Why Do People Cheat?

Cheating has existed throughout history, in most cultures. However, the nature of cheating has changed in our modern day world. We have more opportunities to cheat, and we live in a culture of disconnection and instant gratification. Some people remain faithful to their partners, and others stray. 

The question is, why do people cheat?

Chances are, you already know most of the surface level reasons that explain why people cheat…that it stems from the typical, unhappy, sexless marriage, the coworker affair, the business trip “opportunity,” the emotional affair with a “friend.”

There’s also the whole argument that humans aren’t meant to be monogamous. Or the one about raging hormones like testosterone and oxytocin that make us lose our senses and act on impulse to stray… Or the mac daddy of all cheating opportunities…the internet. The modern day virtual buffet of porn, chat rooms, flirtation, and dates. The instant gratification of the internet has become a breeding ground for infidelity and sex addiction. Yes, the opportunities to cheat are endless. But what is the real reason for cheating?

The truth is, people cheat because they want intimacy…but they have no idea how to handle intimacy. 

Cheating is protection from the vulnerability of intimacy. We live in a society that teaches us many ways to disconnect and avoid intimacy, emotionally, sexually, physically, and socially. Many of us are taught that sex is shameful from a young age as well, so our sexual desires become repressed and sometimes embarrassing to discuss. For some, it can be easier to have sex with a stranger than to risk being seen by an intimate partner.

Combine the shame of sex, with the avoidance of intimacy, and cheating becomes a perfect distraction from the discomfort of vulnerability that comes with exploring your feelings and desires with a partner. 

Cheating protects us from vulnerability. 

The emotional or physical rush from cheating is a great drug to numb the vulnerability that comes with intimacy or self-reflection. It serves as a way to avoid a deep, intimate connection with another human being, and ultimately, an intimate connection within yourself. It creates a “safe” emotional distance between two partners, and it also allows a person to ignore deeper emotional pain, like feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, low self-esteem, or sexual shame.

Cheating is the great avoider. 

The problem is, cheating is like applying a bandaid to a wound that needs a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. Cheating may be liberating to someone who is afraid to be truly open with a partner because it relieves the immediate pressure to be vulnerable with that partner. But living in this way leaves most people feeling empty and disconnected from themselves and others in the long run. To experience the satisfaction of true love, we must allow vulnerability in order to build trust.

Cheating is a practice of instant gratification that whispers fulfillment, but later screams starvation. 

It leaves a person hungry for that which they truly seek, which is usually love, connection, acceptance, and a feeling of significance. Americans don’t like to wait. We have become so accustomed to getting what we want, when we want it, that our brains struggle with the patience required to live through the highs and lows of a relationship. To find happiness in a relationship, it requires two partners to push through the vulnerability and ugliness that can arise between two lovers in order to get to the gifts on the other side. 

The antidote for cheating is intimacy (in-to-me-see).

In-to-me-see. Intimacy is the ability to deeply look within. It is also the ability to deeply look within a partner, and to allow your partner to look deep within you. Cheating is a barrier to intimacy because it prevents transparency, truth, and vulnerability. Intimacy, if given a chance, will provide the freedom and connection a cheater seeks. A healthy, intimate relationship can provide deep healing and a sense of freedom because two people can experience what it feels like to have their strengths and weaknesses exposed and witnessed, and feel deeply loved as authentic human beings. This intimate experience heals many wounds that we carry within us. 

If you struggle with cheating or have been cheated on, dig deep. Try to identify that which you fear, and that from which you are disconnected. It may be your own pain, or it may be that you are fearing the intimacy and vulnerability of deep connection with your partner. Have patience, perseverance, and courage to get to the other side of your fear. It doesn’t mean that some relationships aren’t worth ending, but as long as you’re cheating and avoiding truth, you will never know the answers. Connection with yourself, and connection with your partner can heal your wounds if you learn to lean in to the vulnerability of love instead of fearing it.

Originally published on MeetMindful.com by Chelli Pumphrey.