When people talk about cheating, it’s often in the context of men cheating. There’s a cultural expectation that men will seek out female attention, but that women won’t do the same.
But women still do cheat — so what makes a woman cheat in a relationship? Therapists, relationship gurus, and divorce attorneys alike all have their theories when it comes to the reasons that women are unfaithful to their partners.
Even more interesting is the fact that while most people agree that cheating is wrong, it’s still a pretty common occurrence. According to a recent Gallup poll, an astounding 94% of the population agreed that cheating is wrong. And yet, it’s still happening on the regular. A study done on newlywed couples found that 20% of married women are unfaithful.And keep in mind, these are newlyweds. I mean, what reasons could a person possibly have to cheat on their partner when they’re still riding high on the honeymoon phase?
Well, glad you asked. A study done by the Archives of Sexual Behaviorfound that being unhappy tops the list of reasons for infidelity. But when it comes to the root of that unhappiness, there are a wide range of catalysts, and every scenario is different. Is it due to lack of communication? Jealousy? Problems in the bedroom? And if things are so bad, why not just call it quits instead of cheating with someone else?
To get to the bottom of each of those questions, I asked a few women to explain the reasons behind their decision to cheat — and had relationship experts provide some much needed insight on each scenario. Here are their stories of infidelity, why they happened and what steps you can take to ensure that it doesn’t happen to you.
1. Feeling Undervalued
“My (now ex) boyfriend and I decided to move in together during the last year of his Ph.D. program, which was also my final year of law school,” says Dana, 29. “We thought it would be a good thing, since neither of us had much free time to see each other, living together just seemed like the best solution. Plus, it helped us save money on rent. But instead of bringing us closer together, it actually hurt our relationship. It didn’t even feel like we were dating anymore. We’d both just come home and crash. I had no one to talk to about how my day was, or what was going on with me. Then one of my professors started to take an interest in me. It was innocent at first, I’d just stay after class and we’d make small talk. But then I let it go further.”
For a woman, one of the biggest gateway drugs to having an affair is feeling like she’s not appreciated. “In my experience over the years, I can say that women tend to cheat in intimate relationships when they no longer feel valued.” says mental health counselor Stacey Brown. “This can mean different things for different people, of course, but generally speaking, if a woman does not feel heard by her partner, or if a woman feels dismissed or ignored by her partner, the woman tends to be more open to outside solicitation.” Brown also states that, just like in the situation above, the cheating usually happens with the first person who comes along and fills that void. “If she is feeling lonely and is not feeling connected in the relationship, but someone else shows an interest, particularly in the area of listening to her or being empathetic or demonstrating that she is valued, then she is more likely to cheat.”
2. Wanting To Explore Other Options
“My longest relationship spanned over the better part of five years, through the end of high school and most of college,” says Hannah, 25. “I cheated on him pretty regularly. I just wanted to experience what it was like with other guys, but I didn’t want to break up with him in order to do it. I knew it was wrong, and I felt bad, but for a long time I really thought that I was going to marry this guy, and marriage is, well, forever. I felt like I had been cheated out of experiencing what it was like to be single, but I didn’t want to lose him in order to experiment, if that makes any sense. Spoiler: We didn’t get married. Which is probably for the best.”
Marriage and family therapist Nicole Richardson says that this isn’t just something that exclusively affects high school sweethearts. That itch to explore other options can happen at any stage in life, and women in particular start to feel drawn toward drastically changing up their relationship norms. “Women who want a walk on the wild side go astray,” she says. “There are a lot of women that don’t want to leave their relationships because there are aspects of their relationship that serve their lifestyle or fit the image they want to present,” she explains, “but an affair can offer the validation or excitement they are seeking.” In short, it’s not a bad idea to give into your lady’s requests to shake things up from time to time.
3. Being Mistreated
“I was once in a relationship that started off so well, but by the end of it he did everything in his power to make me feel like I couldn’t do anything right,” says Leslie, 31. “If I didn’t cook dinner, he told me I was lazy and useless. If I cooked dinner, he’d tell me that he wished I would’ve just ordered in because I was so bad at it. I’d try to do him a favor by cleaning up around his place when I’d stay over, but then he’d accuse me of thinking he was a slob, or a man child. All of a sudden there’d be words in my mouth when really all I had intended to do was something nice for him. He went away to visit his family one weekend, and I went to a friend’s party. There was a guy there who complimented the cupcakes I had made, and told me that I was an excellent ‘pastry chef,’ and that he was sure that I made some guy really happy. I almost started to cry. We slept together that night. I broke up with that awful boyfriend the next day.”
Particularly in long-term, high stakes relationships (ie: matrimony), there’s a level of mistreatment that inevitably starts to occur. Typically the smaller scale, taking your partner for granted type of mistreatment. But according to relationship and sex psychotherapist Dr. Fran Walfish, the longer it goes on and the more prominent it becomes in the relationship, the higher the chances are that a woman will cheat. “Women cheat when they have sustained long periods of mistreatment in the relationship,” she says. “These cases of cheating lack the healthy communication skills necessary to talk about the problems and issues underlying within the relationship that, if dealt with directly, could avoid infidelity.”
4. Because The Relationship Is On Its Way Out
“I was in a long distance relationship and things were on the rocks,” says Brooke, 26. “We saw each other once every month, and our level of trust was just shot to hell. Whenever I’d be out with friends he’d ask me what guys were there, and if there were any male friends of friends who weren’t paired up with my other girlfriends he’d get upset. Then when that kind of situation did happen, I wouldn’t hear from him the whole next day as his way of getting back at me. Basically, I knew that it was going to end. But I wanted to do it in person, because we had been friends for a long time before we started dating, and I felt like I at least owed that to him. And then a new co-worker at my job and I started hanging out after work, and I just thought, what the hell. It’s about to be over anyway.”
Relationship expert April Masini says that once women sense that their relationship is headed for splitsville, they’re more likely to seek out someone to cheat with. “Women cheat because their primary relationship is ending,” she says. “Subconsciously, they’re trying to avoid the reality of the relationship ending by distracting the relationship with drama that comes from cheating. Lots of people don’t want to face unpleasant realities so they create drama in order to help themselves from doing so. Cheating can fall into the category of distraction.” So if you’re prolonging the inevitable, might as well do both of you a favor and call it quits.
5. Having Unrealistic Expectations
“I cheated on my high school sweetheart after 10 years of being together,” says Britt, 28. “We met when we were really young, and I expected him to go to college like everyone else after we graduated from high school, to get a job and settle down. He didn’t do any of that. He failed out of college, bounced around from job to job, and it really wore on our relationship. I felt like he and I barely had anything in common anymore. I cheated on him with one of my old college classmates who I had kept in touch with, but we stayed together for a little bit longer after that.”
According to couples coach Lesli Doares, when a woman expects something of the guy she’s dating that he can’t deliver on, she’ll often try and compensate for that shortcoming with someone else. “[People can] hold unrealistic expectations of what a relationship should look like,” she says, “and when the one they’re in falls short, they get involved in another one. They hope this one will turn out better, and for a while it is.” Aside from being upfront about who you are and what you’re not, there’s not much to do in the way of avoiding this one. But if you do find yourself in this situation, you should probably ask yourself, do you want to be dating someone who sets you up to meet unattainable expectations?
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