Why do People have an Affair?

Affairs & Infidelity & Cheating

When your partner has had an affair the first question that pops up is 'WHY'?? Where did we go wrong?? Why did he or she cheat on me??

The reasons given for the development of the affair can come out in therapy, as it progresses, but may not be evident in the first pronouncements.

Main reasons given by the unfaithful partner include:

  • Feelings of entitlement/one deserves to be happy
  • Sexual novelty
  • A need for intimacy
  • A need for variety
  • Decreasing the pressure of intimacy in the primary relationship
  • Falling in love
  • The marriage/relationship has been bad for a long time
  • Their spouse is no longer attractive
  • To prove they are still young and still got it

A factor analysis study of 300 middle class, educated individuals concluded there seem to be 4 types of justifications involved in having an affair:

  1. A Sexual Factor - including novelty, curiosity and excitement
  2. An Emotional Factor - involving understanding, companionship and enhancement of self-esteem
  3. An Extrinsic Motivation - including reasons such as career advancement and getting even with a spouse
  4. A Love Dimension - including falling in love, getting affection

Reference: Wright (1992)

Gender Differences?

Several studies have found the following gender differences around affairs.

Some of these findings include:

  • Most men seem to be more approving of affairs for sexual reasons, whereas most women seem to be more approving of affairs that have an emotional justification.
  • Men tend to engage in extramarital affairs more frequently, starting earlier in marriage and having more partners than women
  • Women are more likely to have extramarital emotional affairs without sex than men
  • Men usually do not seek intimacy in an affair; they are likely seeking sex and excitement. For many men it also tends to decrease the pressure they feel in the intimacy of the primary relationship
  • Women who are satisfied sexually in their marriage are less likely to have an affair, but men tend to cheat despite the quality of marital sex
  • A woman revealing an affair to her husband is usually tantamount to ending the marriage. This might be, because men see their affairs as based on sex, whereas women indicate more often that there is a serious emotional involvement, hence more likely to be a serious relationship.

References: Glass and Wright (1992), Lawson (1990), Pittman (1989).


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