The Real Reasons Why Women Cheat

It’s a lot more complex than you’d imagine

Credit: PeopleImages/Getty Images

AA recent study found that the number of married women who admit to cheating on their spouses has increased by 40% since 1990, while the numbers for men have remained pretty much the same. It may be that women are growing less interested in being confined to traditional relationship constructs; married and unmarried women alike have made great strides related to sexual empowerment and romantic autonomy. Maybe more women are rethinking commitments they made when they were much younger and less wise, but aren’t sure how to go about walking away from the lives they’ve become so comfortable with.

Whatever it is, it appears that more women are looking for happiness and pleasure outside of their relationships. When it comes to infidelity, though, the ramifications of acting on impulses and betraying one’s partner can have long-term negative effects on a woman’s life and the lives of those harmed by her behavior. Is an affair worth making such a risky leap?

Women cheat for reasons that aren’t very different from the reasons why men cheat.

I think of cheating as deceiving your partner by secretly engaging in boundary-crossing activities that, if your partner found out about what you were doing, they would be hurt and feel betrayed. We put too much emphasis on sex being the defining connection between romantically involved people, so when sex outside of the relationship happens, some feel like it’s the end of the world. Romantic relationships are about so much more than sex, and when we get to the heart of infidelity matters, the greatest pain usually comes from being deceived and lied to, not simply the physical act. “Emotional cheating,” or forming deeper, emotionally intimate connections that you’re not comfortable sharing with your partner, is often described as being more detrimental to relationships than physical affairs — and harder to heal from.

TThe most common reason women cheat is because they’re not getting enough of something from their current partner. Usually, the sex is bad and shows no signs of improving, their partners aren’t carrying their share of the emotional labor load and they’re feeling neglected, or they’re experiencing a combination of the two. Men who cheat are more likely to report being happy in their relationships than women, with their reasons leaning towards seeking sexual pleasure from someone new. Women, on the other hand, tend to seek emotional fulfillment when they step out, especially when their partners are men.

Only recently have women felt empowered to express their sexual dissatisfaction or to urge their partners to meet them halfway emotionally. Women have long been expected to endure lackluster sex and be content with emotionally unavailable or stunted partners, especially if they’ve partnered with men. As women become more sexually liberated, more invested in their own emotional fulfillment, and less willing to settle for partners who do little more than occupy space, the temptation to find something “better” increases. Maybe if we didn’t shame women for exploring their sexuality outside of monogamous relationships or for having multiple partners, we’d see more women waiting before they make long-term monogamous commitments or avoiding them outright.

Some women cheat simply because they can; it’s exhilarating and can make them feel powerful. Boredom or frustration with life, in general, can also be a motivation for someone looking to shake things up a bit. A survey of over 1,500 people also found that having power can motivate people towards infidelity — the more professional and financial power a person has, the more confidence a person has in their ability to attract people. As women experience professional growth and become more financially secure, why wouldn’t we expect them to do what powerful men have been doing forever? And since they’re less economically reliant on romantic partners, if they get caught and their relationships end, they can provide for themselves in ways women of previous generations could not. Interestingly enough, another study found that people who are completely financially reliant upon their partners are more likely to be unfaithful, likely due to resentment, feeling trapped, and being in a relationship based less on love and more on financial support.

I’I’m against deception, full stop, which is why I’m more open now about being ethically non-monogamous. It took me a while to get to this point, but with soul-searching, therapy, and testing the waters, I realized this is the best approach for me. I’ll admit I’ve cheated in the past and, looking back, I didn’t always feel terrible about it. I understood that it was “wrong,” but I also knew I was in the wrong situations with the wrong people.

Once, I did it out of revenge for being cheated on. Another time, I did it because while he was a nice, intelligent, romantic guy, his penis was incredibly small and he couldn’t last more than a few minutes in bed. When I brought up opening up our relationship, he wasn’t feeling it, so I handled my business elsewhere. I did also have an emotional affair with a woman once because I was working through feelings of emotional neglect and abuse with the man I was involved with.

Looking back, I wish I’d felt more secure and comfortable enough to express my unhappiness and either work on the issues or walk away sooner. I know that I have no intention of cheating again because I refuse to get into any situation that doesn’t allow me the freedom to see other people if I so desire.

IImagine if we afforded people, women especially, the space to explore their desires and options without being judged for making decisions that may exclude monogamy or reject the idea of getting married. What if we were allowed to be more honest about what we want or about not having it all figured out? I imagine we’d see fewer women settling and getting stuck in relationships that leave them wanting more.

We’re quick to say “just leave” when people are unhappy in their relationships, but leaving isn’t that easy in a world where people still obnoxiously ask “Why are you single?” with an unspoken “What’s wrong with you?” lingering in the air. Not all women can handle that kind of scrutiny so they resort to cheating. We also live in a world where single moms are scorned, women exploring their sexuality are called derogatory names, and women are burdened with the responsibility of keeping romantic relationships together, despite how unhealthy they are or how unhappy women may be.

My hope is that we reach a point when being in a relationship isn’t projected onto women as their ultimate goal in life, where motherhood isn’t synonymous with being a “real” woman, and when polyamory isn’t taboo or frowned upon. No woman should feel that cheating is the only way to experience affection and pleasure when her current relationship leaves her wanting more.

My advice: Spend more time learning who you are and what you want out of your intimate partnerships before jumping in and out of unfulfilling predicaments where your actions can hurt more people than you ever intended. Embrace honesty and be outspoken about what you need and what you refuse to settle for. If a monogamous relationship is what you seek, someone out there is willing and able to give you the things you want. Be patient. Don’t settle. And be true to yourself and honest with others.

She/Her | Author, Activist. Philly-based, NYC-bred. #ReclaimingOurSpace #PushTheButton Google me. Twitter/IG: @FeministaJones Contact: bit.ly/ContactFJ

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