Why A Spouse Cheats – Infidelity Explained

The question; Why Does A Spouse Cheat – is often asked of this relationship expert. The most common reason for infidelity, cheating myths debunked, cheater personality style, the definition of an affair, are all explained in a blog article I wrote in response to a request to be a guest blogger for Relationship Advice Cafe.

If you wish to learn concrete cheating prevention strategies, the top 6 signs to tell if your spouse will or is cheating, how your marriage at any stage can last, how to help your marriage be happy and successful, re-boot and re-connect your couple relationship – my newest book release, as seen on FOX & Friends, provides the answers. Dr. Karen’s Marriage Manual is available – order your autographed copy today.

Below is the full article written by this relationship expert and marriage/family therapist as it appears in Relationship Advice Cafe:

Infidelity – Cheating is an Epidemic

Statistics show that someone either has cheated, is currently cheating, or will cheat in 80% of all marriages over the course of the marriage.

This number has doubled in the past ten years.

Current statistics vary slightly as to what percentage of men versus what percentage of women is cheating. Approximately 50% of married women and 60% of married men are cheating.

What is an Affair?

Dictionary.com Definition:

“A romantic and sexual relationship, sometimes one of brief duration, between two people who aren’t married to each other.”

Wikipedia Definition:

Romantic affair

“Unlike a casual relationship, which is a physical and emotional relationship between two people who may have sex without expecting a more formal romantic relationship, an affair is by its nature romantic.”

“When a romantic affair lacks both overt and covert sexual behavior and yet exhibits intense or enduring emotional intimacy, it may be referred to as an emotional affair, platonic love, or a romantic friendship.”

Extramarital affair

“Relationships outside of marriage where an illicit romantic or sexual relationship or a romantic friendship or passionate attachment occurs.”

    Dr. Karen Says, Consider This:

Affairs can be divided into three parts:

  1. the dishonesty,
  2. the outside relationship,
  3. the sexual infidelity and/or emotional infidelity (i.e., affair of the heart)

All 3 parts differ in their degrees and their levels. Each part exists on a continuum.

Mental Illness

Typically, when experts are interviewed in the media about politicians or celebrities, the top two reasons stated for why infidelity has taken place is; sex addiction or narcissism.

There are various other diagnoses to make sense of why a person cheats not typically focused on in the media, but considered by therapists when evaluating a client, for example; co-dependency or borderline personality disorder.

It is the smaller percentage of the population that has a mental illness that leads them to cheat.


In the media it is often reported, men who are powerful they think they can get whatever they want and thus cheat (e.g., Bill Clinton).

Men who are with women that are powerful are said to cheat because they don’t have as much power in the relationship (e.g., Jessie James).

So, which is it, men who are powerful cheat or men who aren’t powerful cheat?

Men who are wealthy are described as cheaters because they feel there is a price for anything, thus they can buy what and who they want. Then how does that explain the fact that poor men cheat, too?

Whether you are a man or woman, with a mental illness or you have no mental illness, you are powerful or are not, rich or poor, a celebrity or not, know this; there are those who do cheat and there are those who don’t.


The blame game is using an excuse for why a person cheats. What about the notion of choosing to not cheat? The mind is a powerful tool. We as a society have become finger-pointers.

This external blame means that a person can offer a reason why they did what they did and rather than taking ownership of their own behavior, they can blame some default within them that is out of their control, leading to the problem behavior.

They can point their finger at mental illness, power, etc., as though it is some external “thing” where the cheating behavior becomes viewed as a symptom of a bigger problem.

When you get married, it is a vow to be true to the couple, true to your spouse. As tempted as you may be, there is still thought before action, and as humans, we have the capability to choose.

Cheating Myths Debunked

Myth #1: If you are a beautiful and sexy woman, or a handsome well-built man, your spouse will not cheat on you.

The level of attractiveness of a man or a woman in and of itself is not an indicator of whether or not they will be cheated on.

Myth #2: If you are having sex with your spouse with frequency, your spouse will definitely not cheat on you, if you rarely have sex with your spouse, then your spouse is definitely going to cheat on you.

I see couples that have an active sex life and there is cheating going on, whereas for other couples, there isn’t cheating taking place. I have seen couples that rarely have sex and there is no cheating, and for others there is.

