In my recently published book, Out of the Doghouse: A Step-by-Step Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating, I define infidelity as “the breaking of trust that occurs when you keep intimate, meaningful secrets from your primary romantic partner,” noting that this definition encompasses behaviors other than actual sexual intercourse, that purely online behaviors can still be cheating, and that behaviors that might qualify as cheating in one couple might be perfectly OK for another couple, depending on the relationship boundaries that each couple has agreed upon. For instance, one couple might decide that occasionally looking at porn does not violate their relationship fidelity, while another couple could feel differently.
In addition to defining infidelity, Out of the Doghouse presents a roadmap for healing damaged relationships. Essentially, the book was written to help men move beyond their usual feeble efforts to smooth things over by saying “I’m sorry” and trying buy forgiveness with flowers and jewelry—actions that can temporarily calm the stormy seas but do nothing to re-establish relationship trust, which is what a distraught partner needs if the relationship is going to survive and eventually thrive.
With all of the great information presented in Doghouse, I am perpetually amazed that the information betrayed spouses tend to be most interested in, at least initially, is the section on why their man cheated. When I talk to cheating men, of course, they initial give all kinds of excuses for their behavior, tending to rationalize, minimize, justify, and blame everyone but themselves for the damage done. They tell themselves (and anyone else who questions their actions) things like:
- This is totally normal. All guys want to cheat, and when the opportunity arises, they act on it.
- If my wife hadn’t gained so much weight since the kids came, I wouldn’t have even thought about sleeping around.
- Monogamy means no romantic connections, like no kissing, no cuddling, and no getting attached. Well, a lap dance in a strip club is hardly a romantic connection. It’s just what guys do for fun.
- If my job wasn’t so stressful, I wouldn’t need the release that porn gives me.
- I’m only sexting. I don’t meet up with any of these women in person, so it’s not cheating.
- My dad looked at porn and it wasn’t a big deal. Well, I have webcam chats and interactive sex. What’s the difference?
In addition to the statements listed above (and hundreds of similar rationalizations), cheating men also tell themselves, “What she doesn’t know can’t hurt her.” This is the biggest lie of all, as betrayed spouses invariably say they sensed an emotional and sometimes even a physical distancing before they learned about the cheating. Sadly, betrayed spouses often blame themselves for this distancing, wondering what they’ve done to create it and to provoke their mate’s defensiveness and anger if/when they questioned him about the lack of intimacy they felt.
Given these facts, it’s hardly surprising that cheated on spouses tend are so deeply invested in learning the real reasons their man cheated, as opposed to what they’ve heard with his endless and endlessly lame excuses. Generally, the true impetus for a man engaging in infidelity centers on one or more of the following:
- Insecurity: He may feel as if he is not handsome enough, rich enough, smart enough, powerful enough, young enough, etc. To alleviate his insecurity, he seeks validation from women other than his mate, using their spark of interest to feel wanted, desired, and worthy. In short, he uses sextracurricular activity to bolster his flagging ego and feel better about himself.
- Entitlement: He may feel like he deserves something special that is just for him—a sensual massage, a prostitute, a few hours with porn, a sexual affair, etc. He convinces himself that he is put-upon in some way by the people in his life, and he uses this to justify his cheating.
- Selfishness: His primary consideration may be for himself and himself alone. He can therefore lie and keep secrets without remorse or regret as long as it gets him what he wants. It’s possible that he never intended to be monogamous. Rather than seeing his vow of fidelity as a sacrifice made to and for his relationship, he views it as something to be avoided and worked around.
- Psychological Trauma: He may be reenacting and/or latently responding to unresolved childhood traumas—neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, etc. Basically, from a psychological standpoint, his childhood wounds have created attachment issues that leave him unable and/or unwilling to fully connect with and commit to one person.
- Co-Occurring Issues: He may have an ongoing problem with alcohol and/or drugs that affects his decision-making, resulting in regrettable sexual decisions. Or maybe he has a problem with sexual addiction, meaning he compulsively engages in sexual fantasies and behaviors as a way to numb out and avoid life. (This “desire for escape” is also why alcoholics drink, drug addicts get high, compulsive gamblers place bets, etc.)
- Unrealistic Expectations: He may feel that his partner should fulfill his every whim and desire, sexual and otherwise, 24/7, regardless of how she is feeling at any particular moment. He fails to understand that she has a life of her own, with thoughts and feelings and needs that don’t always involve him. When his expectations are not met, he seeks validation and fulfillment elsewhere.
- Misunderstanding Limerence: He may not understand the difference between romantic intensity and long-term love. So he mistakes the neurochemical rush of early romance, technically referred to as limerence, for love, and he acts accordingly.
- Lack of Male Social Support: Over time, he may have undervalued his need for supportive friendships with other men, expecting his social and emotional needs to be met entirely by his significant other. And when she inevitably fails in that duty, he seeks validation and fulfillment elsewhere.
- Biology: He may think it is a man’s evolutionary right/imperative to spread his seed as widely as possible. So he acts on this belief even though it conflicts with his commitment to monogamy and breaches relationship trust.
- Unfettered Impulse: He may have not thought much about cheating until Busty Brenda hit on him at the office party, letting him know she was up for it whenever, wherever. But then, without even thinking about what his behavior might do to his relationship, he went for it.
- It’s Over, Version 1: He may want to end his current relationship, but instead of just telling his significant other that he’s unhappy and wants to break things off, he cheats and forces her to do the dirty work.
- It’s Over, Version 2: He may want to end his current relationship, but not until he’s lined up a replacement relationship. So he sets the stage for his next relationship while still in the first one, without ever letting his current partner know she is being strung along in this way.
For most men, there is no single factor driving the decision to cheat. And sometimes a man’s reasons for cheating evolve over time as his life circumstances change. Regardless of a man’s reasons for cheating, he needs to understand that he didn’t have to do it. There are always other options—couple’s therapy, taking up golf, being open and honest and working to improve the relationship, even separation and/or divorce. All of these are choices that don’t involve degrading and potentially ruining one’s integrity and sense of self.
Interestingly, betrayed spouses typically realize over time that they don’t actually care why their man cheated, even if that information seemed incredibly important in the immediate aftermath of discovery. Eventually, what they tend to focus on the most is the loss of relationship trust wrought by all of the cheater’s lying and secret keeping. Similarly, men who’ve cheated often realize that the reasons they did it matter far less than what they are going to do in the future—what kind of husband, father, lover, friend, and partner they will be moving forward. Can they be honest and maintain fidelity, or will it be more of the same?
I will discuss the process of healing from infidelity and restoring relationship trust in future postings to this site.