By Jessica Haley

Relationships are complicated; everybody knows this. However, infidelity is the quickest way to make the biggest mess in a relationship. Chances are, you or someone you know has experienced cheating in some form. Perhaps your partner cheated on you, or maybe you cheated on them?.

Whatever your personal experience with infidelity, it is important to remember not to look at the situation purely in black and white but in shades of grey—no, not 50 Shades.

Take a step back and try to unscramble the mess like pieces of a puzzle. Perhaps, you can relate to the immortal words of Panic! At The Disco, “It’s much better to face these kinds of things with a sense of poise and rationality.” Could you do that?

Statistics

Human emotions are difficult to analyse, which makes this topic complex. Let’s take an impartial approach to cheating, get rid of those pesky feelings straight off the bat and only deal in facts. At least, numbers don’t lie.

Let’s get the most obvious question out of the way first: who’s most likely to cheat, men or women? If you picked men, you’d be right! According to the Institute of Family Studies, 20% of men said they had sex with someone outside their marriage compared to 13% of women. However, the gender gap is closing among younger generations. While men’s infidelity rate remained constant, it has increased by 40% for women over the past two decades. 

Furthermore, in the youngest age group surveyed (18-29), women were more likely to cheat on their spouse (11%) than men (10%). This is an outlier as it quickly reverses in the next age group and continues to widen with 25% of men over age 65cheating on their spouse, compared to only 10% of women.

Aside from age and gender, several other social demographics can influence infidelity frequency. Growing up in a divorced home increases the cheat rate to 18% compared to growing up with both parents (15%).  

Religion played a role in reducing the likelihood of infidelity, with regular churchgoers showing a 38% drop and couples who read the Bible cheating  24% less. Moreover, praying for the well-being of their respective partner reduced the possibility of infidelity. 

There is even data showing which political affiliations are more prone to cheat!

Cheating, unsurprisingly, leads to higher divorce rates with 53% of couples, where one partner cheated, remaining married, compared to 76% of married couples where no cheating happened.

Motivations

Now that we’ve tackled the numbers let’s focus on the why. What motivates someone to break the trust and emotionally devastate the person they claim to love? It turns out that, though each individual situation differs, there are some common factors to consider.

A 2017 survey conducted by The Journal of Sex Research listed several key motivating factors for cheaters. Falling out of love with your partner is a common reason. Beginning a new relationship is exciting, romantic and butterfly inducing. However, the longer the relationship continues, these feelings can fade from startling intensity to something mellower. It might be tempting to ignite those fresh stirrings of love with a new person while being unable to let go of the security of an enduring relationship.

Another possible reason is unmet needs in the relationship and not necessarily just sexual needs, although differing sex drives or preferences could certainly cause a strain on the relationship. Sometimes, it is the emotional needs that are not being met by one or both partners, causing them to look elsewhere to find fulfilment. 

Commitment issues can be another motivator. Some people have differing views on relationships’ exclusivity, or they might cheat to avoid making a commitment even if they genuinely like their partner. Low self-esteem can also motivate somebody to cheat. Having sex with a new person can boost confidence and feelings of empowerment since you feel desired and attractive to another person. 

Another factor is simply opportunity. If somebody is already struggling with low self-esteem, unmet needs in their relationship, or feeling distant from their partner, they are more likely to cheat when an opportunity presents itself.

As you can clearly see, there are many possible motivations beyond sexual desire, anger or revenge that might cause someone to cheat. Frequently a combination of several factors leads to the fateful decision to cheat. This does not excuse their behaviour or remove possible consequences, but the situation is often more complicated than you first thought.

While most relationships won’t blow up as spectacularly as in the I Write Sins Not Tragedies song, dealing with the pain and broken trust caused by cheating is never easy. Some people will fight to keep their relationship alive; others will end it without a second thought. However, we should all strive to face these kinds of things with a sense of poise and rationality.