NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Why Do People in Happy Relationships Cheat?

The common assumption is that people who cheat do it because they're unhappy in their relationship.  But according to an article by Dr. Justin J. Lehmiller, sex researcher and educator, as well as other relationship experts, many people who are happy in their relationship--including people are satisfied with the sex in their relationship--are committing infidelity (see my article: Coping With Infidelity).

Why Do People in Happy Relationships Cheat?

Why Do People in Happy Relationships Cheat?
On the surface, this doesn't seem to add up:  Why should people in a happy relationship cheat if they love their partner and they're satisfied with their sex life? 

Dr. Lehmiller's article discusses a research study by the Florida State University and Northwestern University which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology where 233 couples completed multiple surveys over a three and a half year period.  

According to Dr. Lehmiller, researchers were surprised to discover that the people who were happiest in their relationship were the ones who were most likely to cheat.  But why should this be?

Possible Theories as to Why People in a Happy Relationship Cheat (according to Dr. Lehmiller's article):
  • People with the most positive attitudes towards sex are generally more interested in sex so they are most likely to cheat.  They place a high value on their sex life so that they have a strong need for sexual thrills, which is correlated with cheating.
  • Researchers looked at whether or not there was a link between attractiveness and infidelity.  They found that, among women who were considered attractive, they were less likely to cheat.  But women who were considered less attractive were more likely to cheat.  For men, there seemed to be no correlation between their own attractiveness and cheating. But there was a link between how attractive they considered their partner.  Men were more likely to cheat if they considered their partner less attractive (see my article: Infidelity and the Need to Feel Desirable).

Other Theories as to Why People Cheat:
  • Esther Perel, Ph.D., sex therapist and relationship expert, suggests that some people are going through a crisis of identity, which has nothing to do with their relationship.  Instead, it's related to their sense of self and a need for self discovery.  This is especially true during periods of transition, like a mid-life crisis (see: The State of Affairs by Dr. Perel).
  • According to Dr. Perel, these people might want to see what it's like to break the rules for a change. In other words, transgression can be powerfully seductive (see my article: The Thrill of the Chase).
  • Dr. Perel also indicates that people in committed relationships who cheat might also want to find out what it's like if they took a different path with a different partner.
  • Dr. Perel also discovered in her work that many people want to feel a sense of aliveness and an affair makes them feel rejuvenated. 
  • According to Dr. Arva Bensaheb (in Dr. Lehmiller's article) cheating is often a symptom of underlying anxiety for both men and women. Sex with other people temporarily relieves their anxiety, including an existential anxiety about death.  Under these circumstances, people in a happy relationship with a satisfying sex life would have problems remaining monogamous and would have multiple affairs as a maladaptive way to cope with anxiety.

I will continue to explore this topic in my next article.

People stray from their committed relationships for a variety of reasons.  Regardless of the reasons, the betrayal of infidelity can be devastating.  

In the midst of discovering the infidelity, the meaning of the infidelity can get lost due to grief and anger.  However, many couples salvage their relationship by working through these issues in individual and couples therapy.

Getting Help in Therapy
In the meantime, if you're tempted to stray, you can save yourself and your partner a lot of heartache by seeking help in therapy (see my article: Infidelity: How to Save Your Relationship After an Affair).

Working with a skilled therapist, you can discover the underlying reasons for your problem and make changes before you ruin your relationship.

If you're in a relationship where one or both of you have cheated, whether or not you decide to stay together,  you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed mental health professional who works with couples (see my article: After the Affair: Common Reactions to Infidelity).

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT (for couples) and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individuals and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

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