The Top Seven (Surface) Reasons Men Cheat Are:
- To get out of the relationship,
- To stay in the relationship,
- Because of substance abuse or other addiction issues,
- In a desperate attempt to get external validation,
- Due to emotionally immaturity,
- To stroke their ego or because they feel entitled, and like it’s the “thing to do,”
- Because of mental health issues such as narcissistic, psychopathic, or sociopath tendencies, or because of intimacy or attachment disorders.
While we will break these down below, it might surprise you to know that the reasons listed above are all caused by the same three things. Fear, shame, and anger. And while it is helpful to understand the surface level reasons for cheating, in order for real healing to occur, and in order for a man to not cheat again, you must understand the secret, underlying cause of cheating.
The Underlying (Secret) Cause of Cheating
The secret, underlying cause of cheating (no matter what the surface reason) is either fear, shame, or anger. These three primary and universal emotions are the root cause that too may affair recovery programs fail to address, and that leave the betrayed spouse feeling confused, bitter, and like she was the one who has done something wrong.
Why Your Partner’s Cheating is Never Your Fault!
Cheating is a choice. Always. And what you have or have not done is never a reason why your partner cheated. It is possible that it contributed to your partner’s feelings of either fear, shame, or anger which eventually led to your partner making the choice to cheat. But unless you held a gun to your partner’s head and demanded that they cheat, you did not cause your partner to cheat!
Let’s break down these top seven reasons so you will be able to understand more fully how this works:
He cheated to get out of the relationship.
Your partner was done in the relationship. Maybe you were too. But for whatever reason, instead of standing in his integrity, speaking the hard truth and expressing himself and his wants or needs clearly, he took the “coward’s way out.”
Do you feel the sting of that phrase? He took the “coward’s way out.” While it is true that what he did was not ethical or in integrity, look deeper. Being a coward is being filled with fear, shame, and anger.
He was afraid. To let you down. To make a decision and be wrong. To speak his truth. He was ashamed. To leave his family, to have a marriage break down, to let his extended family or community down. He was angry. That he couldn’t be the kid of brave man that he wanted to be and say or do the right thing, the hard thing, and stand bravely in his truth and lead with dignity.
He cheated to stay in the relationship.
Okay, this is a tough one to wrap your head around, but sometimes men (like all of us) desperately want more from their relationship. They want connection, intimacy, laughter, joy, whatever. And they don’t know how to get it. Worse, men are socialized to be less verbal, less communicative, and less aware than their feelings than women are. They are raised to “man up” and deal with it.
Sometimes men want more from their relationship, but they can’t express what they want or need or desire. They are “manning up” and tolerating it, but they want more. In frustration, they “act out” in a desperate bid for attention. This bid for attention can look like many things, including an affair.
Why do men cheat more?
Because of the way men are raised in our society to be the fixer-upper’s and the problem-solvers and to fear being weak, vulnerable, or emotional. Because of this conditioning, somewhere inside men sometimes think that having an affair and seeing where they can “make things good” with another partner will help them “make things good” in their own marriage. Or they feel so desperate for their relationship to be fixed that subconsciously they do what it takes to get your attentions, so you can see how hurt they are and understand all that they don’t understand about themselves, and you can come in and fix the relationship, with all of your wisdom.
Logical, no. But when you look at it though the eyes of a hurt six-year old (the age that many boys first start feeling their vulnerable emotions being shut down by society) it suddenly makes sense.
Fear of not ever being able to have the kind of relationship that he desires; shame at not being able to understand or verbalize his own emotions, sadness, and desires; and anger at his ineptitude and at your “inability” to intuit that he’s struggling. Even though he’s not expressing that he wants a better relationship, he’s only expressing rage, so all you see is a man with anger issues, not a man who wants a better relationship but can’t express or understand himself.
Because of substance abuse or other addiction issues.
While there is too much to go into here because addictions are so complex, look at the cultural belief we have around addictions. Even though addictions are diseases, our culture still equates addictions with weakness or moral failing. No better trigger for fear, shame, and anger than being perceived as weak or failing morally.
In a desperate attempt to get external validation.
Remember everything I said about how men are raised to be the strong, stoic, providers, and helpers to everyone in need? Of how men are taught to “man up, walk-off-the pain,” and never ever “cry like a girl.” Spoiler alert. All humans have tender, vulnerable, and scary feelings. All humans are insecure, question themselves, and need support and validation.
