This August, a team of hackers exposed the adultery website Ashley Madison’s database of 37 million users. The website is a dating platform targeted at married individuals seeking to cheat on their spouses. On the homepage, the company claims, “Ashley Madison is the world’s leading married dating service for discreet encounters.”
To many, the sheer size of their user database came as a shock. The revelation that the vast majority of users were men was somewhat less surprising. Both men and women cheat on their spouses. But the reasons they cheat are often quite different.
Women are more likely to cheat for emotional satisfaction. But what is it that motivated millions of men to cheat on their spouses? Are men simply driven by a desire for more sex? Are they just inclined to be adulterous?
As a relationship counselor, I’ve worked with many couples who have struggled with infidelity and other marriage problems. In my experience, those who look outside their relationships for affairs aren’t always motivated by sex.
And sex isn’t the only attraction. Most affairs almost always involve “romantic love” (the initial, temporary first stage of ALL relationships), something so easy to do that you can see its presence rampant on middle school campuses all over the world.
And all people who engage in affairs have significant unconscious developmental wounds from childhood which have never seen a significant amount of effective healing This is true also of “just emotional” affairs (which can be just as damaging to trust as those affairs including genital sex).
These insights will be needed in order to heal a relationship from an affair. Successful repair will require the following:
- A competent, seasoned couples therapist with experience in treating affairs
- Both partners in the room with their core values of Integrity and Compassion
- An initial unbalanced process where the cheater must help their partner to reacquire trust in them before moving to a more normal course of couples therapy
- And perhaps the Imago Couples Workshop as adjunctive therapy
So let’s look at why men cheat. Here I’ve explored the most common reasons that may drive some men to seek extramarital affairs below.
Disconnection. Both men and women can struggle to connect on an emotional level from time to time in a relationship, but men frequently struggle more. From a young age, many males are taught that they shouldn’t share their emotions or reveal any signs of vulnerability. This can hinder men from forming healthy connections with their partners in the future, since accepting and communicating our feelings with each other is the only way we can form genuine relationships.
Men who do not open their emotions to their spouses may end up feeling disconnected in their relationship. Oftentimes, they blame the lack of intimacy on their spouse, and try to solve the marriage problems by pursuing intimacy through an affair.
Unfulfilling lives. In certain situations, men feel pressured to obtain “good” jobs so they can provide for their family and gain respect from society. They may abandon the hobbies, activities, and passions they once really loved—whether that’s their dream of becoming a standup comedian or their travel bug. As a result, they may end up feeling unfulfilled and dissatisfied with their lives, and may seek extramarital affairs in an attempt to bring back excitement, newness, and meaning.
Insecurity. For some men, feelings of inadequacy can drive them to cheat. When men worry they are too old, too fat, too unsuccessful, or too anything to be loved and desirable, they may turn to an affair in an attempt to try to reassure themselves of their attractiveness and worth.
Feelings of being unappreciated. In many relationships, appreciation is not always obvious or generous. If a relationship involves a good deal of criticism, blame, or scorn, men may look to expressions of positive affirmations from other women.
Addiction. In rare cases, issues with sexual compulsivity can be the root of the problem. Men who are sexually compulsive may turn to sex as a way to self-soothe, escape negative feelings, and disassociate from the pain of deeper psychological issues. Alternatively, if a man has a serious problem with alcohol or drugs, his decision-making abilities and self-discipline can be compromised.
Can You Cheat-Proof Your Relationship?
The Ashley Madison scandal has left a lot of relationships shaken. Even if you didn’t find your spouse’s name on the exposed database of Ashley Madison users, the numbers don’t exactly inspire confidence. Horror stories and reports of cheating abound—not only on the news, but probably among your friends, family members, and coworkers as well.
It’s enough to make even the most confident, happiest couples nervous.
As with most worthy goals in relationships—and in life—you have to put in the work if you want to “cheat-proof” your relationship. While there may not be a surefire formula, there are things you can do to minimize temptation and prevent affairs.
Make your relationship a priority. In mature, long-term relationships, spending time with your partner often becomes secondary to activities and responsibilities like work, kids, and socializing. While it is fine—in fact, absolutely necessary!—to have interests and a life beyond your relationship, you should not let the rest of your life push your partner out entirely.
Agree to set a time for date nights, sex, and even just catching up and talking about your day. And if you’re feeling neglected, don’t just let feelings of resentment, unhappiness, or insecurity stew—tell your partner how you are feeling and what might make it better.
Talk about it. The worst thing you can do when you are unhappy in a relationship is just to throw up your hands and decide that nothing will ever change. If you are unhappy or dissatisfied with something about your relationship, you need to get the conversation going—even if that conversation is a painful or uncomfortable one. When you talk about your marriage problems, you may not find a quick and easy solution, but you can take a big step closer to it.
Make time for sex. Sex isn’t everything, but it is an essential component of a healthy and lasting marriage. There are times in your marriage where intimacy all but disappears due to busy schedules and fading libidos. I sometimes recommend that couples try to schedule a weekly time to have sex to reintroduce it to your routine. By committing to have sex at a certain time at least once a week, you let each other know you still are attracted to each other and committed to fulfilling each other’s needs.
Don’t do it alone. Even the healthiest relationships need a regular checkup once and a while. To strengthen your relationship and stay far ahead of the threat of infidelity, it’s a good idea to seek guidance from a Houston relationship counselor. Your therapist can provide you with practical tools and actionable solutions that can help you strengthen your marriage and bond with each other.
If you’re interested in seeing what relationship therapy can do for your relationship, you may want to consider attending an IMAGO “Getting the Love You Want” couples workshop. In this intensive, weekend-long retreat, you’ll experience inspiring lectures, guided imagery, written exercises, and small group interactions designed to develop skills you can use to work through marriage problems and bolster your connection.