Why Do Good People Cheat? 12/21

For almost as long as marriage has existed, so has adultery.  

Even while so much else has changed about our ideals regarding romantic relationships, we continue to revere and seek out monogamous relationships. Gender roles change, but relatively few people adopt different values around monogamy and sexual fidelity.

Is it evil or sinful to cheat? Is it dishonest, dangerous, or immature?

Nearly everyone says it’s wrong to cheat, yet in recent studies, a quarter of men and a sixth of women interviewed admitted to having had at least one extramarital affair. What sorts of people cheat on their partners? Why do they do it?

The Good Men Project and elephant journal‘s Love and Relationships are pairing up again (see our very successful Men and Pornography series) to present a series on Why Good Men and Women Cheat. Send your pitch, query, or submission to Justin Cascio, Senior Editor, The Good Men Project at justin@goodmenproject.com or to Lori Ann Lothian, Love and Relationships editor at elephant journal, at eleluveditor@gmail.com by Friday, December 21 for consideration.

Each editor will publish accepted submissions in their own journal; select submissions will be reprinted in both. Read The Good Men Project submission guidelines here and elephant journal submission guidelines here for more information.


Read more Calls For Submissions.

Image credit:  epSos.de/Flickr

About The Good Life @ GMP

"The Good Life" is asking men of the 21st century, What does your "good life" look like? Weekly themes, new content daily. Follow us here on The Good Men Project, on Twitter @GMPGoodLife, and Facebook.


  1. The same reason some good people are attracted to persons of the same sex. They were born that way.

    There are people, obviously, many who are happy to have more than one relationship concurrently. They love two people, possibly for different reasons and in different ways. They are most content with both of them; they don’t want to let either of them go, except they know that neither of them wants to share. So, it’s a dilemma.

    Anyone that is strongly tempted to have multiple concurrent relationships was born, to some extent at least, naturally poly. As our society has slowly but surely lowered its ignorance, bigotry, and hatred toward homosexuality, and accepted that some people are just born that way, we are moving toward a time when the same will happen with polyamory, and people who are born that way will stop being stigmatized as just being “cheaters.” In time, it will be like the wife or husband in a hetero marriage who gets involved with someone of the same sex. People aren’t happy but they “get it”; they understand that theirs was a natural attraction that they were born with.

    • Being poly doesn’t entirely explain why people sneak around, whatever the arrangement of one’s primary relationship. I’ve known people in poly relationships with relatively few restrictions, who still managed to violate the spirit and letter of their agreements, and destroy their marriages this way. I know there are plenty of others who cheat undetected. There are more questions there than what drives us beyond the monogamous ideal society upholds (are we genetically programmed to have multiple mates? is this true of men as well as women?) and what drives us to destroy or uphold those values at the same time.

  2. It’s because men have forgotten how to be men and women have forgotten how to be women. Instead of cooperating in relationships by operating with their naturally complementary traits and abilities, men and women compete for control. That competition kills romance. Who would be satisfied by a relationship where each person is constantly vying for power?

    Many people think gender roles are an antiquated concept. However, gender roles allowed men and women to enjoy monogamous, satisfying relationships for literally tens of thousands of years. This decades long surge in infidelity, divorce, or outright non-commitment coincided with the notion that women should be occupying traditionally male roles.

    Many folks argue that gender roles perpetuate gender inequality. However, this confuses equality of person with equality of function. Gender roles assign men and women separate but equally important functions. One does not have to occupy the same functional space as another to be equally valuable. It’s like trying to say that fire fighters are inherently more important than school teachers. This is a nonsense thought process; neither role’s responsibilities compete with the other, but both roles are necessary for our society to function.

    • Nick, mostly says:

      You should submit an essay on your views. Be sure to back up your assertions with evidence though, otherwise it will sound like you’re just making things up to confirm your own opinions. For example, you might show how rates of infidelity were very low before suffrage, or have skyrocketed since the seventies.

    • I’m afraid I find your argument rather weak. Are you suggesting that infidelity hasn’t existed for as long as there has been males and females? Look at the animal kingdom, one is hard pressed to find animals paired for life. Recent studies show that even those that we thought were monogamous (i.e. some birds) we now know mate with others on the side. I am not suggesting that monogamy is wrong, I am in a monogamous relationship and have never been unfaithful and plan on keeping it that way but I do think it is part of our evolution that we have to resist.

      As for male and female “roles” I don’t have any difficulty if the “roles” are not fixed and can vary from person to person and relationship to relationship. For example, I deal with the money and finances which is usually considered the “male” role and my husband does the grocery shopping which is traditionally a “female” role. It is for each of us to work out what “roles” work for our relationship, whether it is straight or gay.

      To me, fidelity is something we have to choose to live, out of respect and love of the other person. It is not something that is easy and it is more “natural” to cheat on one’s partner and a temptation we probably all face at least once. It is a challenge to be committed and faithful but I think tremendous growth and stability comes from being faithful both for the couple and any children involved. In saying that, I don’t think it is wrong to divorce if the relationship isn’t working out, is violent or loveless. The key is to end the relationship respectfully and honestly instead of causing even more pain and rejection by having an affair.

      I think people are unfaithful because they are often satisfying their own ego and don’t seriously think through the consequences of their actions. They want their cake and eat it too. It is a very selfish act which causes huge pain and rejection within a family and breaks the bond of trust between two people.

      • Don Draper says:

        I find a lot of identity in Morgan’s comments. He/She (not sure which you are, Morgan:)) broke the issue down to some simple, yet probing factors — ego, consequnces, selfishness, choice, respect, etc.

        I was unfaithful to my wife for many of thosereasons. I lost my wife and that relationsip for the rest of my life. That is my consequence of the worst series of decsions I have made in almost 50 years, the weight of which I will carry to my grave.

        To the married and single, alike, my admonition — be true. To be otherwise, is to overly complicate life, which is already hard enough, and will serve destroy the happinness and self respect that should be available to all.

        I hope I get a second chance.

    • Piers – your remarks lack any appreciation whatsoever of the social construction of gender, and consider our history through some kind of rose tinted, highly inaccurate veil. Gender roles are not ‘natural’ at all. The most prominent divisions that we have come to understand as gendered norms were manifest most obviously as a result of industrialization. I point you to the work of Mary Evans, among many others, who demonstrates this very well. The roles you describe are needed for a functional society in some way, but that doesn’t mean that one sex or another should be allocated them. It’s quite frankly absurd to think that! Equality of function is wholly bound up with equality of person, because these functions are deferentially socially and economically rewarded/ recognised.

      As for infidelity not being a problem until recently after ‘tens of thousands of years of monogamy’, I’m not sure what books you have been reading, but that doesn’t even constitute a selective reading. So good luck with that research… You will be disappointed when it doesn’t confirm your own biases.

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