Rare sexual relations with your spouse isn’t a guarantee of cheating, although do note that it is a warning sign that may lead to cheating and you would be foolish to ignore it.

Myth #3: Cheating cannot be prevented.

Cheating can be prevented far more often than it is. In my recently released book, as discussed on FOX News Channel’s FOX & Friends; Dr. Karen’s Marriage Manual  I explain my Marital Cheating Prevention Formula – 5 Steps.

In addition, I explain The Cheater Meter (which educates the reader on the top 6 signs/predictors to tell if your spouse is cheating). This informative book also includes concrete strategies and techniques to re-connect with your spouse.

#1 Most Common Reason Reported For Cheating 

Lack of Attention

The most common reason reported by men and women for cheating is that they do not feel attended to. Lack of attention goes hand in hand with a lack of feeling appreciated.

This longing and void leads a person to desire the feeling of attentiveness, appreciation and in essence: feeling valued and wanted.

People Cheat Because They Make The Choice To Cheat!

When a person doesn’t feel their spouse is paying attention, it makes a person feel unwanted and sad and bad about their own value and self-worth.

There are many ways in which one can pay attention to one’s spouse.

Some examples of paying attention include: communication, being present, compassionate, hearing your spouse’s voice, empathetic, physically affectionate, nurturing, showing active consistent interest, patient, and sexual relations.

Humans long for connection. Without attention from one’s spouse, one feels disconnected from their spouse, which leads to feeling de-valued and un-heard. This in turn leads some to find this important human need elsewhere.

When I say “find,” only for some is an affair a plan (looking for someone to be with); for many, an affair isn’t searched for. The most common scenario where men and women that have cheated state that they didn’t plan to cheat, it “just happened.”

Then once it happened, they found themselves continuing with the cheating relationship/relationships. Although the person didn’t plan to cheat, I assert that it still was a choice.


If the #1 reason why people cheat is because their spouse isn’t paying attention to them, then why do some people cheat when they aren’t receiving attention from their spouse and others don’t?


There are those people that no matter what the circumstances are in their marriage, they will not cheat.

Making a choice to use an external solution (having an affair) for an internal problem (marital disharmony, disconnection) isn’t in some people’s decision-making book of life of choice.

Cheating is external, meaning it is using something outside of one’s self/marriage to fill an internal void. If there is something that is a problem internally, this means that the problem is within one’s self and/or the problem is within one’s marriage.

An internal solution to an internal problem would be to confront the problem head on, to get help with the problem that can lead toward a potentially healthy resolution.

Four types of personality styles are more likely to cheat

Cheater personality style type #1:

a)  “Externalizer”

When obstacles occur in your relationship, I refer to a person that typically seeks out unhealthy external options that masks, doesn’t attend to, doesn’t address, and doesn’t resolve the internal pain or the problem itself as an “externalizer.” Typically, this style of coping with life’s challenges is a developed behavior over time that started in one’s youth.

b) “Non-ownershipster”

I refer to a “non-ownershipster” as a person who typically doesn’t take ownership of his own actions and blames others instead.

Cheater personality style type #2:

How a person feels about other people. This style is characterized by one main trait that can be a warning sign that this person has the potential to cheat:

A person who isn’t remorseful or shows no empathy.

Cheater personality style type #3:

Secretive and/or lies.

Cheater personality style type #4:

The constant partier type who often uses alcohol and/or drugs in socializing with others is a personality style type. This doesn’t mean that the person who doesn’t drink or uses drugs is a non-cheater because there are those that do indeed.

If a man or a woman spends more time partying with others and thus less on focusing on the journey of relationship enhancement, less on coming home to be with one’s spouse but rather out partying with friends, this person is more likely to cheat than not cheat.


22 thoughts on “Why A Spouse Cheats – Infidelity Explained”

      1. Hello Dr. Karen,

        my friends marriage life is in danger …..as just before 2 month he found his wife is having an affair with one men from last six month.

        although my friend and his wife had some problem about the relation from last 1 years and my friend was trying to sort out the matter with her every time but she was denying talking to him on that.

        And now after my friend found the affair of his wife with another men, she suddenly coming up and saying to my friend that she was depression and because of this thing has been happen.

        I & my friend is thinking that this statement of her is not true as she has physical relation with that guy also.

        i just want to know few things:

        as she is saying that she Is in depression is that can lead to extra affairs …..and if the answer is yes then is that will go up to physical extent also.?

