Why Do Women Cheat?

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Robert Weiss PhD, LCSW, CSAT

Cultural stereotypes tell us that it’s usually men who step out on their wives and girlfriends. However, research shows that nearly as many women cheat as men. Which makes sense, because it takes two to tango, so to speak. That said, men and women often cheat for different reasons, with the motivations typically (though not always) falling in line with our general understanding of male vs. female sexuality. Basically, men tend to be comfortable with a purely sexual experience devoid of emotional connection, while women tend to be more interested in sexuality that includes (or at least promises) a degree of emotional intimacy. So, both men and women engage in infidelity, but they often do so for different reasons.

Generally, a woman’s decision to cheat is driven by one or more of the following factors:

  • A woman may have an issue with sex, porn, or love addiction. In such cases, a woman with unresolved childhood trauma, especially sexual trauma, will attempt to self-soothe her emotional pain, anxiety, and depression with romantic and sexual fantasies and activity. For this woman, sexual behavior is not about having fun, it’s about numbing out.
  • A woman may feel unappreciated, ignored, and neglected in her primary relationship. If a woman feels more like a housekeeper, nanny, or financial provider than a loved and respected wife or girlfriend, she may seek external validation through hookups and affairs.
  • A woman may have an issue with alcohol or drugs—substances that affect her decision-making, possibly resulting in regrettable sexual decisions (including infidelity).
  • Some women cheat because they have unrealistic (and therefore unfulfilled) expectations about what their partner and their relationship should provide. A woman may think her partner should fulfill her every whim and desire, 24/7/365, failing to see that this is an impossible standard. And when her expectations are not met, she may seek external fulfillment.
  • A woman may cheat because she lacks self-esteem. She may feel unattractive, or old, or disempowered, or whatever, and seek extramarital romance and sex to bolster her view of herself. She may reason, “If someone wants to be with me, I must be worthwhile.”
  • Some women cheat because they are reenacting or latently responding to childhood trauma—everything from abandonment to overt sexual abuse. Often, this is a way of trying to control or master abuse that they couldn’t control or master as a child.
  • Some women just don’t understand what love really feels like. They think the rush of first romance (technically referred to as limerence) is what true love feels like. These women fail to understand that in healthy long-term relationships, the neurochemical rush of limerence is replaced over time with less intense but ultimately more meaningful forms of intimacy and connection.
  • A woman might cheat because she craves intimacy but isn’t getting it from her primary romantic partner. More so than men, women feel valued and connected through emotional interaction and communication. If a woman is not getting this need met at home, she may seek fulfillment elsewhere.
  • Some women cheat to alleviate boredom or loneliness. This is especially likely with women who find themselves at home for long periods of time (perhaps caring for young kids, or even after the kids are grown and gone). These women feel a lack of importance and meaning, so they use hookups and affairs to fill the void.

Sadly, women who cheat usually don’t realize how profoundly their secretive sexual and romantic behaviors can affect the long-term emotional life of a trusting spouse or partner. Infidelity hurts betrayed men just as much as it hurts betrayed women. The keeping of secrets, especially sexual secrets, damages relationship trust and is painful regardless of gender.

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If you or someone you care about is struggling with sex, porn, or substance/sex addiction, help is available. Seeking Integrity offers inpatient treatment for sex, porn, and substance/sex addicts, as well as low-cost online workgroups. At the same time, SexandRelationshipHealing.com offers a variety of free webinars and drop-in discussion groupspodcasts, and more.