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July 20, 2020

Why Couples Cheat In Relationships?

Infidelity—or cheating—is a very common concern among people in monogamous or exclusive relationships. After all, it has been estimated that up to 36% of American adults have been cheated on by a partner in the past. Before we discuss why people cheat in their relationships, it’s important to define what constitutes cheating in the first place.

The truth is, what makes a person unfaithful to their partner means something different for each of us. For some, activities such as watching pornography alone or masturbating alone could be viewed as unfaithful behavior. For others, cheating could refer to dressing to attract the sexual attention of others, receiving close emotional support by someone else of their desired gender, or kissing someone on the cheek. Many might not view these behaviors or actions as unfaithful, instead seeing actions such as sexting, flirting, browsing dating profiles, or masturbating over a webcam with another person as cheating. Despite these differences of opinion, the vast majority of Americans agree that engaging in any sexual activity (kissing, sexual touch, giving or receiving oral sex, vaginal or anal intercourse) would be viewed as definitely cheating.

Because most couples just assume that they’re in an exclusive relationship without talking about it with their partners, we probably don’t even have a sense of how our partner even defines infidelity. That’s bound to result in some conflict! The solution? Have a chat about it with your partner: where’s the line for them? Where’s the line for you?

Whose relationship is at risk?

The short and uncomfortable answer is, anyone could cheat or be cheated on. The long answer is, researchers have determined that there are some traits that are more commonly associated with cheating. First, couples who are less committed to one another are more likely to experience infidelity; which means that married couples are least at-risk compared to couples are who merely dating or dating and living together. However, commitment aside, there are also important behaviors to look out for. The primary behavior is communication: couples who are unable to have difficult conversations needed to maintain, repair, or end their relationship—or couples who use invalidating and negative communication styles are most likely to cheat. Second, partners who do not feel validated or appreciated by their partners are more likely to seek validation elsewhere. The other most important factor is situational: those who encounter or put themselves in more risky “slippery slope” situations (spending extensive time away from partner, having close relationships with possible partners such as friends or coworkers, drinking or taking drugs to lower inhibitions) are at greater risk for cheating.

If we put together the individual risks (e.g., feeling neglected or rejected by partner; wanting reassurance) and the risks at the relationship level (e.g., poor and reduced communication, deteriorating sex life, avoidance of conflict), they will combine to make infidelity far more likely if either partner encounters or creates opportunities to be sexually or emotionally close with others.

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