People have affairs for different reasons.No matter what you read or see on television, there is never one explanation for infidelity. All people, men and women, gay or straight, are at risk for extramarital relationships. And there areas many different explanations for this behavior as there are experts in the field of love. Anthropologists who study monogamy have some explanation about our biological predisposition to fidelity, comparing us to animals and to other cultures around the world. There are fascinating studies involving prairie voles and bonobo primates that you can read more about if you are interested.

But psychotherapists and behaviorists see infidelity differently. And even among the many schools of thought in therapy training, there are different theories about WHY people cheat. I have come up with about seven reasons that seem to encompass most of the prevailing ideas.

First, there is opportunity. Studies show that most people, regardless of the relationship at home, find it hard to resist an opportunity to cheat. Sometimes that opportunity turns into a mistake that costs them their marriage. Sometimes that opportunity leads to real feelings and a new partnership.

Two, the excitement of the forbidden, the dangerous, the illicit, gives a hidden sexual liaison an almost drug-like high. The adrenaline that the “users” experience makes the affair feel like an adventure, and the dopamine and oxytocin released from the sexual experience cement the high and make the “users” want to go back for more.

Three, the serotonin released from being with the lover is not only a natural anti-depressant but creates an obsessive compulsive feeling in the brain, almost similar to being on cocaine. It is also similar to the feeling of being in love. Sometimes people confuse an affair with the emotional experience of real love because of the chemical brain bath that they experience in the beginning of the relationship.

Four, an affair is an “exit.” Whatever is going on in the primary partnership can be avoided by using the illicit relationship as a way to exit from intimacy. In other words, in order to avoid working on the marriage, the cheating partner uses an affair as a way to focus all of their energy outside of the relationship. This is the ultimate way to avoid conflict at home. However, it only sets up a new level of conflict within themselves.

Five, an affair is a way to play out a “triangle.” Triangles, from a psychological perspective, mean that someone is always left out. There is always a victim. Many times people that play out affairs have grown up in families where there were affairs. Either one of their parents had an affair, or their grandparents had an affair. This knowledge of their family’s history can be a secret, and it can still be acted out unconsciously.

Six, an affair can be a way to act out an addiction. A compulsion to repeat a behavior that we are not in control of and that we repeat, regardless of our desire to do so, is considered an addiction. If there are obsessive thoughts before the affair about how to find someone to meet to start the next relationship, then the behavior is more than a one time chance encounter.


And finally, number seven is that infidelity is genetically encoded in our DNA. We are predisposed to being nonmonogamous. In over 55 cultures worldwide it hs been shown that more than half of us (men and women alike) have cheated at some time in their marriage. Perhaps we are just not meant to live together for long periods of time.

PLEASE know that there is NO one reason that people cheat. If infidelity is effecting your life or someone you love, it can be painful and disruptive and you may be suffering. Getting professional help through this crisis is important – but find someone you trust and someone who understands that infidelity is not simple, just like people – it can be complicated and mean many things.

Sometimes it means your relationship has come to an end, but sometimes it means your relationship can be stronger than ever – with some work!


For more information on recognizing and dealing with affairs, feel free to contact tammy@tammynelson.org – For a full reference list of authors and experts that write and talk on these topics please write to tammy@tammynelson.org with a note saying – please send reference list for affairs and infidelity


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