.  but only one (usually) made the decision to have an affair. 

having an affair is weak and cowardly. i dare any of you to say otherwise.

anything other why just provides an illegitimate excuse and helps the betrayer justify there actions.  there's no justifiable excuse for ever having an affair.  if your relationship is that bad, be honest and get out of it or be strong and work through it. 

either way, it's more honorable than having an affair and permanently damaging your partner, children, family and yourself...forever.



I couldn't have said it

I couldn't have said it better.

i would say

I think your so right, it has been almost 5 years and 6 polygraphs that he has failed to pass yet. Always has a excuse believe me I don't buy any of them. I truly believe he loved her and cant get over her. She is no beauty at all and he has lost his family friends and everything that was real in his life. I have never been through such hell in my life and it is directly due to his infidelity. He cheated every chance he got any women that wiggled in front of him he went for it with no hesitation to his family. He sure had me fooled for 37 years of marriage, He wont leave me alone says he wants this marriage and doesn't do any work to repair it.. Its so sad that some women and men have to jump into bed with anyone that gives them attention.


Rick: Could you comment on Dr. Laura's statement: "While I will never excuse a man for cheating, I will often understand why he did"? In a marriage where the spouse is not fulfilling her role as sexual partner to her spouse - often over a period of years - is there less culpability for the other (who might have tried everything under the sun to change her frigidity) who finally gives in? It seems to me she's asked him to fight a battle for years upon years without any spiritual armor (because she's effectively stolen it and shoved it in the closet along with her sex drive) and while chronically spiritually undernourished (translated: dispirited, frustrated, and resentful). She's neither fed nor protected him from the onslaught of the enemy as she is Biblically called to do. Yet, when - after years of neglect and its accompanying resentment - he finally falls prey to the temptress, everyone calls him the scumbag and pats the "poor helpless faithful wifeykins" on the head. Who is the victim and who is to blame?

Your betrayer is not worthy?

Does anyone else get in an occasional funk, where you feel that you spouse (the betrayer) is just not worthy of your marriage, devotion and even the effort? I'm right there, right now. Feeling disgusted, disappointed and embarrassed to stay with someone who did such trashy things. It seems to be a reoccurring feeling, coming up for at least one day of every week. 10 months since D-Day. Shouldn't I be past this by now?