Cheating can be extremely detrimental and damaging to a relationship, as it can break down the trust, honesty, and respect that are at the core of any successful and long-term relationship. And while it’s important to recognize the warning signs that your man may be cheating on you, such as he acts out of character, he desperately wants his privacy, and he suddenly cares more about his looks, it’s equally important to understand the underlying reasons why men are unfaithful in the first place.
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 2015 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 men cheat?
Here are 15 reasons that may lead a man to cheat:
1. An ex walked back into the picture.
It’s the tale as old as time: 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.
2. He’s immature
One of the main reasons why men cheat is simply a matter of immaturity. When a man is immature, this unappealing attribute can impact a relationship in many different ways. For example, men who are immature often put themselves first in most situations, don’t take into consideration their partner’s feelings, insist on being right even when they’re wrong, and are characteristically unreliable and irresponsible. To that end, being immature is also heavily related to acting impulsively, as most men who are immature tend to give in to their basic temptations and desires without a care or concern for the repercussions of their actions and the possible negative effects that their behavior can have on others.
3. His emotional needs aren’t being met
Another primary reason why men cheat pertains to their emotional needs and desires. In fact, it’s been shown that nearly 50 percent of men who cheat do so because they feel emotionally unfulfilled, unhappy, and unsatisfied in their relationship. In other words, men cheat in order to feel valued and emotionally supported, both of which they may not sense they receive from their partner.
And rather than finding ways to have their emotional needs met in their current relationship, such as by frequently communicating with their partner, openly discussing their feelings and concerns, as well as having realistic and sensible expectations of their significant other, these men often seek out another person (or people) who can provide them with the emotional satisfaction, support, and empathy that they believe they’re lacking.
Whether men are looking to feel appreciated and desired or are simply searching for a shoulder to cry on, a lack of emotional fulfillment is powerful enough to drive men to cheat. It should be noted that less than 15 percent of men rated the women they were cheating with as more beautiful and physically appealing than their current partner, which again underscores that men cheat in large part due to a strong emotional connection with someone else.
4. His physical needs aren’t being met
When looking more closely at the real reasons why men cheat, a lack of sexual fulfillment in his current relationship is also a key underlying factor behind a man’s infidelity. Specifically, a study in the International Journal of Sexual Health revealed that one of the major motivators in a man’s decision to start an affair was his desire for sexual satisfaction that was lacking or completely absent from his present relationship. With this in mind, it’s not too surprising that an additional sign that a man may be cheating is that he stops being physically intimate with his partner since his sexual needs are being met by someone new.
Along these lines, men reported that sexual curiosity was a major incentive to cheat, as it’s not only a search for physical gratification that impelled them to be unfaithful but also a strong desire for new sexual experiences that are more alluring and appealing. It’s also interesting to note that men are more likely to cheat because of unmet sexual needs than women.
5. He’s insecure
When a man is insecure, he may feel unworthy of being with his partner, he may constantly worry about his partner’s continued interest level, and he may continually need reassurance, support, and approval from his partner in a wide range of circumstances. Typically, insecure men are typically very needy, and they incessantly seek out validation in order to prove to their partners, and more importantly themselves, that they’re good enough. With this in mind, research has found that men who are insecure in their relationships are more likely to cheat, as noted in a study in the Journal of Family Psychology.
In other words, because of a man’s insecurities, lack of confidence, and underlying fears that he’s not good enough, he ends up looking for reassurance and affirmations of self-worth from others, both in and out of his relationship. In fact, an insecure man may be so worried about the state of his relationship that his fear of losing his partner can actually induce him to cheat, which in essence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In a word, his lack of confidence ends up destroying the very foundation of the relationship he’s worried about losing.
6. He’s an egomaniac
On the flip side, while insecure men are likely to cheat, so too are men with an overblown sense of importance and self-worth. Specifically, egomaniacs believe that the entire world revolves around them, and not only do they think that they’re incredibly attractive, smart, successful, and talented, but they’ll be the first ones to tell you that. And when looking at egomaniacs in terms of infidelity, it’s interesting to note that their inordinately inflated sense of self in conjunction with their desire to be the focus of attention makes them likely candidates to cheat on their partner.
In one study, research in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that married men who are sexual narcissists, meaning that they only care about their own physical needs and lack any real concern or interest in their partner’s wants and desires, are more likely to have affairs. In other words, narcissistic and self-aggrandizing men who believe their needs should always take precedence over the needs of others are more likely to seek satisfaction, praise, and attention outside of their relationship.
