Why Do People In Committed Relationships Cheat? (Part 2)

Published on: 01 Sep 2015
Why Do People In Committed Relationships Cheat? (Part 2)

How does one make the choice to cheat? And what happens next?

An interview with Talkspace Therapist & Head of Clinical Development, Nicole Amesbury, MS, LMHC

When you talk about the excitement someone feels when he or she begin to cheat, what chemicals are at work?

You have adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine at work. Oxytocin comes in later – it helps create a stronger attachment, a long-term attachment. That is, “I can trust you to continually get my needs met.”

So, once that happens – once there’s an attachment with new people – how do they get out of the situation? They don’t want to hurt anybody. They feel like they’ve created the whole situation, and they don’t want to break anyone’s heart.Cheaters face a terrible struggle, because it is possible to love two people at the same time, unequally. They don’t know what to do at all.

That’s an interesting paradox.

Some people have an urge to end their marriage and have an “exit” affair. They are with their spouse. They are very connected. They are never going to leave their spouse, because they don’t have the courage to go through with it, but they think, “If I have an affair, it’s the only real deal breaker I know.”

Why Do People In Committed Relationships Cheat? (Part 2)

When people don’t want to make such a heavy decision, but they – on some level – want to get out of the relationship, they will create a situation where the other person will make that decision for them. They are rid of the responsibility of having the break-up conversation. In many ways, it’s easier to cheat. Sometimes they do it with various levels of awareness.

Other people will have a specific need they are trying to meet. They know that the initial stages of falling in love will never happen again in their relationship – because they’ve been together for a long time, or they have kids, or they are not that happy in their marriage – and they think, “Let the chips fall where they may.” And some people just need a variety of experiences that their marriages don’t provide for them.

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Are there certain ages at which point these behaviors can become more prevalent, like at midlife for example?

That’s an interesting question. The two most common times are when someone has a toddler or an empty nest. The couple waits until they raise their kids, who then go off to college, and then one or both of the spouses can have an affair; each person does their own thing – it’s a very common time for someone to have an affair. And, also, it’s common to cheat when there’s a toddler or a pregnancy. 

Is it because the baby becomes the center of attention for the spouse?

Part of it is about the attention; another part of it is about the pressure of responsibility and not having fun. So, the cheater thinks he or she can still be young and hot on the side, you know? Both men and women engage in this behavior, it happens. But people can also fall out of love – it happens too.

You have such a large percentage of people who engage in affairs, but then nothing happens, their marriages go on.

It’s shocking, especially given the duration of most affairs. The average affair lasts two years; most of the time it’s either a quickie, or the affair lasts two years.

Why Do People In Committed Relationships Cheat? (Part 2)

I had a couple in counseling. The client and his wife have been through multiple rounds of marriage counseling for their lack of sex life. No help, or it wasn’t working. But really, it wasn’t just the sex, their marriage had broken down. And, he stayed with his wife because of the kids, even without an engaging sex life. He didn’t want to have an affair, so he brought up the question of having an open marriage. Well, if we’re not having sex, should we have an open marriage? But she didn’t want to go for it. So he said that he’s considering having an affair.


When this happens, the person wanting the affair is afraid, because he or she is bringing another person into the mix, so how they pick their affair partner is pretty important.

They don’t want to make the mistake of picking someone who is going to tell their wife or husband. So, a lot of the time, they will pick another married person who is essentially in the same situation.

People often think that cheaters are having affairs with these young and hot playthings, but most people don’t want to have an affair with someone like that, because they would have to put in a lot of work to keep a young hot thing busy. It’s a lot of work. A single person has all this free time, but a married person has a lot of responsibility, and not much time to devote to the affair – usually.

So, if someone is feeling that they are not getting their needs met, they’re in their office, they’re with a coworker, they go out for drinks or whatever, and they talk about their miserable marriages and the next thing you know, they’re having an affair.


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Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

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