Anyone who has ever experienced infidelity with their partner can tell you how damaging it is, not only to the relationship, but to one’s overall sense of trust and self-esteem. According to a 2021 survey, 46% of people in monogamous relationships acknowledged cheating on their partner.
After infidelity, the big questions loom; why did they cheat? Were there signs I missed? And perhaps the most devastating question of all; did I bring this on myself? We are always looking for cause and effect in human behavior, but the answers are seldom clear, especially when it comes to intimate relationships.
Retrospect provides a lot of information, but unfortunately it is in the form of hindsight. When we look at infidelity, there are a lot of underlying factors that can contribute to the behavior. It can be useful to examine these factors, whether you are trying to maintain the relationship, or just heal and move on.
The first aspect of cheating to examine is the person engaging in the behavior. While it is impossible to determine every scenario or characteristic that factors into a person’s actions, these five aspects may indicate a propensity toward self-serving behaviors like infidelity.
A person’s sense of themselves can play a critical role in whether they cheat on their partner. If someone’s worth is tied up in others’ evaluation of them, it is easier to submit to the temptations of infidelity when someone shows interest outside the primary relationship.
After someone finds out their partner was untrue, they may hear others say things like, “I always thought he seemed like someone who would cheat,” or just the opposite, “wow, she didn’t seem like the cheating kind!” There isn’t necessarily a “cheating kind,” but certain personality traits may suggest a greater willingness to stray from monogamy.
People who view themselves as superior to others (think narcissists) may justify infidelity as allowing oneself access to a special connection that their primary partner does not possess. For people with narcissistic personality, it is common to select partners with low self-esteem or fear of abandonment, as this is a guaranteed supply of adoration and praise. Infidelity is then a common behavior when boredom with the primary partner (to whom they feel superior) sets in.
Factors of empathy
The ability to feel for others emotional states can also play a role in a person’s willingness to stray in a relationship. Most people have an ingrained ability to imagine how others may feel and this can be a helpful guide for behaviors. Those who do not have a natural sense of empathy are more likely to cheat on their partner because the feelings of others are not relevant.
There are some folks who may not go looking for an affair, but if an opportunity presented itself and there was little chance of being caught, they might act on it. It can be difficult to predict who would fall into this category, as it is so situation-specific, but a person’s ability to “do the right thing” even when no one is watching is a factor in this scenario.
Inability to set and maintain self-imposed limits (saying no to oneself)
When we desperately want something (or in this case, someone), the deciding factor of whether we take action is based on our ability to tell ourselves “No” and commit to that decision. Some people may be able to set and keep self-imposed limits on certain aspects of their life but not others. It is important to note that just because someone struggles with willpower in one area of their life, it does not mean they will be unable to stick to a commitment in another area.
Toxins within the Committed Relationship that Can Impact Fidelity
Let’s preface this section with a disclaimer. The factors listed below are not being offered as an “excuse” for infidelity in a committed relationship; they are situations that can cause couples to develop a rift. When these challenges are present, they may set the stage for cheating when someone has a propensity toward it based on personality traits and features.
Couples who are unable to communicate their thoughts, feelings and needs to one another face a greater chance of an emotional disconnection that can leave both people feeling alone in the relationship. Loneliness within a monogamous relationship can be dangerous territory, particularly if the couple is not working on improving the situation and building better communication dynamics.
Over time, most relationships develop resentments or negative feelings of some sort due to circumstances that occur within the relationship. While some degree of resentment is considered “normal and expected,” these feelings can fester into destructive behaviors and people justifying infidelity if the resentment is strong enough.
Sexual dysfunction or Lack of Intimacy
Couples who are not sexually compatible or who lack intimacy can be at greater risk of infidelity due to unmet physical and emotional needs. Some couples weather sexual problems without infidelity, it largely depends on the specific dynamics of the relationship. If a couple is healthy in other ways, sexual dysfunction can be overcome with different types of connection and intimacy.
Every couple has a unique way of functioning, depending on the circumstances of each person within the relationship. Factors like attachment style, temperament, communication patterns and power dynamics can impact how relationships progress. Infidelity can be very difficult to predict, and the best way to keep a monogamous relationship healthy is to be as open and honest about your needs as possible.
It is also important to recognize that some people may not be cut out for monogamy. If you or your partner struggles with long-term, monogamous relationships, it might be worth examining this to see if a conventional relationship is the best avenue to pursue. Talking about these factors early on can save a lot of pain or unexpected heartache down the road.