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Infidelity: Why Does Your Partner Cheat?

Who knew that "Mistress Day" was even a thing?

A recent news story noted that the best time to catch a suspected cheating spouse is right around Valentine’s Day. February 14 is the Cheater’s Holiday. It’s a day that has morphed from a religiously based celebration into a retailers’ and hospitality industry titans’ pot of gold. The stakes are high on Valentine’s Day as its commercialization has created expectations that love—and lust—are measured by the cost (financial or personal) of the gift that is given. Cheating partners may use the price tag of a gift as a symbol of their level of commitment to someone on the side to whom they might never, truly, want to be committed long-term. And the trinket that they pick up for the long-term partner may pale in comparison to the one chosen for the extra-relational partner.

Mistress Day is a “Thing”

If you suspect your partner is cheating, contemporary folk wisdom suggests that you check out where they are on the day before Valentine’s Day. February 13th is termed as “Mistress Day,” as it’s the day that the cheating partner thinks she or he can get away with being absent from their committed partner. It’s also the most frequently chosen day for short-term hotel bookings. While many long settled couples opt to "take a pass" on celebrating Valentine's Day, it seems that it's a false holiday celebrated by people who are being false to partners in their committed relationships.

Who Cheats?

Once men had the lock on cheating in traditional monogamous, heterosexuals marriages. However, women are catching up with men’s rates of admitted infidelity. For partners who were raised in homes where infidelity was present, their likelihood to cheat is increased. Not only that, but if a partner cheats once, it’s amazingly likely it will happen again. While sexual discrimination, sexual abuse, and disrespect for women are not at all acceptable behaviors, and the majority of adults have little tolerance for infidelity, recent research findings suggest that women are cheating on their partners in numbers approaching those of the number of men who cheat.

Why Cheat?

People cheat for a million different reasons—boredom, desire, unwillingness to leave a partner even when the relationship is dead, love of the game, risk-taking tolerance, desire to push boundaries, and the list goes on. It can become a hobby, of sorts, for some people. Revenge, too, is a frequent motivating factor. If you’ve been hurt by the one you love, the desire to get even is often too strong to resist . . . even if you had previously prized fidelity to your partner. Males, traditionally, have attributed the decision to cheat on pure sexual arousal. Women, however, might have been more likely to cite emotion-centered motivations. This is similar to men's tendency to experience greater jealousy over a woman's sexual attraction to a male while women have a more difficult time handling a partner's emotional involvement with another.

How Bad Does it Hurt to have a Cheating Partner?

Research has turned up some interesting findings related to how it feels to be cheated on by a partner. For instance, the act of imagining your partner being unfaithful results in a bigger emotional reaction that recalling a past partner’s infidelity tends to do. Just thinking about something makes it feel as real as if it was happening right then. Fortunately, we do indeed heal from emotional hurts and as it does with so many things, time heals our emotional wounds. Think about the words of the Carrie Underwood song, “Maybe next time he’ll think before he cheats,” in which she tells a story of a woman who is vandalizing her cheating partner’s vehicle outside the bar where her partner is hooking up with another woman. Being two-timed by a partner is often a blow to the self-esteem that is unlike any other.

However, another research study suggests that you are much more likely to suspect your partner is cheating on you if you, yourself, are feeling attracted to other people or are considering cheating. About 84 percent of American adults feel that cheating is immoral, but perhaps normalizing your own desire to cheat by projecting the same desire on your partner makes it a bit less conflicting for a person.

For those people who feel drawn to cheating as a way to enjoy a little risk-taking, perhaps they should consider that being genuinely intimate with their partners requires a fair amount of “risk-taking,” as well.

Actually, True Intimacy involves Risk, Too

Intimate relationships allow us the opportunity to know someone in ways that most relationships and interactions with other just don’t allow. The word comes from the Latin words intimatus (to make known, announce, impress) and intimus, which means inmost, innermost, and deepest. Thus, becoming intimate with another requires that we allow them access to the parts of ourselves that we tend to keep hidden from others.

The risk in letting in someone so close lies in the fear of rejection and in the fear of being found inadequate or lacking. You also might fear the risk of having another person know you more clearly than you know yourself. Potential clients often fear that their therapists will “read their minds” or see more than the client wants to allow to be seen. Intimate romantic relationships can generate the same fear – by opening up to another, you are putting yourself at risk of having another person see qualities and vulnerabilities that you have spent a lifetime unaware of or a lifetime trying to hide. Unfortunately, risk is a mandatory component of most activities that cause us to grow and stretch beyond existing limits. Without moving into the unknown, we are confined to what is, not what could be.

Cheating typically involves duplicity and begins with deception and lies—there’s risk involved, for sure, but perhaps risking honesty in your primary relationship might offer a safer, more rewarding papayoffor emotional risk-taking.


Neal, A. M., & Lemay, E. P. (2017). The wandering eye perceives more threats: Projection of attraction to alternative partners predicts anger and negative behavior in romantic relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 1–19. DOI: 10.1177/0265407517734398

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