Why Do People Cheat and Have Affairs?
Infidelity…unfaithfulness… cheating. Most people can immediately relate to the meaning of any of those terms. Essentially they mean that a partner or spouse is having or has had an affair.
An affair can be sexual or emotional. It is a breach of trust by a partner who goes outside of the relationship for sex or intimate emotional connection with someone other than their partner.
People may have differing opinions on what type of an affair is worse, physical or emotional. However it is up to the hurt partner to decide how hurt they will be.
In fact most people seem to agree that having an emotional affair with someone has more of an impact on the hurt partner than simply having sex with that person. If the unfaithful partner becomes emotionally attached to the third party creating a stronger bond, even falling in love, his spouse may feel that it is too hard to overcome that large of a breach of trust.
In any case there can be many reasons for someone to have an affair or cheat on their spouse.
Affairs or infidelity can fall into many categories. In this post I outline what I consider to be the most common types of affairs.
Unintended Affair: This type of encounter can happen when opportunity and poor judgment are working together. It is often the result of drinking, partying too much or even curiosity. Poor judgment can lead the curious partner to stray and enter the realm of the one night stand.
Long Term Affair: This type of affair can be ongoing for many years. It may in fact coexist with the life of the marriage itself. A partner may even have offspring from such an affair. For example, a former television journalist, Charles Kuralt, was discovered to have raised an entire second family. He led this parallel life for many years and was only discovered after his death.
Hostile Affair: In this type of affair the motivation is anger and revenge. The cheating partner who steps out of the relationship wants to get back at the other for some perceived wrongdoing. They may be holding a grudge about something that happened a long time ago but was never resolved. They may have been feeling unappreciated, unloved or even humiliated by their spouse. Instead of seeking resolution the cheating partner uses their negative feelings as a way of rationalizing having an affair.
An Unhappy Marriage: An affair that emerges from an unhappy or unsatisfying relationship is often one where the complaint may be poor communication, emotional disconnection, bad or no sex or even separate lives. Couples frequently dismiss their dissatisfaction as a part of life, argue unproductively over it or just simply learn to live with it. Those strategies can ultimately lead to a cheating spouse seeking solace with someone else.
Already Decided: Here the unfaithful partner has already made up their mind to leave the marriage and uses the affair to make their escape. The thinking is that the marriage could not work so why not use the affair as a transition to divorce.
Internet Affairs: With the advancement of technology the Internet has been the go to place for almost all things. It is easy to use, can be anonymous and has a seductive quality that can become addictive. Partners engaging in Internet Affairs can find themselves caught up with the reintroduction of a former friend through Facebook or other platforms. They can also become distracted with meeting a complete stranger online whom they might never have sex but with whom they can carry on a secret emotional connection. Cheating using technology has never been easier.
Compulsive Sex Behavior: Compulsive sexual behavior is often described as “sex addiction”. In this type of affair sex is used to cope with feelings of extreme anxiety, emptiness or even a deep emotional wound. Sexually compulsive individuals have very poor impulse control and are at high risk for having affairs. This person can be very insecure or even highly narcissistic and craves adoration which they try to get through frequent sexual encounters.
Fear of Conflict: Some partners are so fearful of causing conflict by either questioning their spouse or requesting better treatment, that they seek someone outside the relationship for relief. This type of person may have been brought up to avoid conflict at all costs and has developed a hyper sensitivity to it. In fact they may perceive almost any assertive conversation with their spouse as potentially explosive. Even though the idea of this type of person actually cheating or having an affair may seem counter intuitive, it can be experienced by them as a relief from the stress of fearing confrontation.
Fear of Intimacy: A partner who has never been able to truly connect with their spouse in a deeper and meaningful way might enter into an affair to maintain that distance. They may be unaware of the real issue and feel a profound sense of discomfort if the spouse wants to be closer emotionally.
Affairs often develop out of complicated sets of circumstances. Of course there are some personalities that are at higher risk for having an affair but much of the time it is a person who may never have cheated before that ends up being unfaithful.
How spouses or partners decide to deal with each other once an affair has been revealed is a highly personal matter. It can have the effect of literally blowing up the marriage or the opposite effect of, with the right guidance, creating an even stronger relationship than before.
An Affair does not have to end the marriage. Partners can recover if they work at understanding the reasons for the affair in the first place, make changes necessary for a better path forward and begin to reconcile their differences.
Seeking help when an Affair is discovered can make the difference between catastrophe and reconciliation.
About the Author
Dr. Stan Hyman, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist and life coach in private practice in Miami, Florida. He works with couples struggling with powerful issues such as infidelity and intimacy.