There are as many reasons why people cheat as there are people who cheat. However, there are trends, i.e., personal risk factors, relatively predictable times when a marriage is more vulnerable to infidelity.
And there is one constant – cheating is always about the person who cheated, not their partner.
According to Esther Perel and John Gottman, marital dissatisfaction is not a major contributing factor to affairs. I would argue that on the rare occasion it is a concern for the straying spouse, it is ultimately not the reason for the affair. There is a myriad of ways to increase marital satisfaction; affairs are not one of them.
The unfaithful partner is looking outside of the marriage to fulfill an unmet need stemming from their personal risk factor(s). Frequently noted risk factors include, but are not limited to, depression, low self-worth, childhood sexual abuse, addictive tendencies, family history of infidelity, history of interpersonal trauma.
Affairs tend to happen during times of significant life change, e. g., job change, move, the addition of child(ren) to the marriage, death of a loved one. The exacerbated stress exceeds the limitations of the person’s coping mechanisms. Rather than turning toward their spouse for support, they turn away – sometimes trying to shield the partner from pain but virtually always trying to protect his/herself from experiencing the rejection, disappointment, or disgust they expect.
For a marriage to survive infidelity, care must be taken for both spouses to heal. The faithful partner’s needs often take priority, as they should in the initial stages of recovery. However, for the marriage to shift from surviving to thriving, the straying spouse must heal as well. Uncovering the reason(s) the affair took place is not excusing it; it is a healing process that leads to future affair prevention.
The journey to healing and recovery from infidelity is not for the faint of heart. However, as mentioned in It Didn’t Mean Anything!, marriages can and do survive infidelity. When couples put in the work for authentic healing and reconnection, they report being happier and more fulfilled in their marriages than before the affair.
To help understand the emotional trauma experienced by the faithful spouse after infidelity is discovered, see my blog series Infidelity and PTSD.
Contact me for help on your journey to authentic healing and reconnection.
Angela W. Startz, MAHSC, CCLC
Gottman, J. M. & Silver, N. (2015). The seven principles for making marriage work: A practical guide from the nation’s foremost relationship expert. Harmony Books.
Perel, E. (2017). The state of affairs: Rethinking infidelity. Harper Collins.