Is Thinking About Someone Else Enough To Make You More Likely To Cheat? Data Says Yes

Don't let thoughts about another rock your relationship boat.

Woman daydreaming Kendrick Mills, Jayson Heinrichsen | Unsplash 

Most people would be shocked or feel guilty if told they might be cheating by keeping a secret attraction in a committed relationship. The same people might not consider a wandering mind as a slippery slope to cheating.

You may have strolled down memory lane to reminisce about a cozy coffee date with an old lover. You replay an unexpected meeting at the water cooler or fixate on a captivating face from your time on Bumble.


A recent study, “Romantic alternative monitoring increases ahead of infidelity and break-up,” found that the participants who split up or were unfaithful thought more about other partnering options than those who stayed. This study reminds us of something we already know.

Ruminating is the first step toward actions that will rock the relationship boat.

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What one study found about how thoughts relate to cheating behaviors

1. Your thoughts are the foundation for what you do.

Your reality is created by your thoughts. Those thoughts influence how you feel and what you do.


Monique's story.

Although living the dream of a beautiful home, a dashing husband, and two cherished children, Monique was thrilled to leave them behind for a short while.

At a destination wedding as chief bridesmaid to her best friend, Monique met carefree Chris, the exact opposite of her hardworking husband. The contrast between the two men ignited a spark that led to a comparison of boring and responsible Adam and lively, fun-loving Chris.

Adam known for his fondness of spreadsheets and manicured lawns was no match for Chris, who referenced exotic vacation places, Michelin-starred restaurants, and early morning swims.

Adam sensed change when Monique returned and pressed for a revival of the counseling appointments. He listened and understood her need for a more relaxed, carefree lifestyle with less savings, more fun, and excitement. The couple recommitted as he made significant changes to please and support her.


To their credit, the changes were positive and consistent with one invisible hitch. Monique’s inner world echoed, "Chris, Chris Chris".

Her focus had left Adam behind while she carried Chris to the kitchen, living room, and bedroom in her thoughts, images, and desires. When she reconnected with Chris, their relationship bloomed, the foundation having been laid in her mind long before.

As dawn follows night, your words and actions follow your thoughts. Although few awaken with the conviction, “Today is the day I will cheat,” engaging unfaithfully with someone who has occupied time and space in your mind is a natural progression.

The foremost therapeutic intervention practiced in modern psychotherapy is based on this single fact. Thoughts lead to feelings and behavior.


woman with finger to lips about to hug a man

Photo via Getty

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2. Thoughts arouse emotion and inspire behavior

The idea your thoughts lead to the arousal of emotions and subsequent behavior did not begin with Dr. Aaron Beck, but this influential Psychologist expanded his observations into the most well-researched and respected therapy, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).


Dr. Beck’s work was so authoritative that CBT is credited as the foremost therapeutic approach for changing mindset. In other words, direct your thoughts positively towards your partner and enjoy a renewal of tender feelings and exciting date nights, or redirect to someone else and your feelings will trail.

So foundational is the connection between thoughts and behavior that this truth has been handed down from other cultures, centuries, and economies. It is quoted in the Bible, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he”, and by Gautama Buddha (500 BC), who said, “What you think you become”.

The wiring of the brain predicts that someone else occupying the real estate of your thoughts will likely result in cheating.

3. Neurons that fire together wire together.

A neuron looks like a little tree with tiny hair-like branches, and each thought moves from one branch to a neighboring branch as electrical and chemical messages. As each thought is transmitted, it becomes hardwired or more real in our minds.


So when Monique consistently thought about Chris, the dimple in his smile, when he twice called her “Moni the beautiful,” neurons fired together, and her positive thoughts became so real, it was as if he were there. Although she barely knew Chris, she created a mental bond and rapport.

Soon, it was impossible to see anything attractive about Adam or negative about Chris. Such is the power of neurons firing. The thoughts you repeatedly think are those that persist. Or, in the words of the famous Canadian Psychologist Donald Hebb, “Neurons that fire together wire together”.

Neuroscience teaches that we have a responsive brain, and the more we think about something or rehearse an experience, the more neurons fire in the direction of our thoughts. In other words, the person you think about positively and repeatedly will soon be the object of your desire and the one you want.

Since we will pursue desired objects, it is almost certain we will seek out and create situations amenable to meeting and cheating.


4. Your thoughts are reinforced when accompanied by a visual.

Your thoughts are accompanied by a mental image that reinforces them, and more vivid images, or explicit thoughts are reinforced more easily. Imagine driving to an empty home after a long day's work and the vacuum cleaner waits by the door, the dishes scream from the sink.

You are not yet home, but your mood dips, and you barely have the energy to turn the key in the lock or the will to hip-check the door open. This experience is so real your insides scream “No”. However, in a scenario of the same long day with a visual of a clean house and a smiling beau, you have the energy and smile for a few tasks.

Your thoughts of someone else, accompanied by a supporting visual of a tender moment, will supercharge your feelings and actions.



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5. The brain is a goal seeker.

One significant way you are motivated to action is by the happy hormone dopamine, which drives you to do things that feel good. If you haven't guessed, thinking about someone else will result in a rush of dopamine, and as the hormone makes its way through the neurons and receptors in your brain, you are convinced a reward is imminent. This is just another way that thinking about someone makes you more likely to cheat.   


Cheating is a complex issue influenced by various factors, such as disconnection and unresolved issues. And since most agree infidelity is a boundary line not to be crossed, an ideal way to cheat-proof your relationship begins with a discussion about your values on the subject. Explore your significant other’s opinions about an emotional connection or a kiss and ask if infidelity is limited to sexual contact.


If you have decided to be faithful and build trust and security together, you will benefit from further conversation to address the pain points of the relationship. But before moving on from the subject of infidelity, consider any other forms of trust-breaking and risk-taking that may have crept in unawares.

Thoughts alone don't determine that you will cheat. If you notice the new bad habit of fantasizing about someone other than your significant other, you have a decision. You either halt the pattern or end your relationship by default of cheating or creating an ambivalent mind that alternates between your choices.


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Reta Faye Walker is a therapist who specializes in healing relationships. She offers one-on-one sessions, couples retreats, and courses to help couples get back on track.