Why do women cheat in marriage

12 Reasons Women Cheat, According to an Expert

  • Relationships
  • Love & Dating

Studies show that the infidelity gender gap is narrowing.


Cathy Meyer

Cathy Meyer

Cathy Meyer is a certified divorce coach, marriage educator, freelance writer, and founding editor of DivorcedMoms.com. As a divorce mediator, she provides clients with strategies and resources that enable them to power through a time of adversity.

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Updated on 09/28/22

Reviewed by

Landis Bejar

Reviewed by Landis Bejar

Landis Bejar is a New York State Licensed Mental Health Counselor and the founder of AisleTalk: Consultation & Therapy.

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Licensed Mental Health Counselor

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Although social norms and Hollywood portrayals often depict men as the sex more likely to cheat, studies show that the infidelity gender gap is narrowing—especially among younger people. Take, for instance, a research study out of The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, which found that among participants with an average age of 31, "there were no significant gender differences in the report of infidelity (23 percent of men vs. 19 percent of women)." Then there's the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey (GSS) from 2018, which found that women between the ages of 18 and 29 were slightly more likely to cheat than men of the same age group (11 percent vs. 10 percent). Further data out of the GSS showed that the percentage of women who cheat rose nearly 40 percent from 1990 to 2010 while men's adultery rate held steady at 21 percent.

The reason for the uptick in women who cheat? Some attribute it to the increased responsibilities (and therefore increased needs and wants) of the modern woman. Empowered by feminist viewpoints and financial freedom, women are less likely to compromise—and better positioned to seek out the emotional and sexual gratification that's missing in their relationship.

"The gap shifted when women went to work and had their own money and choices; with choice comes easier dissatisfaction," explains marriage and sex therapist Angela Skurtu M.Ed, LMFT. "We also expect a lot more out of marriage now. Before, marriage was a vehicle to raise your family and be taken care of financially. Now, we expect happiness, good sex, best friends, and more out of it. We have put a lot of pressure on marriage when it wasn't originally designed to meet all your needs." 

Meet the Expert

  • Angela Skurtu M.Ed, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist and nationally (AASECT) certified sex therapist. She is the author of Helping Couples Overcome Infidelity: A Therapist's Manual.
  • Joel Block, PhD, is an assistant clinical professor of psychology at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.

The question still remains: Why do women cheat? Read on for 12 common reasons, plus expert insight from Skurtu and psychologist Joel Block.

01 of 12

Dissatisfaction in Relationship

This can be seen as the underlying theme of the majority of motivations for infidelity. Dissatisfaction, explains Skurtu, is where it starts. "People justify this by saying, 'We are in a bad patch.'" she continues. "Then the opportunity arises for one person, and instead of stopping things before they start, they justify crossing a boundary, with, 'My partner doesn't care anyway. It's completely innocent.'"

For every relationship boundary crossed, the person has to justify their behavior to themselves first, then they are able to compartmentalize the actions. Not finding satisfaction in a current relationship can trigger someone to seek that satisfaction elsewhere or even use the act of cheating (whether consciously or unconsciously) as a catalyst to end their current relationship.

Be as honest as possible if confronting a partner or being confronted about infidelity. "Often, both partners knew about the gaps," Skurtu says. "The affair just shines a light on the problems."

02 of 12

Low Self-Esteem

When a woman is struggling with low self-worth, it may spur them to look to external sources for the attention and validation that they and their partner are unable to create and sustain. "Low self-esteem starts out looking like, 'Why would anyone find me attractive?' Then when someone starts to show that attention, it feels really good," says Skurtu.

A woman who cheats may rely on affairs to provide them with proof of their value or desirability. When one fling ends, it may cause them to feel neglected or worthless, so they pursue a new romantic interest—and the cycle continues.

03 of 12

Emotional Starvation

While studies suggest that men who cheat are primarily motivated by sex, women who cheat tend to do so to fill an emotional need. And in the case of an emotional affair, sex isn't part of the equation at all. Whether the affair is physical or emotional in nature, a woman may cheat because they crave conversation, empathy, respect, devotion, adoration, support, or some other connection that's lacking in their current relationship.

