5 Surprisingly Complicated Reasons Why People Cheat

Photo: Joaquín Corbalán | Canva
Man explaining why he cheated

Although perspectives around cheating seem to be very black-and-white, the reasons why people cheat are not so clear. Many cheaters are seen as horrible people. They are willing to destroy their relationship so that they can be intimate with someone else. Everyone around them is left to wonder why people cheat on people they love.

People who cheat on their partners are commonly seen as degenerates who lack morals and ethics. While straying from a relationship is often a mistake, people who cheat aren’t always individuals of low moral character. They are people whose life experience has set them up for straying. So, why do people cheat on people they love? Here are the 5 surprising reasons why that might help you understand their position. 

RELATED: 3 Harsh Lessons I've Learned By Cheating 6 Times

Here are 5 surprisingly complicated reasons why people cheat:

1. Their parents did it

One of my clients went into her marriage with her eyes wide open. Both of her parents cheated and it destroyed their family. She remembers vividly the yelling and the screaming, the sneaking around, the knowing glances at family parties, and the general feeling of anger and distress that existed in their household. She was determined not to have that happen in her marriage.

However, 10 years in, she found herself miserable. She was trying to accept that her love and intimate life was over and she was struggling with it. And then, one day, she met a man at the bulk-food section in the local natural food store and everything changed. Within months, my client was having an affair with her bulk food guy. They were spending as much time together as they could, talking about things that they cared about and having the most amazing intimacy they had ever had. One day, my client paused and realized that she was doing exactly what her parents had done — and she was mortified. History had repeated itself without her even noticing.

2. They are trying to sabotage their relationship

Many people are stuck in relationships that they hate, relationships that started so well and devolved into chaos. Perhaps, the relationship lacks respect and is full of contempt. Perhaps, the intimacy has dried up. Perhaps, there is nothing but fighting. Perhaps, they hate each other to the extent they can’t even spend a moment with each other.



For many people, these kinds of toxic relationships are untenable but they are also relationships that they just can’t get out of. Whether it’s because they're scared to leave or because they're being controlled by the other person, escaping from this relationship seems impossible. As a result, they see having an affair as an excellent way to sabotage their relationship.

They know that when their person discovers their cheating, they will either kick them out or leave. They know that their person will no longer want to look at them, knowing they have been intimate with someone else. They know that there's no way their relationship will ever survive infidelity. So, instead of facing the issues in their relationship and trying to get out of it healthily, one of the reasons why people cheat is because they think it will help them get out of the toxicity that they are forced to live with every day.

RELATED: 8 Things All Chronic Cheaters Have In Common

3. They're trying to save their relationship

I had a client once whose therapist told her that her affair had helped her marriage. For years, my client did not get the emotional support that she needed from her husband. They were excellent managers of their household, very good parents, their finances were strong, and, generally, they were happy. But, my client was dissatisfied. She knew that something was missing in her marriage, something that her husband just wasn’t able to provide.

When she started having an affair, those emotional needs started to be satisfied. While she thought she would never be able to love or be intimate again, suddenly she was having tremendous amounts of both. While this did fill her with guilt, it also allowed her to get what she needed in her life without leaving her marriage and destroying her family. Cheating as a way to save a relationship is kind of like a wake-up call — if their partner knows that they cheated, they will see all they have to lose and step up to improve the relationship. It seems counterintuitive but it happens. Instead of directly addressing the issues in their relationship, people sometimes cheat, hoping it will fix things. 

4. They are depressed

For people who are depressed, nothing can make them happy. Whether they are chemically depressed (their brain chemistry is off balance) or situationally depressed (things in their life are causing the mood change), people who struggle with depression will go to great lengths to find things that will help them feel better. A client of mine has spent the past year taking care of her dying mother. One day, the father of her son’s friend started talking to her at a hockey game.



Soon they were chatting at every game. Then, they met for coffee. Then, they started going for hikes together. Before they knew it, they were having an affair. For the first time since her mother got sick, my client found herself not depressed. The time she spent with her guy allowed her to get out of her depression, even for a short period, which helped her keep herself afloat while watching her mother die. Understanding that depression is one of the reasons why people cheat can help explain the unexplainable.

RELATED: 'Why I Cheated' — 5 Brave People Reveal The Real Reason They Strayed

5. They have impulse control issues

Right now, you might be thinking, "Yeah, right! Impulse control is no excuse for cheating. I mean, everybody has some sort of impulse control and not everybody cheats." And while this might be the case, many people do have impulse control issues and those issues can prevent them from being able to resist a situation that might give them pleasure. Do you know how some people can’t stop eating sugar, can’t stop drinking coffee, and can’t resist spending thousands on eBay? Who, if presented with a bowl of ice cream or a delicious latte or a handbag on eBay, just can't resist indulging?

This is caused by a lack of impulse control. It's the same as people who cheat. Put a situation in front of them where they might cheat, they will find it hard to resist. Of course, in our society, cheating is worse than alcohol, chocolate, or shopping but the situation is very similar. Often looking to self-medicate, people with impulse control issues will seek anything that they can to fill the hole that they are trying to fill. There are many surprising reasons why people cheat on those they love. 

Of course, there's the standard belief that cheating is all about desire, betrayal, and moral depravity. But, the reasons for cheating are way more complicated than that. It can be hard to break the patterns that your parents taught you. Relationships are complicated and fixing them or leaving them can be difficult. Depression is a very hard thing to manage, as is impulse control. None of these are excuses for cheating but they are causes. And if you can understand the cause of something, you have the opportunity to come up with a fix.

RELATED: The Question Your Partner Might Ask You Right Before They Cheat, According To Research

Mitzi Bockmann is an NYC-based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate who works exclusively with women to help them be all they want to be. Mitzi's bylines have appeared in The Good Men Project, MSN, PopSugar, Prevention, Huffington Post, and Psych Central, among many others.

This article was originally published at Let Your Dreams Begin. Reprinted with permission from the author.