        Awaiting for your positive reply.

  1. My husband won’t talk about the affair. No details. I’ll never get to
    never heal unless my questions are answered. His counselor told him
    That I don’t need details. How can I heal and work to save the marriage
    if this is the case?

    1. Hi Jan,
      You mentioned “his counselor” told him that you don’t need details. I recommend you have a therapist that is the “couples counselor”, not simply just “his counselor”, so that way both his voice and needs are heard, AND your voice and needs are heard. This is imperative.

      Certainly if he has a therapist for his own counseling, that is a great idea. In this way he can explore his thoughts, understand himself better, and self confront. Though that is not enough for the couple, that is not sufficient for you. Specifically you and your husband need a “couples counselor”. You see, the “couples counselor” can help you to heal, help you and he to understand one another’s thoughts, feelings, and needs. The “couples counselor” can help the two of you to explore and understand what led to the affair and learn prevention methods. The “couples counselor” can help him to take steps to re-build your trust (which may or may not include details, each couples needs are different, and as such that will be decide in session). And the “couples counselor can help you both to take steps to work to save the marriage and not just survive post this trauma, to thrive.

      I hope this recommendation helps.
      Dr. Ruskin

  2. my exgf of 4 years was caught sexting naked pics and bdroom secrets to an ex whilst bkibd drunk 3 months prior to our breakup…she offered no explanation and refused to discuss it blaming it on alcohol…what i didnt know at time was she was also physically cheating with at least 2 others and possibly sexting multiples..after our break i asked why cheat, why lie about it till presented with evidence..she said “i dont know but would not have if i loved you”
    there was no remorse,regret,apology,empathy, not a single tear was shed..stone cold and emotionless..within 4 weeks of our break she had slept with 4 men and entered into relationship with last one who 16months on she is still with.

    gut wrenching to know i nor our rs meant nothing..

    i believe she may be PD possibly npd or bpd

    id like to add she is 45 so youd have thought she be more mature ??

    1. So sorry you had to be subjected to that kind of pain! I know you probably don’t want to hear this but better off away from her! You should probably find out why you pick people like her. I know from my own experience it goes back to my famiily and the problems created there. This is totally up to you and I am no doctor but really maybe you shpuld think about worrying about your own emotions and feelings and release her. You will be a happier person for this. May you find your way God bless!

  3. Finally someone that confirms something I had thought about my ex cheating wife. Secrecy, looking for outside options to mask their internal problems and how someone feels about others could be traits of a cheater. She displayed all of these and knew that could mean trouble. Thank you Dr Ruskin for a unique look at cheaters. I recently saw a thorough list of serial cheater traits at: infidelityfirstaidkit.com/serial-cheater

  4. Very good article Dr. Karen Ruskin. I found out not too long ago that my husband of 5 years (been together for 9 years) cheated on me in 2014 while I was pregnant with our 3rd child. He blames he was on drugs at the time. He was making craigslist ads online and trying to “hook up” with other……wait for it…..MEN!!!!!~ I finally found out one day cuz I accidently went on his email when I meant to go on mine. I saw the messages, and it happened more than once and he claims that he was on meth at the time. It happened in the span of 4 months. I told him to just leave me if he was gay. He claims he is not and he promises to never do it again and that he loves me blah blah blah. Am I wrong to stay with him? Please no rude or mean answers from others. I am torn. Even though it happened over a year ago. I feel so stupid and the fact he was doing it while I was pregnant? I am no angel, I have used meth before, it wasnt for me, but I would NEVER in my life, cheat on anyone. Is this grounds for divorce? Is it right to throw away almost 10 years and 3 kids together over a stupid choice he made? Thanks.

  5. I just had breast cancer surgery and gruelling radiation therapy. I noticed Trashbag was sleeping with his phone. I went for phone under his pillow. 10,455 texts messages at Christmas. He jumped up and punched me in cancer breast. He then went to work and never came back. He moved to Ohio 500 miles away with a deputy sheriff he met on LinkedIn. I didn’t know where he was. He told me up until he punched me he loved me 5x a day. I filed immediately for divorce. He has refused to cooperate with attorney. Has not came for any hearings.

    He came to my house 22 years ago with a car and Trashbags and that’s how he left.

