7 Reasons Why Men Cheat

Cheating isn’t acceptable behavior, but we can’t pretend it happens out of a vacuum. So what are the reasons why a man might cheat?

By Mia Gonzalez3 min read
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Bravo/Vanderpump Rules

It’s a frequent plotline for TV shows and movies, a catchy premise for a girl-power pop anthem (“Before He Cheats,” anyone?), and sadly, an all-too-common occurrence for many women in real life. We’re talking about men cheating, of course.

Let’s begin by saying that cheating is unacceptable behavior. It’s immoral, selfish, and damaging to the person being cheated on, the person cheating, and the person cheating with the cheater. There’s no real excuse for someone choosing to cheat on their significant other. Whatever led them up to this point, they were wrong to get involved with someone else while still being in a relationship.

With that being said, not every man will cheat in his lifetime. Some men might never cheat, some might cheat once, and still others might cheat serially. One study from the Institute for Family Studies found that 20% of married men had cheated on their wife in the past. So what causes the men who do cheat to do so? What are the psychological reasons behind men’s infidelity?


Sometimes, a man’s infidelity can be boiled down to something as simple as “poor judgment, lack of willpower, lack of self-control, and immaturity,” shares relationship therapist Ken Page, LCSW. This certainly tracks; if a man lacks these crucial qualities, he’ll behave like a boy, immaturely and recklessly, without much forethought as to the consequences of his actions or regard for others’ feelings.

Feeling Abandoned and Disrespected

While looking to reality TV for an example of a healthy relationship might leave you feeling unsatisfied, when it comes to why relationships don’t work and cheating ensues, reality shows have much to offer. Take Vanderpump Rules, for example. Cast members Ariana Madix and Tom Sandoval had been in a relationship since 2014 – that is, until it came out that Sandoval cheated on Madix with a fellow cast member and mutual friend of the couple. On the May 10 episode of Vanderpump, Sandoval said to Madix, “It just sometimes feels lately, like, we haven’t been as connected…You snap at me, and you f—king belittle me in front of people. That really f—king hurts my feelings.” Along with this, Sandoval shared that at the time his affair began, he and Madix were “having sex, like, four times a year.”

Feeling disrespected, neglected, and disconnected from his wife contributes to a man’s decision to cheat.

While having an affair is always the wrong decision and there were many paths he should’ve taken instead, Sandoval expressed feeling disrespected, neglected, disconnected, and hurt – which we can safely assume contributed to his having an affair.

A Fear or Lack of Commitment

Another common reason a man might cheat? He’s a commitment-phobe, perhaps because he’s worried that he’ll be blindsided by the end of a relationship, be cheated on, or is struggling with hurts from childhood or a past relationship. Whatever the reason, a lack of commitment is one of the most common reasons for a couple to get a divorce, so it’s no surprise that a man who struggles to commit won’t respect the boundaries of a relationship, leading to the relationship’s demise.

He Doesn’t Feel Like a Man

Dr. Alicia M. Walker, author and professor, found that when she interviewed men who used Ashley Madison (a dating website designed for married people looking for an extramarital affair), the men would often express love and fondness for their spouse – but they also reported either very low or nonexistent amounts of validation, praise, and positive attention from their wives. Walker noted that we can’t know the ins and outs of a marriage, and this perceived lack of attention and validation could stem from their wives being overwhelmed with children and household responsibilities. “Regardless, these men internalized the dynamics in those relationships as a condemnation of them and their masculinity,” says Walker. 

He Wants Out

“Sometimes when men cheat, it’s because they are trying to get out of a relationship, and that is a first step,” says Page. If he already feels emotionally checked out of the relationship, rather than having a difficult, emotional, uncomfortable conversation with his wife or girlfriend, he’ll start having an affair with another woman as a means of “ending” his current relationship. 

By the time a man cheats, there’s already been a long period of unresolved issues.

“By the time a man has an affair, there's already been a long period of time when there have been issues, and they've had an inability to talk about those feelings,” says licensed marriage and family therapist Shane Birkel, LMFT.

Unrealistic Expectations

Another issue that can often lead to infidelity is a man having unrealistic expectations of his girlfriend or wife. If he’s expecting perfection – sexual access to her 24/7, zero relational rough patches, and for every whim of his to be met, then he’s going to be disappointed when he realizes his wife or girlfriend is a limited human being. 

Having these unrealistic expectations, explains Sarah E. Clark, LMFT, will lead both people to “end up frustrated, disappointed, insecure, and resentful. Those emotions are too painful to endure long-term, so this can lead to people looking outside the relationship to find what they're not getting.” Rather than stepping outside his fantasy and learning what’s fair to expect from her, he has an affair, where he can live out his fantasies with a woman he doesn’t actually have to form a deep, honest connection with. 

He’s a Narcissist

While most men who cheat aren’t narcissists, the rates of cheating are actually higher among individuals with narcissistic personality disorder. The majority of people who’ve cheated will likely feel shame for their actions, but narcissists have “a personality organization that is scripted to avoid shame … they will be consciously or unconsciously unwilling to empathize with you,” says Maria C. Lamia, Ph.D. It's this unwillingness to empathize that could help them justify cheating in their mind.

Closing Thoughts

While a man always has the choice not to cheat and therefore there’s no excuse that can be used as a “get out of jail free card,” it’s important to understand the psychology behind cheating and the relationship dynamics that often lead to infidelity.

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