Why do people cheat?

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Interview with Andrew G. Marshall, the UK’s best-known marital therapist and expert on resolving infidelity and falling back in love

Many people are starting an affair at this time of the year, and at the same time, many affairs are discovered. Andrew G. Marshall’s book “Why did I cheat?” will help all of those who are dealing with infidelity issues. 

The Datingroo team met with Andrew in his office in Berlin and we talked about how and why people cheat and how to deal with infidelity.  

picture of andrew g. marshall in his living room

How would you define “cheating” today? 

I think it is more toxic and more difficult to deal with. I’ve been a marital therapist for 30 plus years and affairs used to happen offline because there was no online. Today, If you have a weak moment at 4 o’clock in the morning and want to know what your affair partner is doing, you can check their social media profile and find out exactly what they are up to. 

In the old days, people would write letters, nowadays many people have a secret phone to help them keep communication with another person. They are sending each other “I love you” in excruciating details, very often photographs and videos of the two of them having sex. For the partner, reading and watching all these messages, it is way harder to recover from that kind of cheating. 

Can we define cheating as exchanging messages or checking someone’s social media profile? Or cheating is just an actual sexual act? 

Both are cheating. “I love you” written is just as powerful as “I love you” whispered in somebody’s ear. It is as horrible for your partner to know that you have been having phone sex as you have been having actual sex. There is also what is known in the infidelity world as an emotional affair. Those are affairs with people you might never meet in the flesh and it is all conducted only on the internet.

What is more damaging for one relationship – emotional cheating or sexual cheating?

They are both damaging. Different people find different things upsetting. Some people find sex with a prostitute far worse then having sex with somebody that you love. The slight difference is when you haven’t had sexual cheating that other person won’t be so vividly in the bedroom when you are making love with your partner.

 If you know that your partner has had sex with somebody, you will also have questions like “did you do this to him?”, “what do you do to her that you don’t do to me?”… I don’t think it is possible to make a list of what is not so bad, because it really depends on how deep the affair was. 

How commonly does cheating occur in modern relationships and marriages?

We always think cheating will never, ever happen to us. But statistics are very high.

I tend to get lots of clients with all types of issues, but I would say one third of my clients are dealing with infidelity. I believe that would be the kind of figure that most therapists would be seeing. 

“I have many male clients who had sex with a prostitute, but I haven’t met a women whose sexual outlet has been escorts.”

Why do people cheat? 

There are conscious and unconscious reasons. When asked, top of the mind, people say they cheat because they are unhappy. They say that it just happened. The chemistry was so great. They couldn’t help themselves. They fell in love. People say they have low self-esteem. 

The next level underneath is unresolved anger with their partner. There’s a lot of things they haven’t dealt with, and they’ve gone from what I would call a positive interpretation of everything, into a negative one. 

For example, instead of being really loving, they think their partner is clinging. Instead of being busy with the children, their partner is not interested in them. It is something negative about their spouse and his or her personality and it is no longer temporary. Under those circumstances, people are beginning to see everything rather darkly. They have this whole set of justifications that makes them feel that they actually deserve that affair, or that it is actually a solution to their problems. 

This is what I call HOW people have affairs, how they look themselves in the eye and justify themselves. But deeper reasons are the one that they are possibly not aware of.

What are those deeper reasons for cheating? 

Sometimes it is part of an addiction. For example, they have a problem and they are self-medicating with alcohol. A chance meeting when you are drunk leads to an affair. I have often seen people who are gambling addicts who will often have an affair because addiction is going to cross over.  

There are often very deep reasons back to their childhood. They are what I call “people pleasers”. And people pleasers will do anything to make people happy because they believe if everybody is happy, that will make them happy too. But, that doesn’t work very well, to be honest. People pleasers hope that other people will know what they really want, so they go along with what everybody else wants. Then suddenly they will switch to the completely opposite direction to become the most selfish person possible.  

Sometimes they are childhood traumas that haven’t been dealt with. The death of a sibling or something else from childhood. All of those problems have been pushed to one side. And there is something about being middle-aged. It brings back those unresolved child issues. They are not thinking, oh, I am having an affair because my sibling died. They are thinking, I am going to have sex and that will make me happy. That is how they cover up this pain. 

They reach 40 or 50 something and they realize, they are not going to be the head of the company or more successful, internet millionaire or youtube influencer and suddenly their life seems empty and meaningless. Instead of dealing with that, they push it to one side and they self-medicate by having an affair. An affair for 5 minutes will make them feel alive and happier. And it will completely screw their life over and they will feel like the most miserable person possible. 

How do those who are cheating mostly feel afterwards? Guilty, ashamed, judged? Or, simply free?

Very few people feel free. They feel the guilt, the shame and horror of what has been around and what has been risked. They realize that their families could split up. It could have cost them a huge amount of money. They are swimming around in a sea of misery. It takes quite a time to figure out how to build a relationship after all that mess. 

Are dating apps helping with cheating?

Yes, of course, they do. Some of them are specifically for cheaters or have plenty of cheaters on them. They also help people to discover infidelity and make the recovery process painful. On dating apps, those who have been cheated on have all the evidence. They can look back through the history of messages and see all the people that their partner has been messaging. They can read their partner ́s profile and see how he or she has been advertising themselves. And that is extremely painful.  

“Always be honest about your feelings. Most people are spending their lives swallowing their feelings and not being honest about them. That is the only way you and your partner can solve the problems. Feelings that are not expressed or are hidden become very toxic at some point.”