  6. Wow this was so helpful my X qualified for all of those… I will say after a year I am starting to feel normal again. This time last year I would pray to stop feeling so messed up in the head about what happened. Finally its starting to leave me. The funny thing was that I had not heard from this man in a while and I get a random text from him wanting a kiss… LOL I guess he thought we could hook up.. So I declined of course, and sent him a kinda funny but rude text the next day and his girlfriend responded. Come to find out it is quite the pattern of events for him. It felt so good to confirm it was really his problem (sorry for the poor girl that is now in my shoes). He actually told me when we were together it was not me. Confirming it was not me was freeing and the best release from this toxic person ever. I found it very interesting that cheating is on the rise at 80%. I attribute this to all the dating sites and Craigslist. 20 years ago you had to screw your secretary…. LOL Anyway friends hang in there. And to the lady who her husband cheated with men, get out girl now. Meth or no meth he has issues and I am sorry that happened to you.

  7. Married 19 yrs together 25; 3 wks ago discovered husband c\having an affair. Learned 8 yrs ago I was wife #4, and infidelity, boredom with people, and his full disclosure of needing more sex at 67. When went thru menopause and had painful intercourse with bleeding after sex, with medical RX; along with his episodes of ED he said it’s ok we don’t need sex. This was 6 yrs ago, discussed with others and told that normal at 60, you learn to become friends. I decided to let him approach me and never did. Now I learned he has been seeing others, has a history of infidelity with others, and the last woman was great sex lasting 6 hrs to 4 hrs in length. He always has a smile and of joy when talking with me. He is in counciling and says he wants to work on the marriage but how can I trust him with all the lies and manipulation these last years. We are 2 1/2 yrs short of retirement and have done well. He is an ex soccer player who has received recognition and support from his German Mother who says it’s ok as long as you pay your bills. I am broke,. Pieces here!

  8. Hi, I cheated on my wife and this is due to the same concept of lack of attention and devotion to the marriage by my wife. Based on what you’ve written we often try to analyse and do the blame game and find ways to pinpoint why it is not our fault. I would agree on some point, but in our case it might be different. I had asked her to come home to during the time wherein japan was struck by a big earthquake which caused the malfunctioning of a nuclear power plant way which happened in 2011. I have begged her to come back home although she tried, her efforts were not that which I expected. I had expected her to come back home to be safe and I didn’t care about the costing if she went back home all I cared about is her coming back. this traumatized me mentally and emotionally as I sought to deal with both my mental and emotional issues by drinking. In the end it never did me good since I was drunk all the time. I managed to find myself talking with another woman who I shared my grievances and pains. She listened to me and I needed someone to listen to my dilemma. As time went by I knew that things were going to the direction of which is forbidden in marriage so I cut the strings since my only goal was vent out and have someone listen to me. It was my choice to put a stop to the friendship with the other woman and when the time came that my wife came back I was happy. But the problem was all of my emotional and mental pains were still stuck with me. But it was my choice to put a stop to it. I was happy for a brief moment in my life when my wife came back. And we even decided to have a baby. I knew the costs of having a baby brought in the world so I focused on finding a better job and save money in preparation for it. And then there was a time wherein I was speaking with an HR representative thru mobile and email regarding a job offer. Although I am at fault when it comes to the secrecy wherein I didn’t tell my wife about my plans, she had built trust issues wherein she accuses me at that time that I was having an affair. She told me she looked into my phone and email and saw sms and email transactions from a different woman. I got so angry at that time and even broke the bathroom door. I showed her every proof that I was processing my papers and in talks to move to a different job. this triggered a great deal of anger in me that I almost hit my pregnant wife. and I can attest that all of my anger was spurned from the time that I wanted her to come home but she failed to do so. It triggered previous traumatic experiences that I just kept inside. It fueled the negativity in me and I tried to deal with it personally but I should have consulted a specialist for it. After a year or 2 the previous woman I met started to text and call me again. So we started hanging out and just talk about different topics which also included relationships and marriage. At that time she was in a 5 year relationship with her boyfriend and I was married and we became close friends. One thing led to another, we became pretty close but we both decided not to pursue whatever it is that we felt at that time. So we broke it off. I had promised a lied to this other woman and this was one reason why we cannot pursue whatever we wanted. But this was not the case. I stopped seeing her and for quite sometime but she contacted me and wanted to talk to me being civil and as a friend. We got drunk, and this led to her getting impregnated which resulted to another child outside of wedlock. I tried to reconcile with my wife after telling her the truth but the anger deep inside of me cannot go away. I wanted out of the marriage since I can see that I am hurting my first born son more than my wife and this is caused by my anger which I never dealt with. So based on your writing, we choose to do things because the mind is powerful, yes it is a powerful tool. However, emotional and mental traumatic experiences can cause you to do things outside of reason. I have fought countless time not to cheat with my wife, and at that time I was happy and content without any negative experiences. That one event in japan changed everything which up to this day I am haunted by the same traumatic experiences. I would partially agree with you on what you said, however dealing with traumatic experiences can cause a person to irrationally do things that he doesn’t want. Take my brother as an example, he carried depression for years because of a traumatic experience he encountered. He never wanted that illness, it just happened. And with the help of family and friends he got through it. But during those times he has done things which were irrational which right now was not his choice to make but what his emotions would direct him to. This is but my thoughts, and I believe I am the first to comment on this topic of infidelity wherein I am the one who did such a thing. Its not something I wanted to do, but something that was directed by my traumatic experience that is why I am partially agreeing with you. Thank you and pray for me that we would come to terms for our child. Thank you.

