Why Do We Cheat on Those We Love?

Why is it that sometimes, even when we're in love with our partner, we cheat on them? As a matter of fact, love doesn't always understand commitment and we often let ourselves get carried away by our own selfish needs.
Why Do We Cheat on Those We Love?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Why do we cheat on those we love? Are lies and betrayal recurring behaviors in human beings or is it a specific act motivated by a certain mechanism? As striking as it may seem, there’s no clear and convincing answer in this regard. Actually, there are several explanations. Some have a social, some a personality, and others a purely biological component.

Anthropologist Helen Fisher points out that infidelity is a common behavior. Furthermore, it frequently happens, even when you’re in love with your partner. You do it because love and attraction are two different realities and, sometimes, desire can make you violate the commitment you’ve built with your partner.

This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It simply makes you human, according to Fisher. Because in relationships, love, passion, and desire are complex dimensions and extremely difficult to understand. So much so, that even Oscar Wilde went so far as to say “the mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death”.

Woman symbolizing why we deceive the people we love
Few things hurt as much as a betrayal. Whenever it happens, the victim will try to understand the reason, why someone who claims to love them can deceive them.

Why do we cheat on the people we love

If you betray your partner, the fact of knowing that you still love them doesn’t make them feel any better. In fact, the reality tends to be the opposite. That’s because, if you both agreed on and have established an exclusive relationship, with no room for third parties or polyamorous behavior, this type of betrayal will really hurt them.

Why does it happen? Helen Fisher claims that love, in reality, is more than just a feeling and that it responds to a series of impulses. One kind of love is romantic love. This defines the need to share your life, time, and commitments with another person. As a rule, you also develop a bond of exclusivity and intense attachment with them.

However, according to the evolutionary and biological approach, relationships are also orchestrated by sexual drive. The latter doesn’t always accord with the valued principle of exclusivity. In fact, it’s perfectly possible to be sexually attracted to several people at the same time, which complicates matters.

There are many reasons why you may cheat on the people you love.

The need to feel other emotions

Sometimes, being unfaithful provides you with a sense of novelty, risk, and excitement. That’s because life with your partner has become routine. In fact, you feel safe in their affection. In effect, they’ve become a habit.

On the other hand, having an affair with another person provides an experience of intense and effervescent emotions. These can become addictive.

Reinforcement of self-esteem or the pleasure of feeling desirable

As a human, you’re motivated by primary instincts. One of them has to do with the simple fact of knowing that you’re desired. Indeed, many men and women, even though they have a stable partner whom they love, need to know that they’re still attractive and desirable to other people. In fact, it’s a way of reinforcing their self-esteem.

Discovering other areas of yourself

As Helen Fisher pointed out, love also responds to the sexual instinct that sometimes urges you to cheat on your partner. Nevertheless, in certain cases this behavior responds to a more complex need.

In this case, seeking other sexual partners is a way of exploring other areas of yourself. You’re able to discover other desires, practices, needs, and repressed parts of yourself. It often happens if you’re not satisfied with your own partner.

Attachment problems

Maybe you’re the kind of person who can’t build a solid bond. Perhaps you suffered childhood trauma or other kinds of problems. This means you’ve built a type of insecure, ambivalent, or even avoidant attachment. Therefore, you don’t know how to commit. Alternatively, you may even become obsessed with the idea that you’re going to be abandoned by your partner, or you think that they don’t love you enough.

These attachment disorders sometimes lead you to betray your partner due to your clear inability to form a type of relationship based on trust.

Research conducted by Florida State University weighs in on this relationship and suggests that attachment theory remains a useful framework for understanding certain behaviors associated with infidelity.

Man talking to his partner about why we cheat on the people we love
There are men and women who want to experience new emotions. Others need to validate their self-esteem and prove to themselves that they’re still desired.

Inherent narcissism: Feeling like you deserve more

If the opportunity exists, why not do it? Infidelity responds to multiple motivations. Some may be understandable, and others more selfish. Sometimes, the weight of routine quenches feelings of desire. Other factors such as stress or certain problems in your relationship can make you look further afield for what you don’t have at home.

Although there are multiple variables that explain why you cheat on those you love, you can’t rule out personality factors. You might betray your partner because you’re prioritizing your own desires and needs. Maybe you feel you deserve more. This behavior is common in the narcissistic personality profile as these individuals are unable to establish exclusive relationships.

When you pay more attention to what you want and what you feel like, it becomes impossible to build a ‘we’. Indeed, selfishness in a relationship doesn’t take account of genuine commitment and doesn’t respect emotional exclusivity.

Finally, although it’s true that love remains something of an enigma, you must always demonstrate respect and try to build healthy and happy bonds. Remember that betrayal always creates distance and attacks feelings of trust.

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Infidelity: When Love Stops Being Exclusive
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Infidelity: When Love Stops Being Exclusive

Many couples agree to be faithful. They agree to love each other and honor the deals they make. If someone breaks the deal, that's infidelity

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Fisher, H. E., Xu, X., Aron, A., & Brown, L. L. (2016). Intense, Passionate, Romantic Love: A Natural Addiction? How the
  • Fields That Investigate Romance and Substance Abuse Can Inform Each Other. Frontiers in psychology7, 687. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00687

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.