Skip to content

20 Surprising Things That Can Cause Someone to Cheat

It's probably more complex than pure carnal desire.

Infidelity is one of the most distressing things you can experience in a relationship. Everyone knows this. And yet, men and women continue to cheat all the time: A recent YouGov poll revealed that a full fifth (21 percent of men and 19 percent of women) of the American adult populace has cheated on a partner. (And that doesn't account for those who have cheated but will never, ever admit it—a figure that even science can't measure.)

But the question remains: what drives these people to cheat? Common knowledge might suggest it's nothing more than pure carnal desire, but, oftentimes, the situation is far more complex. From financial stability to personality deficits to—and surely this will be of zero surprise—childhood environment, there are countless factors. Here's what the experts suggest looking out for. And for a real-life story about infidelity, see what happened when a Bride Read Groom's Cheating-Related Texts Aloud at Her Wedding.

1. There's Sizable Income Disparity

According to an intriguing American Sociological Association study from 2015, people are more likely to cheat when their partners are doing better than they are, financially speaking. "You would think that people would not want to 'bite the hand that feeds them,' so to speak, but that is not what my research shows," said Christin L. Munsch, the study's lead author and assistant sociology professor at the University of Connecticut, in a press release. "Instead, the findings indicate people like feeling relatively equal in their relationships. People don't like to feel dependent on another person."

2. They Want To Be A Better Partner

A study conducted by Alicia Walker, a sociologist and the author of Secret Life of the Cheating Wife, found that women may cheat on their partners to become—get this—better partners. Study participants who cheated said that getting their rocks off elsewhere made them better partners because they didn't resent a spouse for not putting effort into their sex life.

3. They Have a Suspicious Partner

"We can't go on together, with suspicious minds," sang Elvis back in 1969. The King had it right—and, if you've been cheated on before, it's especially understandable that it left a mark. But constantly suspecting that your partner is up to no good is likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"If you start questioning them about whether or not they are cheating, confronting someone with no proof will make them uncomfortable and put them on the defensive," spiritual counselor and relationship expert Davida Rappaport told Bustle. "Once you start doing that, your partner may decide to cheat after all, simply because you are treating them as if they were cheating."

4. Infidelity Runs In the Family

A study published in 2017 revealed that people whose parents cheated were twice as likely to cheat on their spouse than those whose parents had been faithful. The authors noted that "parental infidelity sends memorable messages to offspring about the greater acceptability of infidelity," messages that are "internalized and used to construct offspring's belief systems."

5. A Big Birthday Is Approaching

A 2014 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that people were more likely to cheat in the years before a new decade (i.e., 29, 39, 49, and so on). It turns out that the likelihood of a man committing adultery increases with age, especially once they hit a point at which they feel like it's their last opportunity to sleep with other women before they're officially decrepit.

6. She's Playing The Odds

Male attractiveness peaks at 50—if you put any faith in a recent study of online dating behavior, that is. That same study found that, while the average woman's desirability begins to drop when she is in college. As a result, women are more likely to commit infidelity when they are younger; that's when they have the most extensive choice of prospective partners.

7. They're Lost In The Relationship

It's so easy to get wrapped up in being in a relationship that you somehow lose your sense of self along the way. When someone feels like they don't know who they are anymore because cheating can be the way they look to escape.

8. They Need An Ego Boost

A driver of cheating for both men and women is insecurity about one's own attractiveness levels. People who have lost their mojo are more likely to cheat because they crave reinforcement, and getting it from just one person isn't cutting it.

"If the partner gets to a place in the relationship whereby they are unable to fulfill that void any longer, the cheating individual continues to stay in the relationship (because they fear being alone) but gets the validation that is now missing from an extra-marital affair," Kelly Armatage, a cognitive behavioral therapist, relationship coach, and speaker, told Fox News.

9. They Have Long Ring Fingers

People who have longer ring fingers than pointer fingers are more inclined to cheat according to a study conducted by the University of Oxford. It's a consequence of more testosterone exposure in the womb. Interestingly, this is true for both men and women.