  9. Dr. Ruskin
    My husband is a clear case of a cheater personality type of an externalizer. He engages in emotional affairs over technologies like work email, messenger applications, txt and phone in order to not face his emotions like loneliness, rejection, lack of attention or appreciation, and perhaps even plain old boredom. At least once the emotional affairs progressed to a full blown physical affair which was discovered and we sought counseling several years ago. My question is can this be resolved in counseling as a part of the therapeutic process? Or is it more like addictive behavior where it will be a lifelong struggle with periods of success mixed with periods of failing at it? I guess I am trying to understand the magnitude.

  10. I am a woman, I am a queen, I want monogamy, exclusivity and commitment, I had an affair, which went against all my beliefs, it made me hate myself, I was living out a lie and always feeling psychotic, no one can fill the holes in your heart but the self, accountability for who we are and how we behave and the truth helped me, living in denial was maddening, I’ll fill my own holes, hopefully I’ll attract a whole person ❤

  11. Another reason for cheating: Psychopathic personality disorder.
    My ex had absolutly no reason for cheating and yet I discovered she had been cheating with at least 3 other guys. Why? For the thrill of getting away with it apparently, along with the enjoyment of destroying other peoples lives. (including her own “friends”)

  12. Stephanie Raffaele

    In some cases, a woman’s decision to cheat is nothing more than a tactic to show her partner who’s really in charge.

  13. I have to say I was little disappointed in this article because it didn’t mention anything about spouses that cheat because their SO has an addiction/mental illness and refuses to get help. Or even spouses with partners that have chronic illnesses. I have been married 7 years to someone I love very much and at this time neither one of us has cheated. We separated for 6 months (my call) because my husband is severely depressed but refuses to get help. He seemed to be making some headway so we reconciled but very shortly after that he fell back into his depression. His feelings and emotions take precedence over everyone and everything. It’s extremely exhausting and overwhelming and has completely changed the dynamic of our relationship. I no longer feel like a partner but a caretaker. I haven’t cheated on my husband but I can understand someone in this circumstance who might. Life isn’t so black and white, there IS a very large gray area. I do believe there are people who cheat that are absolutely in the wrong but I don’t believe that everyone that cheats is a villain. I’ve been cheated on. I know the gut wrenching feeling it causes but I also know that the relationship I was in at the time was not the relationship for me or for the other person. I don’t think cheating is ok or should be brushed off but it is a symptom of something larger and most times I feel both parties are at fault. I think I just hate the way we are quick to vilify people. It’s very easy to blame someone else and ignore any actions you may have taken to add to the problem.

    1. My wife has had a chronic illness for years. I love her but sex is non-existent and I long for physical and emotional attachment. I feel lonely but I feel very guilty at the prospect of cheating. Anyone care to discuss this? I can’t imagine to be the only one in a similar situation.

  14. Husband has a traumatic brain injury going on 5 years and has cheated on me multiple times and continues. Said he doesn’t feel anything wrong about it, no guilt. What do I do?

  15. Hi there! I just wish tto give you a big thumbs up for the excellennt information you have
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