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Why Men Think About Cheating

The question you want answered. The answer you don’t want.

Key points

  • Thoughts of cheating can be sparked by various triggers, like when a partner feels trapped, unappreciated, unheard, or disrespected.
  • Men are not socialized to understand the complexity of their problems and their emotions.
  • Thoughts of cheating are helpful ways to understand men’s inner experiences.
Source: Matthias Zomer/Pexels
Source: Matthias Zomer/Pexels

Why do men think about cheating? Because men are pigs. Just kidding! That’s the answer I think people scorned by men want to hear.

So why do men actually think about cheating? Because it’s part of our evolutionary biology. Still kidding! I think that’s the answer that men who want to normalize their feelings want to hear.

I can’t actually tell you why all men think about cheating, but I can tell you why some men think about cheating. As a therapist who works primarily with men, I can tell you why my clients think about cheating by compiling stories from men who are straight, gay, bi, and in monogamous or polyamorous relationships.

As a man, I can speak to my own thoughts and feelings about cheating. And as a married man, I can speak to the difference between thoughts about cheating and cheating itself. Just as suicidal ideation is not the same thing as attempting suicide, thinking about cheating is not the same thing as cheating. Thoughts about cheating can be informative windows into a man’s understanding of himself and his experiences, but they don’t always lead to cheating. The reasons men think about cheating are unique and complex.

Men are socialized to be independent and solve problems on their own. But we also have a strong desire to connect with other people, just like anyone else. Men are pitted against themselves because they want to be close to people but are told they shouldn’t be. Men have very few outlets for expression besides sports, anger, and sex. In the absence of other options, we often turn to sex to meet our needs for connection — to ourselves and others.

Most of my clients who have thought about cheating haven’t acted on it. At least, that’s what they tell me. And I believe them, because we’ve spent hours talking about why they’re thinking about cheating, what else is going on in their life, and how those problems can be resolved. Those hours of conversation create a huge gap between thought and action, giving them time to stop and think before behaving recklessly.

Extensive conversations about cheating usually reveal that it would not be a cure-all to my clients’ woes. Usually, clients who have cheated have done so while drunk or intoxicated. Drugs and alcohol are easy ways to shrink the gap between thoughts and actions; substances distort the relationship a person has with their body and behaviors.

Men are not socialized to pay careful attention to their bodies. Sports and other competitions reward men who can ignore their internal experiences. Years of ignoring pain and discomfort make it that much harder for men to understand their pain and even harder for it to be discussed. But with time and consistent conversations, patterns tend to reveal themselves.

Most of my male clients describe having thoughts about cheating when they feel trapped, unappreciated, unheard, or disrespected in a relationship. Those descriptions are informative but still broad; deeper investigation can uncover even more intricate patterns.

It has taken years of my own therapy and reflection to recognize why I think about cheating. Thoughts of infidelity usually occur when I’m feeling unappreciated; more specifically, when I feel like I’m working hard and becoming more successful but not getting proportionate amounts of physical touch or intimacy. Freudians and family therapists might connect these feelings back to my childhood — and I think they would be right.

Unbeknownst to my mother, she created an association between physical touch and praise, as I would get more high-fives, hugs, and general positive affection when I did well in school or did all my chores at home. So when I feel I’m doing an above-average job in my marriage, but my wife isn’t giving me adequate physical attention, I might think about cheating.

What counts as "adequate" physical touch or an above-average job? It takes two sides to define what’s good enough when two people are involved. My wife may be giving me all the physical affection she can afford, especially if she’s been having a difficult day or year. Or she might think that I’ve been distant, moody, or sensitive when I thought I was coming across as caring and compassionate.

Feeling unappreciated may be the most common reason thoughts of cheating come to my mind, but it isn’t the only one. Other reasons might be more physical, emotional, or circumstantial. I could be feeling really lonely. Maybe I’m just having a really good hair day. Or I’m thinking about cheating because it’s been a long time since my wife and I have had sex. The reason thoughts of cheating or leaving a relationship can come to mind is as infinite as the number of reasons someone thinks about starting a relationship.

In summation, men think about cheating because they’re like pigs, assumed to be gluttonous creatures reduced to their most obvious cravings, even though research and anyone who has spent time with pigs can confirm that they are extremely intelligent and complex.

Men think about cheating because we crave relational closeness, intimacy, physical touch, and co-regulation like any other human. But we think about cheating specifically or exclusively because a lack of physical connection is the only problem we are taught to identify. Instead of learning what specific issue is bothering us, we tend to externalize our problems onto other people or circumstances because we haven’t been taught that the pain or discomfort might be coming from within. It is difficult for most people to accept that men are complex, including men, because it would mean the problems of our lives require more time and effort than we’d like to give them.

One post can’t describe why all men do any one thing, and while I hope you can learn some lessons about men from my experiences and the clients I’ve worked with, remember that no one holds the answers to all men.

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