Why Do Happily Married Men Cheat?

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

Originally Published: 
A man and woman in their underwear in bed, about to kiss.

Men cheat more than women. While this may come as cold comfort to women scorned, it is important to note that, psychologically speaking, most men don’t engage in cheating with the same intention as women. Male cheaters, specifically repeat cheaters, tend to be opportunistic and capable of emotional compartmentalization. So, why do married men cheat on their wives?

It’s not possible to say as a whole since every relationship, and man, is different. Some married men may be promiscuous because they’re unsatisfied, sure. But, as a rule, men don’t cheat because they’re unhappy. Men cheat because they think they can get away with it, and, perhaps more importantly, because they’re willing to let themselves get away with it. It’s also interesting to note that, strangely, cheating is 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.

“Men 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,” says Robert Weiss, Ph.D., 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 bad at repairing the damage done by cheating. It makes sense that men severely underestimate how devastating their behavior might be to their partner, considering that the sex meant little to them and was simply available. 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% of men admit to cheating, compared to 13% of women, according to the General Social Survey. Estimates suggest around 10% of expecting fathers cheat on their pregnant wives. 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 than when his partner’s interest is declining. While women tend to cheat up, bedding potentially more suitable mates, men cheat down and all around.

Healthy men who occasionally cheat on their partners are not pathological. Chronic cheaters pursue infidelity because of deep-rooted attachment disorders and sex addictions, but healthier men cheat out of immaturity. “Most men fall somewhere in the middle between being absolutely faithful and having cheated once, realizing it was immature and learning from it,” Weiss says.

Most men don’t need to cheat to understand the hurt it may cause to their partner — that can be accomplished through continued communication about trust, intimacy, and opportunities for temptation as they arise.

Weiss recalls one man who came to him in a counseling session expressing his urge to cheat on his wife with a colleague. He advised the man 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. “A mature person keeps their partner in mind wherever they are,” Weiss says.

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