Fears of infidelity hit most marriages at one time or another, however glancingly. It might be anxiety over a perceived emotional betrayal or an unsettling pattern of “micro indiscretions” that social media makes so easy. But those fears are sometimes grounded in reality: Spouses cheat, and cheating spouses are surprisingly predictable in the choices they make. When an unfaithful husband or unfaithful wife decides to cross that line, they don’t step out with just anyone — the vast majority of extramarital relationships happen between people who know each other and are already in the same social orbit.
Men and women who cheat travel well-worn paths to the office, to the gym, to a neighbor’s house, to an opportunistic encounter online, to a former flame. Why these five categories? They all spark temptation and offer opportunity. There may be few definitive signs that a wife is cheating or a husband is having an affair — but once infidelity comes to light, clear patterns and trends emerge. If cheating spouses tend to fall into affairs with the same five types, who are these culprits, which scenarios present the greatest temptation for would-be cheaters, and what can you do?
Meeting a Stranger Online
While spouses are more likely to cheat with someone they already know, social media platforms, dating apps, and other websites have also made it much easier to cheat with strangers too. Whether it’s Ashley Madison, Tinder, Craigslist, or Reddit, all anyone needs to start some extramarital trouble is a decent internet connection. And for people with more impulsive personalities, studies suggest that the Internet can make cheating more than tempting, even downright addictive. “The internet is a rich source of limitless opportunities for stranger sex,” says clinical psychologist Nancy Irwin. As James Sexton, a New York divorce lawyer and the author of If You’re In My Office, Its Already Too Late, put it, “I have so many clients that I represent whose affairs started on Facebook. In my opinion, Facebook is the most toxic website for relationships that’s out there.”
Cheating With a Neighbor
Many extramarital temptations hide in plain sight, namely across the street or next door. Research shows that married people frequently cheat with their neighbors, mostly because infidelity is often motivated by opportunity. Interestingly, data indicates that women cheat with neighbors more than men do, because men are more afraid of getting caught doing it so close to home. However, a majority of men reported that they would not be suspicious of their neighbors having sex with their spouses. This might help to explain why some women do it — because they can.
Reaching Out to an Ex
Social media has not just made it easier for old friends to reconnect. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like have made it that much easier for husbands and wives to reach out to ex–significant others. As much as people may want to believe that they can legitimately be friends with a former lover, marriage and family therapist Talal Alsaleem argues that more often than not it is a result of poor boundaries with an ex. This can compel people to cheat on their way out of a dying relationship.
“Keeping in contact with one’s ex increases the likelihood of cheating with them when things are not working out in their current relationship,” she says. The compulsion to stay friends might even be a symptom of being a psychopath or narcissist, one study found, even when there’s not infidelity involved. Ultimately, it might be best for everyone to resist the urge to catch up over a drink.
Crossing the Line With a Work Colleague
About 36 percent of men and women have cheated with coworkers, according to the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. Mind you, those are just the ones who admit to it. There’s also evidence that the better people are at their jobs, the more likely they are to cheat. Many people spend as much time with people from work as they do with their spouses, and when they develop emotional bonds over shared struggles, boundaries can quickly become blurred. It can start with something as seemingly innocent as jokes about having a “work husband” or “work wife,” Alsaleem warns.
“This allows the coworkers to over-identify with each other’s struggles which, in return, causes them to play the nurturing, supportive role that should be exclusively reserved for their spouse,” Alsaleem says, noting that temptation can increase depending on marriage stressors, relationship satisfaction, and if their careers have them traveling frequently with colleagues. “Business trips makes it easier and more tempting for individuals to cross those boundaries without raising the suspicion of the partner, who assumes that they’re working.”
Hooking Up With Someone at the Gym
Exercise is a great way to maintain physical and mental health, but it may also be a great way to find a hot body to make bad decisions with. Not only is going to the gym one of the most popular excuses to meet up with a fling, nearly three-quarters of Ashley Madison users admitted to working out to keep someone other than their spouses satisfied. On top of that, people tend to get turned on by watching each other exercise, which could elevate this risk of discovering a sexual partner. While the temptation to cheat may not be the best excuse to cancel your gym membership and pack on the pounds, it’s a good incentive to stay single-minded during about your workout and only your workout. Better yet, research shows that couples who workout together stay together. So if you’re really worried about your partner — or just want to limit distractions — it might be time to take them up on their invitation to join them at yoga.