The Psychology Behind Cheating

The Psychology Behind Cheating


Cheating, is a word that can break bonds, make people paranoid and alienate them even from themselves. An act of dishonesty that ruins even the most beautiful relationships, is sadly one of the main reasons why people are separated from each other in this world. Although almost everyone feels this to be accidental rather than intentional, we often wonder why. Some of us believe it’s dispositional while others believe it’s due to situational factors. Let’s understand today’s topic, “cheating” in detail.

Read More: The Psychology Behind Casual Relationship

Cheating, aka infidelity, happens when a person committed to a monogamous relationship builds an emotional or physical relationship with someone else. It’s easy to say, cheating is breaking a promise to your partner. Cheating is common, and when it happens in a relationship it brings out a lot of uncomfortable questions, for example; Was the person lying the whole time? Does he even love his/her partner? What is it that he didn’t get from this relationship that he is seeking from someone else? Can the person be trusted again? etc. It’s normal to have these questions in your mind while going through a phase like this.

Infidelity might seem to be a generic term, but its meaning differs from person to person. A person might not consider building emotional bonds with someone outside of the monogamous relationship as cheating, while someone else might believe it to be a lack of emotional connection with the partner. Sexual intimacy with someone else without any commitment, might not seem a big deal to someone, while others might find it horrible. So, first of all, it’s the communication that takes place before the cheating happens that determines what type of commitment the other person wants to give in. Partners need to define their thoughts on infidelity and commitment, in a relationship context.

Read More: Addressing the Motives & Factors Behind Cheating in Relationships

Is Cheating a Choice or a Mistake?

One of the first questions that come to us when we think of cheating– is whether it is dispositional or situational. In other words, is cheating a trait or a state? Some people will negate the presence of situational factors in cheating, and rely on the factor that it is completely a disposition. Cheating is a choice, we do not cheat by mistake. There are several incidents where people have cheated on their partners even when they love them. The reasons why a person might cheat even a partner they love can be;

  • Breaking the rule: The person cheating their partner might feel commitment as a rule and the idea of violating a rule might seem fun and intriguing to them.
  • Insecurity and seeking validation: Some might not feel they are attractive or loveable, so for them cheating acts as a validation, boosting their self-esteem and confidence.
  • Exploring the inner self: For many, cheating can be a part of their self-explanatory journey. To them it’s not looking at another person, it’s like looking at a forbidden part of themselves.
  • Unrealistic expectations of love: The idea that the partner needs to meet every single expectation and be just as their partner wants them to be is an unrealistic expectation. The need for more love and care can lead to such situations sometimes.
  • Wanting to feel intense emotions: The intense emotional reactions might not last forever, especially in long-term relationships where the two people live together, the Intense emotions might not stay the same. This makes them wander around for that adrenaline rush.
  • Unresolved issues from the past: Many times our attachment towards our caregiver as a child acts as a reference for our future relationships and their nature. If we have come across, any such attachment issues, neglect, physical, emotional or sexual abuse it’s evident that the person might reflect them as an adult in relationships.

Along with these reasons sometimes some external factors come into play. Such as Alcohol and other substances: these substances are mainly associated with poor judgment, thinking and decision making, and lack of control, so substances can affect your idea of reality and morality. Sometimes, your wrong associations might act as a reinforcement to wrong decisions, creating instrumental conditioning with them.

Read More: Relationships and substance abuse

Why do people cheat?

A study on– What Do People Do, Say, and Feel When They Have Affairs? Associations between Extradyadic Infidelity Motives with Behavioral, Emotional, and Sexual Outcomes” by Dylan Selterman, Justin R. Garcia, and Irene Tsapelas (2020) shows there are 8 motivators that can contribute to the act of Cheating.

  • Need for variety: the need for variety in partners and sexual intimacy might result in cheating.
  • Anger: Anger here is in the form of revenge, and the reason can be a fight or argument with the partner.
  • Lack of love: The confusion that the primary partner might not be the right person can lead to such circumstances.
  • Neglect: The emotional distance from the partner, or the feeling of being neglected in a relationship can cause such issues.
  • Esteem: Esteem is related to the autonomy of oneself. The person might need to feel better about themselves by the act of cheating.
  • Situation: As mentioned already, alcohol or other substance use or an overwhelming feeling of a particular situation might act as a situational factor.
  • Sexual desire: When one of the partners loses interest in sex or refuses to get into certain sexual activities the desire for another person might take place.
  • Low commitment: The idea of not being fully committed to the primary partner, or being half-heartedly in a relationship can be a reason for indulging in such dishonest acts.

Read More: Decoding Love-Related Confusion: Insecurity and Self-Esteem in Relationships

Effects of Cheating

Feeling loved and being in a romantic relationship causes your dopamine to rise high, thus making you feel almost euphoric. But sudden betrayal or rejection caused by infidelity can act similar to the withdrawal symptoms in substance use. The rejection can cause different brain chemical changes. The brain releases oxytocin and dopamine in love, but the betrayal of infidelity can disrupt the chemical releases. In many cases, infidelity is perceived as similar to the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and the stages of recovery are not less than the stages of grief. Common symptoms can be;

  1. Self-harm
  2. Flashbacks
  3. Nightmare
  4. Obsession
  5. Low moods
  6. Crying spells
  7. Anxious or phobic reaction
  8. It can change the sleeping and eating habits of an individual.

Dealing with Cheating

Finding out about the betrayal might come as a shock to you, which might change your thinking and decision-making at the time but it is recommended to consider the following things before jumping to conclusions;

  • Don’t rush or jump to conclusions, seek professional help.
  • Move out of the relationship if you feel the pain to be unbearable.
  • Reach out for support, don’t keep things to yourself seek therapeutic support.
  • Communicate with your partner and let them know the truth, hiding will make it worse.
  • Take responsibility for it instead of blaming the other person. (if you have cheated on your partner)
  • If you decide to stay together, work towards the relationship. Work to settle the reasons why you got involved in such an act.

Someone has said it right, falling in love is easier than staying in love. Cheating is a maladjusted behavior and it can be caused by anything. But the most important step to not get into such situations is to work towards your present relationship, communicate with each other, try doing activities together to build trust and friendship, have a life of yourself and let the other person feel free to have thoughts and ideas of themselves and set up healthy boundaries of yourself.

Read More Articles from Psychologs:

References +

Leave feedback about this

  • Rating