"Some people convince themselves emotional is not a real affair. However, most sexual ones start emotional," says Skurtu "I find it pretty rare to have an only sexual affair without some emotions because they usually start as friends. That's how you start crossing boundaries and justify the behavior."

04 of 12

Anger or Retribution

Some women enter into a relationship with an idealized image of how their spouse should behave. When the partner falls short of expectations and can't meet their every need and desire, it can create a divide in the relationship that provides the impetus to stray.

Some women may resent their partner for another reason, such as a partner's past affair, and use their own infidelity as retaliation.

05 of 12

Lack of Excitement

You've likely heard of the term serial cheaters—people who cheat for the thrill of it. They may love their S.O. but yearn for those endorphin-fueled interactions that make a new relationship so exciting.

"I think as a society we don't honestly address how boring work and family life can be at times," explains Skurtu. "I was recently watching the show Good Girls, and they turn to street crimes. It's addressing the same thing: boredom. I feel people are more likely to cheat than to get involved in crimes, but it's the same premise."

In fact, a study at the affair dating website AshleyMadison.com found that 67 percent of heterosexual, married women who cheat sought out "romantic passion," yet 100 percent of the women denied any intention of leaving their husbands; some even "stated their overt love for their husbands, painting them in a positive light."

06 of 12

Sexual Deprivation

Try as we might to keep the spark alive, the excitement that accompanies a new relationship only lasts so long. Predictability and familiarity will eventually overtake the quality and frequency of sex. It's not surprising, then, that some women who cheat are missing those thrilling hallmarks of a relationship's beginning stages, when passion and intrigue have yet to give way to routine. In fact, Skurtu believes this is historically one of the motivators behind male-centric infidelity: "It might have been an expectation that at a certain point, sex was not a big part of marriage so cheating was a necessary evil."

07 of 12


A woman who cheats may have a partner who works long hours, leaving them home with the kids all day. Perhaps they've found themselves in a stage in life when it's harder to make friends or maybe their S.O. is contending with a chronic illness. Whatever the reason, loneliness or feelings of isolation and disengagement can "provide the perfect ingredients for an affair," says Skurtu. "They feel lonely and someone else starts meeting the unmet needs."

08 of 12

Insecure Attachment Style

Attachment theory suggests that early childhood relationships influence how we perceive and behave in our intimate relationships as adults. Depending on the care and nurturing (or lack thereof) that one receives as a child, they'll fall into one of three attachment styles as adults: secure (having well-adjusted expectations and approaches to relationships), anxious (exhibiting fear of abandonment), or avoidant (preferring to retain their independence from others).

People who identify with anxious and avoidant attachment styles are more likely to display characteristics that interfere with a healthy romantic relationship (think clinginess and dismissiveness). Moreover, they're more likely to cheat, as they seek out reassurance from a third-party partner or attempt to avoid the intimacy of the primary relationship. "There's always a sense of 'what's on the other side' and never fully being happy or secure in oneself," explains Skurtu. "This type of person may struggle to be happy in any relationship."

09 of 12

Midlife Crisis

While midlife crises generally affect people between the ages of 35 and 60, the event has less to do with age than extenuating circumstances. Major life events, such as the death of a parent or a milestone birthday, may trigger a midlife crisis in a woman, causing them to wrestle with the burden of greatness; that is, the sociocultural expectation that women can and should "have it all"—a successful career, a loving partner, adoring children, and so on.

"People think, 'I only have so much time left. What am I doing with my life?'" says Skurtu. A woman may act out of character as she attempts to realize her potential and make up for lost time.

10 of 12

An Underlying Condition

According to Block, depression and infidelity go hand in hand. "[An affair is] exciting, so much so that the brain can begin to pump out dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin—neurotransmitters we produce when we’re attracted to someone, but which, not so coincidentally, are the same chemicals produced when we take antidepressants," he says. In other words, a woman who cheats could be self-medicating through their infidelity, even if they don't realize the true reason behind their pleasure.

