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Surviving Infidelity
with Abe Kass, M.A. R.S.W., R.M.F.T.

Cheating Men Are from Mars; Cheating Women from Venus

If you think you know what your partner is going through after your relationship has been rocked by infidelity, think again.

In my many years serving as a relationship therapist, having counseled hundreds of couples, I have concluded that men and women have gender-based relationship instincts, and hence respond differently to infidelity. As such, healing from infidelity needs to be gender specific.

Of course, there are exceptions to every stereotype, and by no means do I want to suggest that there is ever a genetic rationale for cheating on your spouse or committed partner, blaming it on your male or female hormones.

Nor is there a prescribed way for men or women to respond when they’ve been betrayed.

However, for couples who hope to repair the damage caused by infidelity and rebuild their lives together, it is important to recognize that in general, infidelity means different things to heterosexual men and heterosexual women. (I have less experience and thus less expertise when it comes to any discussion of infidelity impacting same-sex couples.)

In my book, The 8 Marriage Rules for a Passionate Marriage, I detail the importance differences in the way men and women view their roles in a committed partnership. Understanding this foundational difference will help illuminate why infidelity impacts men and women differently.


A woman instinctively believes: I will nurture, so that I will feel “treasured.” When my husband “treasures” me, I am loved. A woman’s nature is to nurture. She strives for the well-being of others. In her world, through nurturing others, she hopes to become close to them. When her husband experiences how she enhances his life with her nurturing care, he will treasure her. When a woman feels her husband treasures her, she feels happy, content, and most importantly, loved. Enthusiastically she will then devote herself to his welfare and success.


A man instinctively believes: I will achieve so I will be a “hero.” When my wife recognizes me as her “hero,” I am loved. A man’s inborn nature is to achieve. His instincts prod him to seek admiration, power, and wealth. In a man’s world, these core values mark success. This desire to be someone important underlines much of what he does. He believes that when he achieves, he will become a hero. When a man feels he is his wife’s hero, he feels valued, wanted, and most importantly, loved. Enthusiastically he will then seek her well-being and protection.

Why then, do men and women cheat?

The reasons vary, and none of them justify the likelihood that the betrayal will lead to unwanted, yet enormous pain – for one or both partners, as well as other family members and close friends.

There are always better, less-damaging alternatives to infidelity, even when a relationship is troubled.  When push comes to shove, divorce is preferable to turning to infidelity to “help” sustain a troubled marriage.  (More on this in a future column.)

One of the common reasons men cheat is because their self-image as a “hero” is challenged.

Perhaps “John,” who is the fictional character I often use when referring to a man who betrays his partner, feels his wife “Sue” no longer sees him as a hero. Often, a wife will berate her husband and shame him publicly, even in front of the children.

Perhaps John’s self-worth has been diminished because of a professional or financial setback.

Without thinking sufficiently about the consequences of his actions, John reasons that when a woman other than his wife finds him sexually attractive, it proves – once more, that he is capable, strong, and a hero.

John’s misguided marital infidelity thinking – fueled by the fact that no matter what he does, Sue never thinks it’s good enough –  led him to seek “hero” status in the arms of another woman. John covets sexual adventure, intrigue, admiration, and respect.  He wants to feel “like a man” – something he no longer feels when he’s with Sue. The vacuum in his life is more about lacking emotions, than sex.

Without thinking sufficiently about the consequences of his actions, John reasons that when a woman other than his wife finds him sexually attractive, it proves – once more, that he is capable, strong, and a hero.

One common reason that women, unlike men, cheat is that they no longer feel treasured by their husband or committed partner. Because the relationship is polarized prior to the infidelity, the wife can no longer nurture, and nurturing her husband is a prerequisite to feeling treasured.

In a scenario where “Sue” is the one who strays and John is the one betrayed, Sue’s misguided marital infidelity thinking is that when another man gives her the energy and attention that she is not getting from John, it is proof that she is still desirable. Sue needs to feel cherished, desired, understood, and protected. Like cheating John, Sue doesn’t carefully weigh the consequences of her infidelity.


When John discovers that Sue has been intimate with another man, he is devastated. He feels Sue has betrayed him, and he has failed to protect his household from an outside intruder who stole away his love – and, when applicable, the mother of his children.

Sue’s response to John’s infidelity is likewise one of devastation. Sue, too, feels betrayed. She also feels inadequate, unloved, and tossed aside. As Sue sees it, she was not “good enough” to keep her man.

When men are betrayed, at certain points in the midst of the emotional confusion, they will feel a need to go on the warpath to protect their household. They may have the urge to confront the other man, the one who they believe robbed them of their wife’s affection.

In addition, men may feel inadequate, concluding they failed to be the protector who should have prevented the affair in the first place.

When women are betrayed, they often reflexively blame themselves, believing that if their husband or partner was not content it’s because they didn’t “give enough.” Many women are compelled to shift into overdrive in an effort to make up for their self-perceived shortcomings.

Although it’s quite natural for a spouse or partner who was betrayed to blame herself or himself for what occurred – as noted above, with men wanting to be the protector and women the nurturer – such blame is unfounded and ultimately unhelpful.

To preserve and rebuild the infidelity-damaged relationship, instinct and emotions must be allowed to settle, so that the facts can emerge and both partners – understanding the genuine actions and reactions of the other – can consider how to appropriately think, feel, and respond to what has happened.

Coming to premature conclusions, before the inaccurate self-blaming has ceased, will only make matters worse.

Cheating Men Are from Mars; Cheating Women from Venus

Abe Kass

Abe Kass, M.A., R.S.W., R.M.F.T. is a registered marriage and family therapist, a registered social worker, a certified clinical hypnotherapist, and the author of more than a dozen books designed to help couples and individuals live a more loving, more satisfying life.

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APA Reference
Kass, A. (2017). Cheating Men Are from Mars; Cheating Women from Venus. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Feb 2017
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