Why Men and Women Cheat

Even if you put aside the question of whether (or not) monogamy is a natural state for human beings, anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of married partners (depending on the study) who promise fidelity to a spouse admit to doing the opposite (at some point in their married lives). Researchers say that the average length of an affair is less than one week, but the result is often weeks, months, or years of emotional trauma and conflict for the marriage. Trust is very hard to re-establish once it's lost. So why do people risk all that they hold dear for a short-term thrill?


Some couples, but not all, view emotional infidelity — where a spouse develops a close friendship with another member of the opposite sex — as a serious threat to their marriage. Those couples who hold this view see emotional intimacy as a likely precursor to sexual infidelity, and so they believe it should be avoided. If the emotional liaison has already occurred, they want it confessed to and stopped.

He Cheats

Every study on the subject of marital infidelity shows that a married man cheats only somewhat more often than a married woman — he just does it differently. A man tends to go outside his marriage because he wants more sex or more sexual variety. Men have more one-night stands than women, and they seem to have an easier time separating infidelity from whatever problems they face at home. They are more likely to have several extramarital affairs whereas women tend to stray once. Men also tend to have briefer liaisons. However, according to psychologist William F. Harley, author of His Needs, Her Needs, if a man forms a long-term extramarital attachment, he will often find it harder (than a woman in the same situation) to let go of the other person — even if the relationship with his wife improves.

She Cheats

A woman who goes outside her marriage is far more likely than a straying man to be searching for emotional attention, or reassurance of her desirability to the opposite sex. A woman is also more likely to fall in love with the man with whom she has an affair and more frequently considers leaving her marriage because of an affair. When women cheat, they tend to view the infidelity as a symptom of deeper problems in their marriage. However, again according to William Harley, if a woman's marriage improves, meaning her husband begins to provide the emotional sustenance she went outside the marriage to find, she has an easier time letting go of her outside lover and returning her full attention to the marriage.


Research shows that only 20 to 27 percent of divorces are attributable to an extramarital affair. The more common reason given is “growing apart emotionally” and when one “did not feel loved or appreciated.”

They Cheat

Although there are differences between men and women's conduct of and reasons for having extramarital affairs, there are also some significant similarities. Interestingly, the majority of men and women who admitted to cheating believed their behavior to be morally wrong, although more men rationalized their behavior saying their wives had stopped wanting sex. Both men and women are capable of using cheating as a form of revenge — for instance, he gets back at her for having an affair by initiating his own. As to where most affairs originate, with so many more men and women now working side by side, it probably comes as no surprise that office romances have become the most common type of extramarital affairs.

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