Is there a difference between women’s and men’s infidelity?

I would say yes, ultimately, because men and women have been socialised in different ways. Men’s affairs tend to be more about sex, women’s affairs tend to be more about love. They have sex, of course, but they would see it as an act of love. I have many male clients who had sex with a prostitute, but I haven’t met a women whose sexual outlet has been escorts.  

Speaking about the recovery process from infidelity, there are also differences between men and women. Men want to push away the difficult feelings and get to recovery much quicker. Of course, there are women who don’t look deeper because they don’t like what they discovered. 

I have lots of female clients who are trying to shut things down because their shame is overwhelming. But when they get support, they usually deal with it and look deeper.

Men, in general, haven’t been given the tools to think deeper, to talk to people. They were trained to act rather than think, talk and to feel. Men have been told not to have feelings. Well, how can you understand infidelity if you don`t understand your feelings? 

Having said that, I have male clients who are very keen to understand their emotions and some women clients who do not understand them. I don’t want to make sweeping generalisations.

naked women infront of curtain in dark setting

How can you know if your affair is actually a real love, or even a good choice?

I often have people who met each other as an affair and come to see me several years later to deal with all the issues that are unresolved in their relationship. If you have met as an affair, you think that it must be the best relationship ever. 

If you are going to hurt other people, this has to be the most shining example of love and something to guide them through all their lives. Well, relationships like that don’t exist. Yes, it could be love. But it is more likely to be fantasy. 

Can a marriage or a relationship ever recover from infidelity? 

It depends a lot on how the person who has been unfaithful responds. If they deny, deny, deny, that is going to make everything more painful for their partners. The likelihood of ending their relationship will increase. The other thing they are doing and making terrible mistakes is by saying yes, I am terribly sorry, I will give up this affair. And they mean it at that precise moment. 

But in the end, they will still see the other person and meet up or text occasionally. To the partner who has been told that affair is over, this is still cheating. Well, it is cheating, isn’t it? You are saying one thing and doing another thing. That increases the chances that the affair ends the relationship.  

However, if you are prepared to look deeply into yourself, learn from this experience, grow and change, there is a very high chance of your partner taking you back. 

Is there a difference in the recovery process between a one-time affair and a long-time affair?

The longer the affair was carried on, the more upsetting it was for everybody. The affair partner will be more committed and they are going to find it much harder to let go. And that needs to be processed as well. Most people who are having an affair are not good at relationships. They are not good at dealing with their emotions. It is one of many reasons why they try to make themselves feel better by getting this self-esteem boost. 

Your spouse hates you, your affair partner hates you, so what are you going to do? The intelligent one will get a therapist and learn how to change. But most people will just hope that all the shame will go away.  

“When asked, top of the mind, people say they cheat because they are unhappy. They say that it just happened. The chemistry was so great. They couldn’t help themselves. They fell in love.”

What strategy is the best to overcome the crisis caused by infidelity? Is there some magical solution?

Honesty is a magical solution. You have to tell your partner what’s going on. You have to be clear about any further contact. And it seems like the easiest thing to do, but when you are full of shame you don’t want to admit that you met up seven times. You’d much rather say you’d met a couple of times. You promised honesty but you are just too ashamed to admit it was that number of times. The affair mindset continues for a while. 

What is the best way to apologise to your partner after the affair?

Saying “I am sorry” ten million times doesn’t help. A full apology is when you say what in particular you are sorry for. You identify exactly what you are sorry for, you explain why it will not happen again and you make a commitment to change. 

Is it true – those who cheated once, will cheat again?

Generally, it depends. If they learn to answer the question “Why did I cheat?”, and they generally want to grow, then no, they don’t cheat again. But if they just want to get things nice again, and none of the underlying issues has been solved, then it is likely it will happen again. People that are sorry to be caught out, rather than sorry for the affair will most probably cheat again. If you don’t feel sorry for the WHY you cheated and you don’t deal with that, it is likely it will happen again. 

There is a lot of good support for infidelity now. It always helps if you can drop down another layer and discover the real reasons for cheating. Often people are just stuck on the top layer. There are many affair recovery groups online. 

Hearing other people’s stories can help to understand what is going on with your own story. And of course, there are books like my book, which may give you a lot of information. There are alternatives to the relationship therapist, but you have to dig down and learn.  

What could be “lessons learned” after an affair?

That would be to always be honest about your feelings. Most people are spending their lives swallowing their feelings and not being honest about them. That is the only way you and your partner can solve the problems. Feelings that are not expressed or are hidden become very toxic at some point. 

My book is all about going down the layers, understanding what is going on, being honest with yourself. People do not always learn how to communicate better. They learn to value what they have rather than fantasise what they don’t have. They learn how to improve things, how to go deeper, and the deeper we go, we have more satisfying relationships.  

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Andrew G. Marshall is the UK ́s best marital therapist based in both London and Berlin, Germany where he offers Intensive therapy and weekly couples therapy in English. He is the author of the international best-seller “I Love You But I’m Not In Love With You”,  and has written 20 other books on relationships full of practical advice on saving relationships and putting new life into flagging ones. Andrew also runs an online private infidelity support group to help those whose partners have been unfaithful. 


Andrew G. Marshall ́s book “Why did I cheat – How to help your partner (and yourself) recover from your affair”  is available in all good bookshops across the world. It is available on Amazon as well.