7. His father was a cheater
When looking at the real reasons why men cheat, there’s also evidence that cheating can run in the family. Specifically, cheating can actually be a learned behavior that boys pick up during childhood. In fact, it’s been shown that men are more likely to cheat if their fathers were cheaters, as noted in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. This is due to the fact that during childhood, men look to their fathers as examples and role models of what behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors aren’t. And when they see their father cheat, this type of behavior is ingrained into their own minds and becomes normalized as a way to deal with certain circumstances and relationship issues.
To that end, the example set by their fathers is how young boys learn to deal with many different situations, and they’ll likely mimic their father’s behavior in the future because it’s all they know. It’s also interesting to note that women in this study were not more likely to cheat if their fathers were cheaters, which highlights just how important a father’s role is in terms of shaping the future actions of his son.
8. His friends are cheaters
But the powerful role that friendship can play regarding a man’s propensity to cheat doesn’t stop there, as his friends can also highly influence his future behavior and rational decision-making. Along these lines, a study in the Journal of Consumer Research revealed a person’s friends can heavily impact his or her decision to give in to temptation, as friends are more likely to band together when they decide to act impulsively and irrationally. In other words, there’s power in numbers, and if your man surrounds himself with friends who make poor decisions, such as being unfaithful, he’s more likely to make similarly poor decisions due to their influence.
9. He’s being cheated on
An additional reason why men cheat is simply due to the fact that their partner is cheating on them. And under this kind of distressing circumstance, many men look outside of their relationship as a way to seek revenge and get back at their partner for committing this offense against them. In addition, these men also start affairs in order to regain a sense of power and control after being the victim of infidelity. It’s also been shown that men who are being cheated on engaging in their own indiscretions as a way to distract themselves from the pain, betrayal, shame, and/or anger that they may feel because of their cheating partner. And starting an affair can help them refocus their energy and divert their attention away from their partner’s hurtful actions.
However, for many men, this approach is typically not the best course of action when dealing with a cheating partner because it can actually make them feel worse about themselves and the situation in general. After all, men who start an affair in reaction to their partner’s affair often end up undercutting their self-esteem even more by engaging in behaviors that go against their personal values, ethics, and morals.
10. He’s worried about his sexual performance
While it may seem counter-intuitive, men who have anxiety about their sexual abilities are actually more likely to cheat on their partner. In fact, researchers from Indiana University’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion, The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, as well as the University of Guelph in Ontario found that men who had sexual performance issues had a greater likelihood of being unfaithful.
One explanation for this seemingly conflicting result is that men are less inhibited when they’re with someone who isn’t their partner, and they tend to feel less nervous, worried, and concerned about their performance with this new person. Along these lines, another explanation is that cheating provides men with the opportunity to be with someone who isn’t aware of their past sexual performance issues, and being with this new person can actually help to lower the pressure to perform and please this new person. It’s also thought that men with sexual performance problems cheat in order to help themselves overcome these sexual issues in an environment that’s free of the judgment, ridicule, and/or embarrassment they may feel when they’re with their partner.
11. He’s feeling depressed or anxious.
Everyone experiences 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, a New York-based relationship therapist and professor of 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.
12. Evolution is to blame.
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 woman wants to find one mate “lock him down.” We’re writers, not evolutionary psychologists, and cannot possibly hope to speak about the truth of that thinking, so 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.”
13. He has potential psychopathic tendencies.
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.
14. He’s addicted to sex.
“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.”
15. Poor judgment and willpower are at fault.
“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 happy hour with that cute new associate 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.”
Where Do We Go from Here?
Interestingly, after working with hundreds of couples attempting to process and overcome a male (or female) partner’s cheating, it is clear to me that it’s not any specific sexual act that does the most damage to a committed relationship. It’s the ongoing pattern of secrets and lies that surrounds the cheating that causes a loving partner the most pain. The profound and repeated betrayal of relationship trust causes the most pain. And most cheated-on partners will agree that their feelings of being betrayed are just as profound when a loved one is giving himself away online as when there is alive, in-vivo affair.
Sadly, most men (and women) who choose to break a vow of monogamy to an intimate partner don’t realize the profound effects their behavior can have on that loved one. One important recent study found that the wives of men who’ve discovered a pattern of infidelity in their partners often experience acute stress symptoms similar to those found in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Unsurprisingly, the emotional damage caused by infidelity can be difficult to overcome, even with the help of an experienced marriage or couples counselor. That said if both partners are committed to behavior change and healing, most relationships can be saved, even strengthened, after and despite an affair. For some wives and spouses, however, the repeated violation of trust is too much; they are unable to experience the necessary emotional safety required to rebuild a relationship and move on. In such cases, solid, neutral relationship therapy can help to help negotiate a break-up, offering direction for both individuals to move on with their lives.