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Why Do Happily Married Men Cheat on the Wives They Love?

Men often underestimate the emotional ramifications of their actions. Women often underestimate the shallowness of men.

Men cheat more than women. It may come as cold comfort to women scorned, but they don’t seem to do so with the same intention as women. Cheaters, specifically repeat cheaters, tend to be opportunistic and capable of emotional compartmentalization. Some men may cheat because they are unsatisfied, but, as a rule, men don’t cheat because they are unhappy. Men cheat because they think they can get away with it and because they’re willing to let themselves get away with it. Cheating is, strangely, a behavior that can make it hard to be a good father and husband, but also a behavior that isn’t actually correlated with familial love or care.

“They think, well, I just did this but in every other way I’m reliable, I’m responsible, I’m committed, I show up, I’m a really good guy. It’s just the cheating,” Robert Weiss, a therapist and author of Out of the Doghouse: A Step-by-Step Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating. “What they don’t understand is that women don’t think that way.”

In his experience counseling couples who’ve been devastated by infidelity, Weiss has found that despite being stereotypically seen as good at fixing things, men are almost universally terrible at repairing the damage done by cheating. Because the sex didn’t mean much to them and was simply available, they severely underestimate how devastating their behavior might be to their partner. For men who don’t come clean or get caught, repeat offenses are the product of the same mentality: It’s just sex.

Approximately 20 percent of men admit to cheating, compared to 13 percent of women, according to the General Social Survey. Fathers may cheat more. Estimates suggest around 10 percent of expecting fathers cheat on their pregnant wives, and there’s reason to believe a man’s resistance to temptation is stronger when he’s newly married and having a bunch of sex in the kitchen in front of his new appliances then when his partner’s interest is declining. While women tend to cheat up, bedding potentially more suitable mates, men cheat down and all around

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Unlike men who cheat chronically as a result of deeper-rooted attachment disorders and sex addictions, healthy men who cheat occasionally are not pathological, they’re immature, Weiss says, adding, “Most men fall somewhere in the middle between being absolutely faithful and having cheated once, realizing it was immature and learning from it.”

The good news is that most men don’t need to cheat to understand the hurt it may cause to their partner — that can be accomplished through healthy, and more important, continued communication about trust, intimacy, and opportunities for temptation as they arise.

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Weiss recalls one man who came to him in a counseling session expressing the urge to cheat with a colleague, and he advised him to treat his marriage as a contract. If he wanted to have sex with another person, he’d need to discuss it with his wife first in order to renegotiate terms. When he did, he saw the pain it would cause her before doing it, rather than retroactively — and guess what? He never cheated. To Weiss, only that level of maturity and consideration can keep men from cheating.

“To be able to put your spouse so fully out of mind that you can do something that you know would hurt them and you do it anyway. A mature person keeps their partner in mind wherever they are.”