Cheating. It’s undeniably one of the most damaging things that can happen in a relationship. Trust creates a space where two people can be vulnerable, so it’s not surprising that infidelity shakes the very foundations which relationships are built on. And since men still remain the less faithful gender, understanding the reasons behind their philandering has become a huge source of interest, especially for psychologists and mental-health experts. Thankfully, we are learning more about the reasons men cheat, but those reasons are not quite as clear-cut as we’ve once thought.
The most commonly reported reason for male infidelity is sexual desire. Men do naturally have a greater propensity to cheat from a biological perspective due to their greater levels of testosterone. Similar to women’s innate desire to find financially stable mates, men have historically been driven to ‘spread their seed’ to ensure the survival of our species. Women and infants historically had much higher death rates at childbirth, so it was beneficial for men to impregnate as many women as they could – granted they could provide for all those women and their children.
However, life expectancy has nearly doubled in the last 150 years for a range of reasons, so it’s really not as biologically advantageous for men to cheat as it had once been.
But even in this modern world, men are still cheating more. While rates of infidelity are still lower than they’d been in the past, what’s interesting is that the perceived benefits still outweigh the risk for so many men. And the risks are at an all-time high since women have more power to leave their partners with their growing financial independence.
So why are men still cheating?
Recent studies suggest that emotional disconnection is one of the most commonly reported reasons for cheating. It’s not entirely clear whether this has always been a motivator, but it possible emotional discontent was always a factor and we are just learning about it now since men are becoming more transparent about their needs. It’s simply more advantageous for men to be introspective now since gender roles are changing. Women have more power to leave, so if men want to preserve their primary relationships, which is usually the case when they cheat, they are more compelled to figure out why they are doing it. Women are also cheating more, so men are more inclined to change if they want to keep their partners interested in them.
I do believe it’s quite advantageous for women to be aware of their partners’ emotional needs.
But in my own personal experience as a woman and as a clinician, I found that no matter how hard I tried to understand my partner, in many instances, the cheating still occurred. This actually inspired my first article for the Good Men Project: “Accept That he Cheated.” I felt I could better decide whether to remain in the relationship at all once I held my partner accountable for his actions. Not the other woman, not me, but him. And in doing so, I removed the emotional chains that made me feel responsible for him breaking my trust.
While this helped me evolve as a partner and as a person, it still didn’t answer a very important question: how men can control their urge to cheat. I always wanted to be a part of that conversation because I found that many men wanted to be faithful, but simply could not understand how to be faithful.
So, in dealing with men and women in therapy, I came to the conclusion that men were more likely to be faithful when they wanted to be faithful.
What makes a man want to be faithful? Men who believed the benefits of a relationship outweighed the benefits of cheating. And men who reported feeling this way also reported feeling emotionally fulfilled in their relationships. As mentioned earlier, recent studies have also proven this point.
The challenge, however, is discerning what those emotional needs are. And since cheating is one of the strongest indicators of emotional discontent in men (and women), it’s certainly worth examining the reasons underlying those urges.
But in order to know what underlies the motivation to cheat, men must hold himself 100% accountable for their actions.
Men have grown so accustomed to justifying their cheating behavior because society has advertently and inadvertently told them that it was acceptable. And affairs may’ve also been emotionally advantageous for men in the past since they often felt obligated to stay in unhealthy relationships for the sake of their families.
But the pressure to stay in unhappy relationships is not as strong anymore. Men feel less pressure to provide for their families as women are gaining more financial independence. As a result, men are exploring the deeper meanings relationships could hold for them.
But old ways of thinking must be relinquished in order to do so.
Cheating is cheating. Period. And once a man sees this, he is more compelled to examine why he did it. He can no longer use cheating as a way to avert the problems within his relationship, and quite possibly, within himself. If he wants true, long-lasting fulfillment, he must confront his cheating behavior.
Counterintuitive as it seems, this is where a man’s true power lies. Why? Because he is in the best position possible to find a relationship – or just a lifestyle – that suits him best.
Think about it. If a man acknowledges that an emotionally abusive partner motivated him to stray, he may realize that he needs a different partner in order to be fulfilled. And yet another man may realize that he is not cut out for monogamy and leaves his relationship in order to avoid hurting his partner and feeling constrained. He is now exploring what works best for him.
But I think one of the most empowering aspects of owning up to cheating is actually the potential to repair and improve an already existing relationship. Especially since many men report not wanting to leave their main partners when they cheat. They simply may not understand how to make the relationship better and use a side-woman to cope with the relationship trials and tribulations. But their man relationship can only improve if they can own up to avoiding their relationship problems with cheating.
This shouldn’t imply that a man needs monogamy in order to have a fulfilling relationship. If a man can accept that he needs an open relationship to feel fulfilled, he is in a better position of finding partner (or partners) who accepts this. If he forces himself into a monogamous relationship, he may hurt his partner and constrain himself. And this may cause even more destructive cheating behavior on his behalf – or even hers.
Essentially, the opportunity to grow continues to present itself as society becomes more progressive. However, men and women cannot really reap the benefits of those changes if they are still stuck in their old ways of thinking. Rationalizing cheating only holds men back from truly growing into the honorable individuals they can potentially become. They just have to finally see that the benefits of an emotionally fulfilling relationship far outweighs the temporary satisfaction cheating provides them with. And admittance of their wrongdoing is the key to opening up that door.
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