No, it was not your fault for not fawning all over him every time he took out the trash or got up yet again and went to work. It’s my hunch that you didn’t get the validation you wanted and deserved either and feeling taken for granted is just a core condition that all of us face, because life is exhausting and hard.
But here’s what you need to understand. Sometimes your husband felt inferior to you. Especially if, on the surface, he was Mr. Big Shot, with a great career or is seemingly in total control of his life and hobbies. And after years of watching you silently manage it all, have the ability to “understand” all the emotional and social complexities that he wanted to understand but was culturally conditioned not to understand, or to watch you have real relationships with friends or family that he craved but didn’t know how to cultivate, he got bitter.
Why Men Cheat “Down”
That bitterness drove him to find validation from someone else. (And here’s the kicker) From someone who was not as capable as you. From someone who was not as smart, pretty, nice, kind, capable, or loving.
Cheating “down” puts men in the “one up” position and gives them the validation that they crave. Because it’s easy to have someone respect you who isn’t smart enough to “see” that you are living in fear that you aren’t good enough, that you are filled with shame about your “failings” and are angry that this is your life and you can’t figure out how to make things better.
Due to emotionally immaturity.
Everything above all points to emotional immaturity. Emotionally immature people do not own their stuff. They don’t reach out and get help because they think that getting help somehow makes them weak or bad or wrong. You’ve probably heard all the old jokes about men never stopping for directions. Men are conditioned not to get help. Additionally, there are not a lot of resources out there for men who want to get help. Peruse the aisle of any self-help section. The vast majority of the books are targeted at women.
The other thing about emotional immaturity is that it can often be caused by trauma. Childhood trauma and trauma in the young adult years. And who, statistically speaking, experiences the most trauma? You guessed it, men and boys!
So couple together the fact that more boys are physically abused than girls, boy culture emotionally abusive and shame-provoking than girl culture, more boys drink, fight, take drugs, and engage in high-risk behavior than girls, is it any wonder that our men are emotionally immature and are acting out in all sorts of inappropriate ways? Fear that they will get hurt again, shame that they were hurt in the first place, and anger that no one stepped in and stopped the abuse.
To stroke their ego or because they feel entitled, and like it’s the “thing to do,”
What does it mean to be a “good woman” or a “good man?” What makes you worth in other people’s eyes? While this is a complex answer that changes based on the way you were raised, for many men the answer lies in conquest.
Powerful men conquer. Worthwhile men have a lot of women.
Sometimes when a man is feeling the normal disappointment of life, instead of thinking, “Wow, life sure didn’t turn out the way TV and the media told me it would.” They internalize the pain of their situation and think they are the ones who are lacking. That they aren’t manly enough or powerful enough. So they compensate.
They can’t conquer on the career front, and their income and potential have been limited, so they conquer something else. Namely, a weak, “lesser-than” and easily conquerable other woman. Fear that they aren’t “good enough” and will never measure up to a “worthy” James-Bond-style man, shame that they are so impotent in life, and anger that this “lesser-than” other woman is the best conquest they hope to get.
Because of mental health issues such as narcissistic, psychopathic, or sociopath tendencies, or because of intimacy or attachment disorders.
As I said when addressing addiction, while this is too complex to address here, simply looking at the stigma and shame around mental health challenges in our country will help you see why there is fear, shame, and anger that comes up in anyone who has mental health challenges.
Can Men Cheat and Still Love You?
Cheating is complex. Yes, it’s very possible, and even probable, that men can cheat and still love you. Cheating is about the cheater’s levels of fear, shame, and anger. It is rarely about you! Whatever your partner’s “reasons” for cheating, I challenge you to take it deeper and to look for the underlying causes. Chances are, you will find fear, shame, and anger.
Whether you want to work it out with your partner or walk away, understanding the underlying reasons for their cheating will help you heal and move forward with peace and clarity.
Please know that while much of this article might seem like an excuse for poor male behavior, it is not. This is not about condoning toxic, harmful, or amoral behavior. But it is about going deeper and allowing yourself to understand what the reasons behind the reasons your partner cheated.
So you can find the peace, understanding and healing you desire. So you can move forward with clarity, compassion towards yourself and others, and so you can be free from the heartbreak and pain. If you need help untangling your particular situation, I’m here. As a survivor of my husband’s 15 years’ worth of infidelity with five women, I am an expert at untangling what really happened, getting to the root cause, and helping women step back into their power and self-worth, so they can come back to life and fall in love with all that they are and (as I like to say) sparkle for all they are worth!