It’s no secret that men are far more likely to cheat on their partners than women are. If you need any proof of this—and you probably don’t—consider that the vast majority of Ashley Madison’s 37 million “active” users were overwhelmingly male. (Like, 99.99999 percent male.) And, more recently, a YouGov poll found that 21 percent of men (compared to 19 percent of women) had actually admitted to cheating in the past.
But the question remains: why do we do it? Does a “Y” chromosome biologically guarantee that we’re all doomed to life as terrible jerks? Or is infidelity a more nuanced act rife with psychological complexity? After all, “people don’t just wake up one day and say, ‘You know, I feel like cheating on my spouse today,’” says Meredith Shirey, MS, LMFT, the practice director of New York–based Manhattan Relationship Counseling and Psychotherapy. As with all things love and lust, it’s often complicated.
With that in mind, we reached out to some top relationship experts to gather the biggest reasons why men cheat, and we’ve included them all here. And if you’ve suffered through a difficult split recently—and you’re ready to get back out there—be sure to check out The Best Dating Apps if You’re Over 40.
It’s the tale of a million tails—the one that got away. “A lot of times when we’re in a rough spot in our current relationship,” says Shirey, “we tend to disqualify the good.”
And when an ex shows up, “we remember that spark.” So you’ve got a situation where he’s ignoring the good parts about his current relationship and ignoring the bad parts—the parts that likely led to the breakup in the first place—of his old relationship. That’s a recipe for disaster.
She may think the relationship is all peaches and gravy; he may think otherwise—and not have the guts to confront her about it. “One of the reasons people cheat is because it’s an impetus for change,” says Kristen Mark, PhD, director of the Sexual Health Promotion Lab at the University of Kentucky. “Having that impetus is necessary for some people to get out relationships that they find difficult to get out of.” Think of it as the ultimate “it’s not you, it’s me”—something you shouldn’t do. Also: be sure to check out the 10 Worst Things You Can Say During A Breakup.
“You’re more likely to put yourself in a situation where infidelity could occur if you’re not happy in your relationship,” says Mark. Whether you’re agreeing to tequila shots at a club with your buddies, or even more dangerous, agreeing to one-on-one dinner with Rachel in accounting, people who are committed to and satisfied with their relationship will avoid those scenarios. If he actively and repeatedly decides to engage in risky situations, something’s up. “People know the consequences of infidelity,” says Mark. “It’s not a secret. It does tear couples apart.”
Get your head out of the gutter; we’re not talking sexual needs. “It’s something that little things lead to over time,” says Shirey. Perhaps Rachel complimented a new haircut, and his wife hasn’t done that in a while. “Things blossom from there.”
Maybe it’s been weeks of fighting. Or maybe it’s been too long since he and his partner shared a laugh. Maybe he feels ignored and neglected. Whatever the reason, there’s a deficit in the relationship that reinforced an emotional disconnect. And instead of addressing the problem head on, thoughts drift to, “Rachel does this for me, and my wife does not.”
Everyone experieces depressed feelings and anxiety to a certain degree. The issue is whether or not those thoughts come from the relationship. “If he’s feeling lonely within his relationship, emasculated in some way, or angry with his partner,” says Laurel Steinberg, PhD, New York–based relationship therapist and professor psychology at Columbia University, it could certainly lead a man to cheat. However, “it’s important to note that cheating [tends to] exacerbate existing anxiety and depression.” Thus, the circle remains unbroken. To help with anxiety or depression, be sure to check out 25 Ways to Be Happier Now.
There’s that old adage, where every man wants to sleep with as many women as possible—“spread his seed,” so to speak—and every women wants to find one mate—“lock him down.” We’re writers, not evolutionary psychologists, so we cannot possibly hope to speak about the truth of that thinking. We’ll let Shirey take it away: “There are some theories out of evolutionary psychology. The theory is that, because women only have a chance of reproduction once a month, they tend to be much more discriminating in choosing a partner. Whereas men can basically have a chance of reproduction every time they ejaculate.”
As Shirey mentioned, most people don’t wake up with the malicious intent to betray or hurt their partner. Well, most. “Maybe it’s a personality disorder, or are deeply anti-social, or have narcissistic tendencies,” says Shirey. Whatever the reason, “they need to address it themselves.” Until that happens, this man will hurt any- and everyone romantically involved with him. Run.
“We found that men with a higher propensity for what we call ‘Sexual Inhibition due to the Threat of Performance Concerns’”—getting it hard, keeping it hard, that sort of thing—“are more likely to engage in infidelity,” says Mark. It comes down to a need for validation; if he can’t perform with his significant other, is he less of a man? An easy way to counter those feelings of inadequacy is to try to find a physical connection with someone new. To elevate your own performance in bed, here are 5 Easy Ways to Make Sex Last Longer.
“In very few instances, there are people who have a legitimate sex addiction,” says Shirey. Sex triggers dopamine receptors—the pleasure center of the brain. And like anything else that triggers dopamine—see: cocaine, heroin—it can be addictive. For some people, dopamine activates more from sex than from other things. “A lot of people try to use it as a cop out, though,” says Shirey. Fellas, don’t do that. Remember: “very few instances.”
Or, to use another one of Mark’s terms, he suffers from “Sexual Inhibition due to the Threat of Performance Consequences.” That’s just a fancy way of saying he’s unafraid of the consequences of sex—like getting an STI, impregnating someone, or, say, getting caught cheating—and he’s more likely to cheat. And he’s going likely to keep cheating even if he’s already been busted for it.
As Mark adds, “these are much stronger predictors for men than they are for women.”
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