The Most Surprising Reason People Cheat, According To Research

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couple having argument

Ask a friend, co-worker, or even your current partner if they’ve ever cheated on someone before. Go on, we’ll wait.

Chances are, they’ll say, “No way!” Chances also are… they’re lying.

The truth of the matter is, cheating is way more common than you’d think. Just how common? We’re glad you asked — because we were curious too.

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“We were very eager to survey a large population to learn more about how people feel about cheating, non-monogamy, and sexual and emotional fulfillment in their relationships,” says Andrea Miller, CEO of YourTango and author of Radical Acceptance: The Secret To Happy, Lasting Love.

In partnership with Ashley Madison, in 2017, we surveyed over 1,300 people to get a look at the current state of relationships and marriage around the world — and what we learned is truly fascinating.

For example, the survey revealed that 64 percent of people have been cheated on. Yes, you read that right: almost two-thirds of people have experienced an unfaithful partner at one point or another.

So, what’s the deal? Why do people cheat?

If you’re one of the 64 percent who’s ever been cheated on, it’s likely that the first question that ran through your head when you found out is, “Why?”

According to the survey, 51 percent of respondents think people cheat for rather superficial reasons: because they want more sex or simply find cheating exciting. However, the real reason people cheat is a little more complicated than that.

Of course, there’s no denying the sexual aspect of it.

The survey results show that 65 percent of people agree that mutually satisfying sex is very important to a relationship — no shock there. But here’s where it gets interesting. According to the survey, 85 percent of respondents, in an ideal relationship, they’d have sex multiple times a week. However, only 38 percent of them actually do.

Whoa! That’s a major disconnect, and means a LOT of people are currently in relationships and marriages they’d consider unsatisfactory.

But the reason people cheat goes even deeper than sex.

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Though sex is an awesome added bonus in relationships, it’s the emotional connection that really matters — especially when it comes to taking the next step and entering into marriage. Unfortunately, the survey shows that only 49 percent of people are emotionally fulfilled in their current relationships.

In fact, when relationship expert Charles J. Orlando tried Ashley Madison himself in an attempt to learn why women cheat, his dates with married women revealed a common theme: complacency and a lack of attention from spouses.

Survey respondents echoed this sentiment. When asked why they have cheated (or would in the future), the majority of answers were strikingly similar:

I’m emotionally and physically unsatisfied. I’m looking for the passion that is missing that I believe is driving the lack of physical satisfaction.

I don't feel valued at ALL, I'm SO lonely, we never have sex anymore, and we never talk — he used to be my best friend ever.

If I am not experiencing physical intimacy in a relationship, I will have a physical affair. If I am not experiencing emotional intimacy in a relationship, I will have an emotional affair. 

In other words, a significant number of relationships and marriages are missing that crucial emotional connection.

“We’re the premier source for married dating and we hear firsthand the reasons our members stray. What we find is that just because someone cheats, it doesn’t mean they are in an unhappy marriage altogether. It sometimes means they seek out that one missing component, be it intimacy or excitement, and they don’t want to abandon an otherwise satisfying relationship," says Paul Keable, VP of Communications at Ashley Madison.

According to the survey, 25 percent of people are not sexually fulfilled in their relationship, and a further 27 percent aren’t emotionally fulfilled.

This explains why cheating is so common.

So many of us value both a physical and emotional connection in our relationships — yet at the same time, so many of us aren’t having that need met. That leaves a lot of relationships unstable and susceptible to straying.

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The survey revealed that 41 percent of people have cheated on their partners, and 38 percent would like to. What’s more, 52 percent of people believe their partner would cheat as well.

Further, in the internet age, dating while married and seeking out solutions to the missing elements in our relationships is easier than ever. In a 2015 study, British researchers found that technology has made infidelity easier for a number of reasons. “With the Internet and social media now being part of everyday life in the Western world, there are growing opportunities for partners to engage in online behaviors and activities that may be considered unfaithful in the context of a committed relationship,” said researchers.

Enter: married dating. A niche subset of dating for sure, but important nonetheless. When more mainstream dating sites often expose those looking to supplement their current relationships to harsh judgment, sites like Ashley Madison offer a ‘safe space’ where they’re surrounded by like-minded people.

Here’s the good news: people don’t cheat because they dislike their husband or wife.

In fact, as contradictory as it may sound, the survey revealed that 40 percent of respondents believe people cheat because they do love their partner — they just aren’t getting either the emotional or sexual fulfillment they need.

"Many of our members say our site has actually saved their marriage. Cheating doesn’t have to signal the end of a relationship. It’s not a matter of being faithful means you’re choosing to stay in the relationship and being unfaithful means you’re giving up on it. It’s not a binary choice. Sometimes cheating can just fulfill a need, and when it’s discreet, it could be beneficial to a marriage in the long run," says Keable. 

It makes sense, then, as to why married dating sites like Ashley Madison are more popular than ever. We all want that emotional and sexual fulfillment in our relationships, which something as simple as chatting with someone on the Internet who genuinely seems to care can offer.

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Micki Spollen is a YourTango ​editor and entertainment news writer. She also runs the travel blog Where In The World Is My Drink.