11 of 12


Few acts of infidelity are premeditated, asserts Skurtu, but rather a result of an unexpected opportunity. "They feel down and another person in a similar boat crosses their path. They start commiserating and then it moves on from there," she adds. People in this situation usually can't explain the reason behind their infidelity. "It sort of just happens, even though, really, there are specific moments of truth that can make or break the potential affair."

Similar opportunities exist in the digital realm, too. Social media, dating apps, and texting have revolutionized the ease at which we can connect with others, sometimes serving as a springboard for affairs—even if the interactions start innocently.

12 of 12

Numbing Difficult Feelings

People can develop a wide variety of coping mechanisms to deal with difficult emotions, sometimes choosing strategies that have emotionally numbing effects as an easier option than facing them. Sex, drugs, alcohol, and other addictions or compulsive behaviors are just a few examples.

"An affair is an escape from reality," says Skurtu. "[When] women struggle to be honest about what they want with their partners and instead seek out a fantasy world that not only numbs but creates an amazing jolt to the system, there's an adrenaline rush to cheating. "

"The first way to proceed here is raw honesty between the partners about what they want and need to be happy," suggests Skurtu. "The more real and honest, the more they will start to be authentic and feel their feelings again."

What to Do If Your Partner Wants an Open Relationship

Article Sources

Brides takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.

  1. Mark KP, Janssen E, Milhausen RR. Infidelity in heterosexual couples: demographic, interpersonal, and personality-related predictors of extradyadic sex. Arch Sex Behav. 2011;40(5):971-982

  2. ORC at the University of Chicago. The General Social Survey,

  3. Scheeren PA, Apellániz IAM, Wagner A. Marital Infidelity: The Experience of Men and Women. Temas Psicol. 2018;26(1):355-369

  4. PsyPost. Middle-aged women missing passion (and sex) seek affairs, not divorce. Updated Aug. 17, 2014

  5. Psychology Today. Who Is Likely to Be Unfaithful, and Why? Updated Nov. 5, 2013

  6. Russell VM, Baker LR, McNulty JK. Attachment insecurity and infidelity in marriage: do studies of dating relationships really inform us about marriage? J Fam Psychol. 2013 Apr;27(2):242-51. doi: 10.1037/a0032118.

Understanding the Reasons Women Have Affairs

  • Unlike previous generations, women and men currently cheat at approximately the same rates, though the reasons why women cheat may be different from men.
  • Experts say the three main reasons women cheat are: lack of love for primary partner, desire for sexual variety and situational factors (like being drunk or on vacation).

The beginning of the year is a rough time for the institution of marriage. Ashley Madison, a dating site for people looking to start extramarital affairs, reported in a 2018 press release that January and February are the site's biggest months for new signups. And in news that may or may not be related, divorce lawyers add that they see a surge in divorce filings after the holidays. But before it gets to that point, it's worth taking a step back and looking at why people are unfaithful to begin with — especially women, whose affairs are often misreported or misunderstood.

The differences in the reasons why men and women cheat are narrowing.

It's easy to fall back on old assumptions that men are more likely to cheat, with the usual list of justifications (like how they can't "keep it in their pants"). That's becoming more and more untrue as time goes on. "Traditionally, it's been argued that women are more likely than men to cheat because they're unhappy with the existing relationships, while men are more likely than women to cheat because they're looking for sexual variety or an opportunity presented itself," says, Zhana Vrangalova, Ph.D., a professor of human sexuality at NYU. "That's still true to some extent today, but the gender gap in infidelity is closing among the newer generations."

"In older generations, men were much more likely to cheat than women, whereas in the current generation women and men are cheating at similar rates," she adds. "And the current generation of men and women are more similar in their reasons for cheating than older generations."

Of course, there are some variations between men and women. "A recent study showed men were more likely than women to cheat for reasons related to sexual desire and variety, and due to situational factors like being drunk," Vrangalova says. "However, the top three reasons for cheating endorsed by both women and men were exactly the same: lack of love for primary partner, desire for sexual variety and situational factors."

