Linda Young

Linda Young Ph.D.

Love in Limbo

Cutting to the Chase on Cheating

Why might Tiger cheat? All infidelity comes down to these 3 things.

Posted Jun 29, 2009

Here is the cut-to-the-chase truth about why people have affairs even when there is a lot at stake if they get caught.  Rumors & gossip swirl around Tiger Woods' alleged affairs as he fiercely attempts to protect his privacy.  Rachel Uchitel has denied any affair with him but Tool Academy reality TV contestant Jaimee Grubbs claims proof.

The latest round of "How could he?" and "What was he thinking?" questions move me to cut to the chase on what causes infidelity. Most of us probably know that we are not an inherently monogamous species. But that fact is so disconcerting that we downplay or deny the chasm that lies between endorsing a value of monogamy (over 90% of us do) and upholding it (somewhere between 25% and 60% of us don't according to various studies). My practice has taught me that there are just three necessary and sufficient conditions at the root infidelity. Any story I have ever heard can be fully explained by Yearning, Entitlement and Supply (Y.E.S.)!

1. Yearning (Desire)
Nature, nurture and the cheating partner's past and present relationships all contribute to yearning. Any one of the following can make someone more likely to cheat:
• Hormonally, we are not all created equal. Testosterone increases the "gotta have it now" urge in both sexes. "High T" men feel more urgent and frequent sexual desire than "Low T" women. Seventy year-olds don't usually feel as horny as twenty year-olds.  Professional athletes are often High T people.

• Neurotransmitters like dopamine contribute to thrill seeking and risk-taking. Some of us naturally have higher levels than others and drugs like ecstasy and cocaine amp up the dopamine system in our brains.

• Children who are deprived of unconditional, consistent love and affection from caregivers may develop a skin hunger or hole of deprivation that no single partner seems good enough or loving enough to fill when they grow up.

• Children who are raised with harsh proscriptions against sex often desire the forbidden fruit. They may also become the most moralistic adults in an effort to keep their own yearnings at bay (which explains the hypocrisy we so often see among busted conservative religious and political leaders). It is probably not a coincidence that Utah has the highest number of Internet searches of any state for the term "hot girls".

• Committed adult relationships that have lost their luster or become barnacled with resentments also create a breeding ground for feelings of deprivation. Deprivation increases yearning for something else, something more, something new, something better.

2. Entitlement (Permission)
This is the big one.  An affair does not happen if the person considering it has not given himself or herself permission - and when entitlement is operating, getting caught is the furthest thing from the cheater's mind.  Urges, upbringing and unmet needs may be the engines that drive cheating, but what releases the brakes is a feeling of entitlement in the moment. In every case of infidelity immediate gratification trumps long-term consequences at the moment the line is crossed. "I never meant to hurt you", and "I didn't mean for it to happen" is really about wanting something right now and not meaning to ever get caught!

At the moment of crossing an intimate boundary that a couple has agreed upon or assumed (whether sexual, behavioral, verbal or emotional), the cheating partner believes he or she deserves what is being experienced with the new partner. Whether it's holding a gaze ten seconds too long, a drunken night with a stripper, feeling "in love" again, getting revenge, finding an understanding ear, fulfilling a kinky fantasy or having hundreds of hook-ups it comes down to the same key ingredient: giving oneself permission.

3. Supply (Availability)

If there is no opportunity to meet willing partners, straying can't happen. Celebrities, gorgeous people and folks with power and status have greater access to willing partners. So do people who come into close physical or emotional contact with others for work or play.

If availability suddenly rises, people who are used to having fewer choices may be ill-equipped to resist attractive others. Sometimes availability suddenly increases because an individual becomes more attractive (loses a lot of weight, becomes wealthy or famous...think Jon & Kate). Sometimes it increases because he or she enters a new environment that is like a candy store (homemaker gets a new job that includes travel with mostly male co-workers). A poorly developed set of brakes and pent up demand combine to open the floodgates.

We Can Still Be Monogamous

Just because we are predisposed to non-monogamy doesn't mean we can't uphold it! What it really comes down to is letting go of trying to have our cake and eat it too - something will always be sacrificed. I'm all for whatever line a couple agrees to draw together as long as they acknowledge that all three of the above factors must be addressed if we are to move from Y.E.S. to NO on cheating. You can find resources and counseling for relationships and infidelity at

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