Why do people have affairs?

Why do people have affairs

Ten percent of people have cheated on their spouses in Canada. As well, around a quarter of married people said they were seriously thinking about cheating on their husband or wife.

These figures come from a recent survey carried out by Ashley Madison, a website for people seeking “discreet relationships”. It also revealed what most people would expect โ€“ that men cheat more than women, with 13 percent of men saying they had cheated in comparison to eight percent of women.

In many other countries, these figures are much higher. For instance, in Britain, 20 percent of adults admitted they’d had an affair. A third of people said they had strongly considered it.

A quarter of these people stated that they’d actually had two affairs, and 20 percent had three or more affairs. Nearly ten percent of those surveyed admitted to having five or more affairs.

Of course, cheating is not just limited to married couples. But the reasons for an affair are the same โ€“ and not always obvious.

What is clear is that it can be devastating. Not just to the person who discovers they’ve been cheated on, but also to the person who’s having or has had an affair.

Then it often breaks up couples with children. This can be heartbreaking โ€“ and although the children often won’t really understand any of it, the negative impact can affect them for the rest of their life.

What are the major reasons behind infidelity?

What are the major reasons behind infidelity

So why do people cheat on their partners? There can be many reasons, and sometimes it is a combination of these.

Unhappiness and dissatisfaction

Feeling unsatisfied in a relationship is a very common reason behind an affair. This can be either emotional or sexual dissatisfaction.

A sexless marriage โ€“ usually considered to be when sex happens 10 times a year or less โ€“ is a reason given by both men and women. Often it is connected to there being a lack or loss of communication. It might be that there has been a discussion, or there have been frequent chats, about how one partner would like more sex in the relationship. As with many things in a relationship, there needs to be compromised.

If one partner feels they are being ignored, in time they can give up on even attempting to communicate. Relationship experts talk about “love language”, which means that communication is about more than words, it is also behaviours and actions. It includes how people express affection to one another through such as hugs and kisses. 

But it is also listening to their partner โ€“ and that includes any concerns they have about the relationship. It might take years until one partner reaches the realization that they are not being heard. Then they can feel pushed to have an affair. This is as much to do with their sexual wants as that they are not feeling listened to by their partner.

Even in relationships with plenty of sex, some people still seek the thrill of a new sexual partner. Maybe there is lots of sex in their long-term relationship, but it’s always the same and they are looking for excitement or a partner who will try some new sexual things with them.

Unhappiness can also come if there’s emotional abuse and domestic violence. Then an affair can be a way out of a bad relationship โ€“ and even sometimes as an act of revenge. 

There might also be low compatibility, which is quite common when someone has married for the wrong reasons, such as marrying into money. On the other hand, financial problems can create an unhappy relationship and an affair gives an escape from this. 

Feeling unloved and taken for granted

Many people in sexless relationships or where there is not as much sex as they’d like, despite frequent conversations about it, may feel unloved and taken for granted. That is, it goes beyond the physical aspects.

Everyone needs to feel loved to a certain degree. Affairs are often about a need for external validation. 

Everyone wants to know they are valued. So, in fact, an affair can have little to do with the other person and is in fact to do with that inner longing to be loved. This is more likely if someone grew up in a family that didn’t validate them or show them, love. They grow up to become an adult who feels unlovable, and who consequently craves love. It might be that somebody does not even plan on having an affair, but someone they meet, work with or a friend makes them feel valued.

An affair can also be a factor during periods of big life changes, such as when a child leaves home or there’s a business failure or job loss. In these instances, it can act as something of a distraction and offer some form of comfort.

Commitment issues

Commitment issues in a relationship

Another common reason for infidelity is the feeling that you and your partner have drifted apart. People change as they grow older and sometimes two people start to have different outlooks and interests.

As well, sometimes a relationship can seem more like a business partnership. Maybe there are always financial issues to deal with, or one or both partners are working all hours. Children might take up much of both partner’s time and energy. The relationship can suffer.

An affair can even be an act of self-sabotage. This could be to do with someone’s “attachment style”. These are ways in which someone views relationships that are formed during childhood, depending on what sort of relationship they had with their parents. As well, they might have seen a parent have an affair or multiple affairs.

It leaves many people insecure in their relationships or even subconsciously trying to avoid getting into one, or at least too deeply into it. Then an affair can be a justification for a relationship that was developing to abruptly end before it gets any further.

Lack of balance

In some relationships, one partner always seems to be giving while the other is taking. The giving partner can end up feeling more like they are parenting. So having an affair might be because they want to feel appreciated and that they’re with someone who is an equal.

On the other hand, the more “child-like” one in a relationship might feel as if they are being scolded all the time. They might sense that their partner is getting frustrated with them. Frequently, they are actually looking โ€“ unbeknown to them unless they do some therapy โ€“ for a parental figure in their “romantic” relationships.

This is often because one or both of their parents were absent in some way during their childhood. This can be due to a parent having an addiction to such as drugs, alcohol or work. Or a parent might have suffered from depression, disappeared from the family home, had a chronic illness or even died. So all of this has a significant impact on how they are in relationships when they grow up.


The nature of many marriages is that they get stuck in a rut. Everything can feel a little bit boring about them. Any excitement from the early days of the relationship seems a very distant memory. It might also be that a partner has “let themselves go” โ€“ for instance, they may be out of shape, dress scruffily and not care about their personal hygiene.

For others who start an affair it is simply the thrill of the chase, or just having something that’s exciting and perhaps somewhat risky in their life. Love matures in a long-term relationship, but many times people think this is actually that they have fallen out of love. So they will then look to start an affair.

Mental health and psychological issues including addiction

If one partner has addiction issues, perhaps especially with alcohol or cocaine, it can mean they can be more likely to have an affair. Maybe they are out more, “socialising”, and also they will likely lose any rational thinking when drunk or high.

Workaholism can also lead to affairs if someone is frequently with their colleagues or business associates. For obvious reasons, sex and/or relationship addicts can be particularly prone to having affairs too.

Some mental health conditions, such as narcissistic personality disorder and bipolar disorder, mean someone is more likely to have an affair. Low self-esteem issues also lead some people to seek validation from another person, even if they are already getting this from their long-term partner.

Being cheated on is terrible for the person left wondering why or how it ever could have happened. They have been betrayed in the very worst way. But, in fact, the partner who did the cheating may also be consumed with remorse, guilt and regret. They may even wonder why they did it. Both partners will definitely benefit from talking therapy, whether that’s together or separately.

An affair does not always mean the end of a relationship. Again, talking together with someone who has expertise in these matters can help immensely.

Our experienced team has treated people with all types of emotional and mental health problems, including relationship issues. Contact us today for a free confidential chat with one of our professional experts at Centers for Health & Healing.

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