10. Their Friends Cheat

If your friends get divorced, you are more likely to get divorced. If your friends earn more, you're more likely to earn more. So it should be of little surprise to learn that social networks also affect infidelity. According to M. Gary Newman, psychotherapist, rabbi, and author of The Truth About Cheating, 77 percent of cheating men also have cheating friends.  Now, that doesn't mean 77 percent of men with cheating friends cheat, of course. But if your partner isn't bothered by his friend's cheating, it could be a red flag.

11. They Look Like A Cheater

On the face of it, this reason doesn't seem that it would pass scientific muster; don't ever judge a book by its cover, after all. But research conducted at Brigham Young University found that people were pretty good at "guessing" whether or not someone was a cheater based on appearance.

12. Cheating's Never Been So Easy

Morality aside, finding someone to have a fling with has never been easier. In days of yore, I suspect the sheer leg work involved in making it happen kept all but the most committed of adulterers on the straight-and-narrow. These days, you reach in your pocket, open an app, and see who's around and available.

13. They Have A Fear Of Commitment

According to psychotherapist Charlotte Howard, some people are "scared of intimacy in a way that allows sexual desire to only be felt outside of a deep partnership, because there is too much closeness with a partner to feel safe merging through sex." To avoid being vulnerable, they place barriers with the person by never fully committing to them.

14. They're Moving On Up

Experts say that while happiness increases with wealth, the correlation peaks once you're earning $75,000 per year. According to a 2002 study out of the University of Washington, something else happens when you reach this threshold: You're more likely to cheat. Further, you're one-and-a-half times more likely to cheat on your partner than if you earn $30,000 or less annually.

15. She Feels Neglected

"In my experience, most women cheat—or explain or justify their cheating—because their emotional needs were either not being met or were perceived as not being met by their partner," Marilyn Williams, founder of the MEDIAN Center for Resilience and Brain Training, told the List. "They feel lonely, ignored, not paid attention to, that sort of thing. Most of the time the cheating was not premeditated; they realized how lonely or vulnerable they were once someone else started paying attention to them."

16. You Live In A Big City

It's simple math. The larger the city you live in, the more opportunities you'll have to cheat. Being an adulterer is much easier in New York City than in, say, McMullen, Alabama (population: 9).

17. Your Relationship Is Happy and Stable

One of the most surprising things that can lead partners to cheat is happiness and stability. Yes, you read that right. Of course, as with all things, it's situational—and is rooted in your nascent years.

"We repeat states of instability and chaos if that's what we grew up with," psychoanalyst and author Dr. Claudia Luiz  told Bustle. "It's an unfortunate aspect of brain function that we become familiar with synaptic brain activity that we are used to." Luiz explains that becoming conscious of your unconscious desire to throw a wrench in the works will ultimately lead to greater depth and intimacy.

18. Old-School Thinking

For centuries, we've been fed the idea that men are biologically programmed to "spread their seed" as widely as possible, whereas women are hardwired to hold onto the prospective father of their children so that he can protect her and her offspring. This theory doesn't really hold anymore, but some more, ah, chauvinistically-inclined males still inclined to think it—and therefore live it.

19. Vengeance

Talking to INSIDER, psychotherapy counselor Claire McRitchie said that said infidelity could be used for vengeance. She explained that, in such a scenario, anger is often suppressed and then released in the act of cheating. Why? Because it offers the aggrieved party a feeling of power and control. "The knowledge that the other person is being punished without realizing is for some people a cruel and unusual way of punishing them—sometimes for perceived slights rather than real ones," she said.

20. They're Lonely

McRitchie also flagged loneliness, and a feeling of isolation can make people do some out-of-character things—such as cheat on their partners. "Communication between couples is often only at surface level [and doesn't] delve too deep into a person's real psyche," McRitchie said. "Add a third person to this mix, and suddenly the invisible person feels wanted, important. The person cheating is often trying to jolt themselves alive again in the form of cheating." And for ways to spot infidelity, check out these 30 Subtle Signs Your Wife Is Cheating or these 30 Subtle Signs Your Husband Is Cheating.

To discover more amazing secrets about living your best life, click here to follow us on Instagram!

Filed Under