Man looking out window and wondering what causes infidelity in marriage.

What Causes Infidelity In Marriage?

There’s healing help in knowing these four reasons why married people cheat.

Most people don’t become curious about the causes of infidelity until it’s impacted them personally.

Maybe they’ve cheated, are cheating, or are considering cheating and don’t understand how they wound up in this situation. Maybe they’ve discovered their spouse has been or is being unfaithful. Maybe they’ve found out someone close to them has had or is having an affair.

Regardless of your reason for wanting to understand what causes infidelity in marriage, gaining some clarity about the possible reasons can help you begin to heal from the repercussions of the betrayal.

In general, what causes infidelity in marriage falls into one of four categories.

  1. The straying spouse has unmet emotional needs.
    Married woman with unmet emotional needs that could lead to infidelity.
    Image credit: Unsplash

    Among the many different feelings reported as being at the root for infidelity are loneliness, neglect, unappreciated, emotionally irrelevant, fear of growing older, sadness, anger, resentment, boredom, disconnection from their spouse, trapped, isolated, disrespected, insecurity and bitterness.

    Of course experiencing feelings like these don’t mean it’s OK to have an affair. They simply indicate that the person experiencing them is in pain.

    And when someone is in pain, they try to make it stop. Although there are many ways to alleviate emotional pain, those who choose to relieve theirs through infidelity have made a poor decision.

  2. They are sexually dissatisfied.
    Married man who could become unfaithful because of unmet sexual needs.
    Image credit: Unsplash

    Sexual dissatisfaction isn’t just about sexual frequency or a sexless marriage. (Although these are certainly valid reasons to feel sexually frustrated.)

    Sexual dissatisfaction can also result from unfulfilling sex. Sometimes people expect the excitement and fun they initially had with their partner as the norm and anything less is unsatisfying. Unsatisfactory sex can also result from a consistent failure to reach orgasm.

    Another way in which infidelity in a marriage can be caused through sexual frustration is living apart for extended periods of time. Without regular sexual contact with each other, at least one of the spouses can easily stray in an effort to meet their sexual needs.

    Sexual dissatisfaction in marriage can also result from issues involving body image and aging. The straying spouse may question their own sexual attractiveness and search for validation outside of their marriage. Then again, the straying spouse may have strayed because they have issues with the changes in their spouse’s body that come with life and aging.

    Regardless of the root cause of their sexual dissatisfaction, their needs aren’t being met. So, the sexually frustrated spouse will try to have their needs met in other ways that can lead to infidelity.

  3. The couple has miscommunicated and/or the straying spouse has avoided communication.
    A married woman who refuses to communicate can cause unintended infidelity.
    Image credit: Unsplash

    The types of miscommunication that lead to infidelity take many different forms.

    Not talking about values will almost always be problematic for couples because infidelity means different things to different people. For example, some people believe there are emotional affairs and some don’t. This type of mismatch in values can cause unintentional infidelity.

    Not talking about each spouse’s expectations of marriage is another miscommunication that can lead to infidelity. One example of this would be mismatched expectations of what an open marriage is which again can cause unintended infidelity.

    Unfaithfulness can also result from avoided communication. Types of eschewed conversations include second thoughts after the wedding, jealousy over the attention given to a new baby, a cry for help, conflict avoidance, and even wanting a divorce.

    In other words, when a spouse strays because of avoided communication, they’re acting out instead of talking about the issues.

  4. The betraying mate has psychological issues.
    A spouse with psychological issues could choose infidelity to deal with their struggles.
    Image credit: Unsplash

    For some people the root cause of infidelity is much more complicated because they have underlying challenges that they’ve either not yet been able to appropriately deal with or have not yet discovered.

    A few examples of underlying issues that can cause infidelity include childhood baggage, addictions, narcissism, intimacy disorder, and bipolar disorder.

In each of these categories, you can see that spouses cheat because their needs or their spouse’s needs aren’t being met in some way. Unmet needs are extremely hazardous to marriages – even happy ones.

Yet, by knowing these four types of reasons why married people cheat, you are beginning your journey to understanding why infidelity happened in your life.

Now you have a starting point for moving forward because you have some context for having meaningful conversations about why the things that happened happened. And it’s with these conversations that you can begin to heal from the repercussions of the betrayal.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who want support in dealing with the pain of infidelity and miserable marriages. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

Looking for more information about infidelity? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Surviving Infidelity.


Dr. Karen Finn

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