Sometimes, the reasons women cheat are sexually motivated.

If you want to dig a little deeper into why women cheat, Alicia Walker, Ph. D., an assistant professor of sociology at Missouri State University, is a good person to ask — she spent a year interviewing women who've had extramarital affairs for her book, The Secret Life of the Cheating Wife. She found more nuance to the idea that women cheat for sexual variety.

"In my studies on women's infidelity, I found women were outsourcing the sexual pleasure in their relationships in an effort to remain in their primary partnerships," she says. "They believed that if they continued to go without their sexual needs being met, they would have to break up their families and break their partner's heart. None of the women made the decision to cheat lightly. After years and sometimes decades of trying to improve things in their marriages, they decided to look elsewhere."

Other times, women are unsatisfied in their relationships.

That doesn't mean that women who cheat are always looking to save their primary partnership. Sometimes, it's the opposite: "One of the main reasons women cheat is to blow up a relationship that makes them feel trapped in some way," says Charlynn Ruan, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and founder of Thrive Psychology Group, a group practice in California that specializes in women. "Often they're with a partner who seems like a nice person, but is controlling, stifling or emotionally unavailable. The woman tries to make changes, to get their partner to do couples therapy, or push their partner to grow or meet them more emotionally, but when the woman doesn't succeed in these attempts, cheating gives a reason for their partner to leave them."

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This often comes with a lot of guilt, Dr. Ruan adds. "I think the unconscious narrative is often, 'He's a nice guy, but I'm miserable. There is something wrong with me,'" she says. "So, they act out to end the relationship. In heterosexual couples, research shows that women are much more likely than men to initiate divorce, and are happier after divorce than men. But, for women who struggle with guilt over leaving a partner, feel like he needs her, and don't feel their own happiness is enough justification to reach escape velocity in their relationship, cheating gives them a way out."

Or, even if she's not ready to leave, she might act out because she has what psychologists call an "insecure attachment" style. "For these people, cheating can feel like a way to ‘keep their options open’ and ensure that they're not hurt or abandoned," says Mark Williams, LMHC, a relationship coach at Relish. "These people need to feel safe and secure, and if this is threatened — if they fight with partner, for example — they can sometimes overcompensate and seek validation and attention elsewhere. The good news is these issues are fix-able. We work really hard with people who have an insecure attachment style to find other ways of responding and ways of regulating strong emotions."

Watch out for the warning signs of cheating.

If you feel your relationship is off track and your partner may be contemplating (or starting) an affair, there are certain clues you can keep an eye out for. "There are three big red flags to look for: being very protective or secretive with her phone, missing money or taking regular large cash withdrawals from the ATM, and missing chunks of time," says Kathy Nickerson, Ph.D., a board-certified clinical psychologist. "If your partner can't tell you where she was for a part of the day, or seems evasive about it, it's a clue that something interesting is happening. Having lots of random coffee dates or meetings with people you've never heard of or never met is also a clue. The biggest red flag is being wacky with the phone — if the phone is always locked and never leaves her sight, even when she's in the shower, I'd worry."

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Marisa LaScalaSenior Parenting & Relationships Editor

Marisa (she/her) has covered all things parenting, from the postpartum period through the empty nest, for Good Housekeeping since 2018; she previously wrote about parents and families at Parents and Working Mother. She lives with her husband and daughter in Brooklyn, where she can be found dominating the audio round at her local bar trivia night or tweeting about movies.

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7 reasons why women cheat: from bad sex to self-esteem problems


Who cheats more often - men or women? Ha ha, you say, men of course! Statistics and truth from decade to decade confirms the main weakness of the stronger sex. Surveys conducted by researchers at Boston University as part of a large-scale project to study family relations found that, on average, 20% of men have cheated on their significant other at least once, compared with 13% of women.

However, in an American study in 2018, psychologists found a nuance: the infidelity of ladies in the age group of 18-29 years outdid the male. Adult women, as it turned out, are not up to adultery, while restless men continue to do this, increasing the gap in the score.

