Why people cheat: Study reveals 8 common factors of unfaithful partners

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — It’s a question most, if not all scorned spouses would love to know the answer to: “Why’d you cheat?” In a recent study conducted at the University of Maryland, researchers sought to find the answer, identifying eight common motivators of people who are unfaithful to their romantic partners.

Previous studies have focused on the most common factors that likely led to infidelity in a relationship, but this latest research went a step further by pinpointing factors self-reported by cheaters themselves.

The study surveyed 562 adults who admitted to being unfaithful to their partners while in committed, romantic relationships. The participants were plied with 80 questions to find out their motivations.

After analyzing the responses, the researchers compiled a list of the eight most common factors that contribute to infidelity:

  • Anger: The unfaithful partner felt betrayed themselves, and sought revenge
  • Sexual desire: An individual feels unsatisfied with intimacy in a relationship
  • Lack of love: “I fell out of love” with my partner
  • Neglect: The partner feels they’re not receiving ample attention or respect
  • Low commitment: One partner is not as committed to the relationship as the other
  • Situation: Unusual circumstances such as intoxication, on vacation, excessive stress, etc.
  • Esteem: Individual trying to increase self-worth by having sex with multiple partners
  • Variety: A person who seeks sex with as many partners as possible

The authors believe that understanding the basis for infidelity could help prevent a partner who’s considered cheating from actually going through with the act.

“Gaining a deeper understanding of what motivates people to engage in infidelity may help couples repair their relationships following an infidelity, or may help them prevent the onset of cheating in the first place. Clinicians may also find it useful during couples’ therapy,” says lead author Dylan Selterman, an assistant professor of psychology, in a release.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study found that men were more likely to cheat because of sexual desire, variety, and unusual situations than women. Conversely, women were prone to cheating because of neglect. But the researchers are careful not to ascribe cheating to only one motivation at a time, pointing out that even healthy relationships can be shaken by infidelity for a variety of reasons.

“We often hear that infidelity is a symptom, not a cause, of a damaged relationship,” says Selterman. “Our research suggests it’s not that simple: People cheat for a variety of reasons, many of which are not a direct reflection of a relationship’s health.”

The full study was published Dec. 15, 2017 in the Journal of Sex Research.

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