Hear us out.
That’s probably the first emotion you feel after learning you’ve been cheated on. Likely closely followed by hurt, pain, sadness, and a host of other unsavory emotions. In a long-term, monogamous relationship, cheating is the ultimate betrayal. It’s a breach of trust and for many, a major bump in the road to a healthy, successful relationship.
Despite the negative feelings many people have towards cheating, it happens more often than not. Thanks to an extensive survey we conducted with Ashley Madison, we found out that a whopping 64 percent of people have been cheated on at some point. 64 percent! That’s a whole lot of people left questioning whether or not they should pick up the pieces of their relationship while wondering why people cheat.
Which is, of course, the important question: why do people cheat? Whether you ask friends or search the internet, opinions on the subject abound and vary greatly. The answer, however, is simple. And alarmingly counterintuitive, considering the heartbreak you feel after being cheated on.
The answer, then? If someone cheats on you, it’s because they love you.
I know. That sounds so, so wrong. But the longer you sit and think about it, the more it makes sense — so hear us out.
In 2017, sociologist Alice M. Walker released Secret Life of the Cheating Wife, a look into the lives of women who joined Ashley Madison to have an affair. She found that, for most of the women she interviewed, cheating was the last resort in their “sexless, orgasm-less” relationships.
“They tried everything that they could think of to cause a change: begging, pleading, inviting their husbands to therapy,” Walker said in an interview. “and nothing had changed.”
While it may be easy to label cheaters as heartless, cheaters are fully aware of how hurtful their extramarital actions are and often express their guilt. However, many times they see it as the only way to salvage their relationships.
“Either they had to outsource the sexual aspect of their marriage or they were going to have to leave. They’re literally cheating to stay in those marriages,” explained Walker.
While that probably goes against everything you’ve ever heard, read, or felt first-hand, our survey shows that many people agree. We asked people to describe their understanding of why people cheat rather than break up their relationship. Opinions varied somewhat, but the top answer from both men and women was the same: 49 percent of men and 35 percent of women believe that people cheat because they love their partner, but are looking for more sexual or emotional fulfillment.
Cheating doesn’t mean your partner doesn’t love you or respect you anymore. In fact, it’s quite the contrary.
If your partner cheats on you, it’s because they’re doing everything they can to keep the relationship intact while still fulfilling their needs (because everyone has needs, both emotional and sexual).
As Walker found in her research, women who cheat “love their husbands, they have good marriages otherwise, and they want their children to grow up with their father. They don’t want to hurt anyone but they simply could not continue to go on without getting those needs met.”
Of course, it’s not just women that cheat.
Cosmopolitan interviewed a man who, under the pen name Dylan, revealed the reason why he began using Ashley Madison to cheat on his wife. Dylan told Cosmopolitan he had his first fling in 2014 with a coworker to remedy a dying sex life at home.
“Things had mellowed out and we became a bit sexually incompatible,” he said about his marriage. After the affair, he noticed his sex life with his wife was “amazing,” describing it as “very primal and selfish.” He credits the change in their connection to the guilt he felt for cheating on her. “I was so turned on thinking about what I’d done. It was this double-edged sword — while the fling had made me feel guilty, it had also been horrifically erotic.”
He then joined Ashley Madison to see what it was about. Though he claims he didn’t intend to make any moves on the site, he eventually began using the site regularly. And, like the women Walker interviewed, Dylan says the catalyst for his affairs is the fact that he is in love with his wife.
“I’m extremely happy with her in a lot of senses and I definitely love her,” he said. “However, while we’re as close as any married couple, there’s an absence of what I would describe as a ‘healthy sexual relationship.’”
Cheating is a wake-up call for relationships in a couple of different ways.
First, if kept a secret, the cheater is able to stay in the relationship while still having their needs met. As Dylan told Cosmopolitan, “I can see the positives it’s brought to our relationship, too. It’s definitely benefited our marriage.”
Second, if the partner being cheated on finds out, it opens a conversation into what can change in the relationship to prevent cheating from happening again. Cheating reveals cracks in a relationship that, if addressed properly, couples can patch up.
It may never feel great to know you’ve been cheated on, and that’s to be expected. But it doesn’t have to signal the end of the relationship as a whole. Instead, couples can look at cheating as a desperate act of love and approach the end of the relationship as it was and embark on new beginnings as a couple.
According to our survey, 51 percent of people see cheating as a forgivable offense. With a change in mindset and more open hearts and minds, this statistic can easily trend upward as more people accept cheating in a more optimistic light.