Another indicator that has long determined the sex differences in adultery is the causes of rampant behavior. It is believed that men are more likely to cheat for the sake of sexual diversity, and women - because of dissatisfaction with the relationship. An update of the Boston University polls published by experts this year eliminates the usual difference. These days, the gender gap in infidelity has all but disappeared: men and women cheat for similar reasons and with the same enthusiasm.

It is interesting to know the opinion of experts on why women increase the activity of cheating. What are they, in the sense, we? And where will the trend for boudoir adventures lead us in general? Here is what psychologists say, explaining the reasons for what is happening. First of all, women cheat...

1. Sex for the sake of sex

If someone convinces you that men cheat for carnal pleasures, and women because of romantic foreplay, laugh in the face of the ridiculous translator of medieval ideas. “Women, like men, value good sex and can easily become unfaithful to whoever turns them on,” says New York-based sex therapist Tammy Nelson. “A study published last winter in the Journal of Sex Research confirms once again that most men are seduced into infidelity out of a craving for diversity, but a thirst for experimentation also tops the list of causes of female infidelity.”

2. Dissatisfied with relationships

In the same study, the second most popular reason was revealed: women cheat because they are not happy with the one who is next to them. The one who is married, with whom they live or have a long romance. Even if love is still glimmering, a woman who is tired of current relationships (quarrels, boredom, domestic troubles, financial problems) will look for an object for flirting on the side. A love affair adds adrenaline to life - women of any age and status will confirm this.

3. Impulsive act on emotions

Reason number three - something went wrong. Circumstances arose, the mood coincided, and the woman gave herself up to the situation, which she would later justify to herself and her friends as: “it was a mistake.” “Sometimes there is no other meaning to an affair than an opportunity that a woman could not or did not want to miss at the moment,” adds Dr. Nelson. “Everyone makes mistakes, and even happy married women can act impulsively or out of revenge and regret it later.”

4. Lack of emotional intimacy with a partner

Physical or emotional intimacy are basic needs that we as social beings naturally desire to satisfy. If a woman does not get enough intimacy in a current relationship, and someone is around who is ready for this very intimacy, the chances of a mutual attraction increase significantly. “A survey from our university determined that women engage in side contacts with more sensual feedback than men. Lust for intimacy and romance are exculpatory aspects of female infidelity,” explains Boston University psychologist Alison Hardy.

5. To feel wanted

Both women and men cheat because they want to feel like an object of love and adoration. “The lack of attention in a relationship pushes a woman into the arms of another, in words and deeds confirming his love for her. It's hard to ignore attentions, compliments and genuine passion, no matter the family values ​​and the seriousness of the relationship in which she is, ”says Nelson.

6. Low self-esteem

Low self-esteem can also motivate a woman to look for feelings on the side, says Alison Hardy. “If a partner is stingy with approval, but unreasonably generous with criticism, the accumulated need for love and understanding will sooner or later force the woman to seek outside support. Even if she is used to neglecting her own desires, the subconscious will find a way to remind her that she deserves more, and fate will throw a meeting with someone who is ready to see all the good that is in her.

7. They want a divorce

Sometimes cheating is a hidden manifestation of the fact that a woman is ready to end an existing relationship, but finds it difficult to announce her decision. Such behavior is unfair to the partner, although it is understandable from a psychological point of view. Tammy Nelson also notes that sometimes cheating expresses an urgent need for change in current relationships.

“Change is destructive, but does not necessarily mean the end of the couple, and sometimes it provides an impetus for change for the better,” says the sex therapist. - Events can develop in two scenarios: divorce without protracted efforts or acceptance of existing problems and working together to solve them. If you love each other and want to be together, in time you will rebuild trust, and your bond will grow stronger through these trials.”



