Ask Dr. Frankie: Why Do Women Cheat?

What do loneliness, boredom, lack of romance, loss of intimacy, and desire for more attention/ excitement/revenge/sexual novelty all have in common?

If you guessed they are all major contributors to why women cheat, you are correct.

Whether you’re the offender, the recipient, or perhaps I’ve caught you still in the contemplation phase, it’s important to reflect on the often winding and treacherous path to infidelity. In this article I am going to explore common factors that influence why women cheat.

For women, cheating usually involves an emotional process that can lead us into action.

Women typically have more forethought prior to an affair than our male counterparts, with premeditated actions vs. impulsive behaviors. Not to say impulsive sexual encounters don’t occur, it’s just less likely when compared to men. Emotional bonds and resources in a relationship can dictate a large portion of what we’re looking for in a relationship; so the greater the emotional void, the higher the likelihood of a woman cheating.

An expert in the field, Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, Ph.D. author of Why Him? Why Her? reviewed gender differences in the way people cheat.

Her findings indicated that men were less likely to fall in love with the person with whom they had an affair, while women tended to have an emotional connection with their lover, and were more likely to have an affair precipitated by loneliness.

Fisher found that 34% of women who had affairs reported they were happy or very happy in their marriage, while 56% of men reported being happy in their relationship.

In general, women often look for a supplemental relationship or a new relationship to replace the old, whereas men are not usually looking for a new partner. So what is the take away point from this?  Womens’ motivation for infidelity is usually more complicated than the desire for the physical act of sex, and almost always indicates a void in the primary relationship.

One theory to explain why this occurs is based on how our ancestors survived by optimizing relationships.

Women met individuals when hunting and gathering. By having an affair they raised the likelihood of gaining more resources when traveling, increased the genetic variability in their offspring, and were more likely to be protected if something happened to their primary partner (ie. still maintain resources for self and children). Being connected to another person in an emotional context would guarantee more resources and reduce the chance of being lonely. For our ancestors, loneliness or not having relationships with a strong bond would increase the chance of death, due to a lack of resources. For modern women, being lonely and not having their needs met, could very likely trigger the evolutionary-based motivator to seek another relationship to increase resources and satisfy needs.

Contributing Factors to Women and Cheating

Sex and Bonds

Women, neurologically speaking, are built to bond during sexual encounters, although this is not to say that all women react to sex in the same way. The culprit bonding hormone is called oxytocin and is secreted during physical intimacy. Less sex in your relationship results in less bonding chemicals, which translates to fewer moments of connected-ness in your relationship. What we have here is a cycle…1. Increase intimate moments with your primary partner 2. You will both experience increased release of oxytocin 3. You will become more bonded and more likely to have more sex 4. You will be less likely to cheat. What a beautiful thing! (I wrote a great previous post about how distance can keep the spark alive. Read it now).

Wanting to feel emotionally connected

Daily routine can erode even the best relationships, and parents of young children I’m especially talking to you! Dreamy conversations of foreign travel to exotic beaches and swimming with dolphins in black sand beaches are replaced with whose turn it is to do the 3:00 AM feeding and plunge the toilet. Make time for your relationship by carving out regular date nights. The best thing you can do for your children is show them what a healthy, stable, loving relationship looks like. Create moments where emotional connections can occur. This will reduce loneliness and facilitate healthy communication.

The Ship Has Sailed

Women may start an affair to create a reason to leave the primary relationship, also known as an exit strategy. It’s easier to face the loss of something when there is someone new to act as a distraction from the pain, think premeditated rebound. A new person can also become a point of comparison and a motivator to leave the relationship. If you have left the relationship emotionally prior to the affair, this may be the reason.

Boat is Sinking Fast

Some women have an affair as an avenue to express disappointment, resentment, retaliation, or ultimately signal that the relationship is suffering and needs attention quickly. There have been plenty of women I have worked with that wanted to stay in their primary relationship and the affair was their version of a wake-up call to their partner. Consider it something of a “cry for help” to re-energize their relationship in order to keep it. The same is true for the individual being cheated on, it’s time to address the conflict in the relationship, because most likely there are problems.

Large Stressor

Some women have reported wanting a change, extra support, or needing companionship during times of great stress. Losses such as unemployment, death of a loved one, or major life adjustments like empty next syndrome or the changing of a career are all significant life stressors. These milestones often highlight the different needs or life goals you and your partner have, which can lead you astray from your partner. If you’re asking yourself “is there hope?”, my unequivocal answer is YES!! The silver lining is that when women cheat there is usually an identifiable problem in the primary relationship; once the issues are identified, they can often be resolved with a lot of work. Seeking couples counseling and/or individual therapy can help you figure out what is creating the motivation for infidelity and whether or not you both want to stay in the relationship or go your separate ways. I hope this article helps to create a dialogue and foster a deeper understanding as to “why” women have affairs.

If you have a story to share or this article lends some clarity to an otherwise murky situation,
I’d love to hear from you! Contact me.

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