  • Relations
  • Psychology
  • Love and sex

Experts told why women change and how to prevent

Moscow, Mar 7 - RIA Novosti. The behavior of a woman's parents and girlfriends, as well as her reaction to films in which the wife is unfaithful to her husband, can betray a predisposition to looking for relationships on the side, psychologists and sexologists say. On the eve of International Women's Day, experts told RIA Novosti how to prevent the betrayal of a beloved woman and whether it is possible to restore relations if she nevertheless embarked on a "crooked path".

Thirst for change

According to the family psychologist, candidate of psychological sciences Irina Obukhova, the word "betrayal" already implies a desire to change something in life, if something does not suit a person.

"He wants to change something in his life, but he is afraid to do it. So he tries to get in touch at the level of flirting on social networks, views at work, and so on," she said.

According to the doctor-sexologist, psychotherapist, president of the professional association of sexologists Yevgeny Kulgavchuk, each person understands in his own way what treason is.

"Indeed, for some man, the correspondence of his wife with a classmate will be a betrayal. The woman herself may also think so, and the other may not think at all that she is cheating in this way," the doctor noted.

He recalled that some women like to repeat the saying "the husband ate too many pears."

"This shows the emotional insignificance of this husband, and psychologically the woman considers herself free for love. Often this happens in formal marriages," said the sexologist.

Crooked path

According to Obukhova, the motives of male and female cheating are somewhat similar. First of all, it is boredom, a feeling of dissatisfaction, resentment and compensation for betrayal on the principle of "I will answer you the same."

"But for a woman there should be a solid reason for cheating when something fundamentally doesn't suit her in a companion. However, if a man cheats, he doesn't do it because he wants to change something, he often needs passions. And a woman subconsciously looking for changes, she wants warmth and affection, which is not enough," she explained.

Kulgavchuk added that, as a rule, women are driven to cheat by a feeling of underestimation, emotional emptiness, as well as a desire for a fleeting passion and adventure.

"Many other reasons can be added: from a desire for revenge to condescension out of pity. There are fewer motives for male infidelity. As a rule, this is a search for new sensations and a search for recognition," he said.

To find out if the woman you love has a predisposition to cheating, you first need to look at her parents, the expert believes.

"Then look at your girlfriends, because whoever you mess with is what you'll get," added Kulgavchuk.

The doctor also advises to watch films with similar scenarios together, then pay attention to the emotions and statements of the beloved woman when discussing the film.

"Often, men at the reception ask me a question, how to guarantee the absence of female infidelity? I answer that everything is simple here: you need to love a woman and make her fall in love with you, feeling and surprising her, it is important to take care of her. You also need to respect her, be able to talk heart to heart with her, pamper and protect. Truly in love women who know how to love, as a rule, do not cheat, "he concluded.

Punctures of a traitor

According to Kulgavchuk, there are no clear signs that you are being cheated on. However, several worrisome points can be identified.

"As a rule, this is an emotional distance, the emergence of new interests, habits, tastes, a sudden attention to one's own appearance. Also, the appearance of new closed "islands of time", irritability and anxiety when a partner tries to pick up the phone or look at the contents of the mail. Transparency changes to defending the rights to personal time," he explained.

Obukhova also believes that absent-mindedness towards a man, inattention to his problems, can also indicate that a woman has relationships on the side.

"For example, she often asks how things are at work, but does not listen to the answer. Also, at first in the house, she becomes more playful, she sort of shifts her attitude from the man she likes to her husband. But soon this disappears ", the psychologist explained.

Understand and forgive?

According to Kulgavchuk, the ability to forgive betrayal depends on the age, experience, wisdom of a particular person.

"If it's appreciated, it's worth forgiving. Otherwise, you just might not find a mate. Anything can happen in life. It's important to be able to draw conclusions. And in a crisis period, don't continue to blame, but try to understand," he said.

The doctor also emphasized that it is definitely not worth telling the details of infidelity to your spouses. After such revelations, many people cannot sleep peacefully, torturing themselves.

"You need to understand the causes of adultery not in the kitchen in nightly vigils with alcohol, which sometimes end in beatings or murders, but in the office of a sexologist," he noted.

According to Obukhova, casual relationships on the side that do not continue can both positively and negatively affect the future of a family, a couple.

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